SYDNEY – Jewish leaders in Australia have launched a blistering attack on a “quasi-documentary” they claim was a “blanket demonization” of Israel “laced with sensationalism, inadequate skepticism and fact-checking.”
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The backlash followed the broadcast on February 10 of “Stone Cold Justice,” a joint investigation into the justice system for Palestinian children in the West Bank by The Australian daily and “Four Corners,” the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship investigative journalism program.
The documentary alleged that Israel has a “new policy” of targeting Palestinian children for physical abuse, and that Palestinian kids are forced into false confessions.
The countercampaign included a call by the Zionist Federation of Australia to “set the record straight … for the sake of balance, reason and so the deaths of countless Israeli terror victims is not in vain.”
However, Michelle Gunn, editor of The Weekend Australian, defended reports in the newspaper by John Lyons, who also presented the documentary. “The Weekend Australian stands by the stories written by our Middle East correspondent John Lyons on the treatment of Palestinian youth,” she told Haaretz.
“His investigation of the issue was both exhaustive and meticulous, and we note that no complaint or challenge has been issued by the Israeli government or the Israel Defense Forces.”
Sue Spencer, the executive producer of ABC’s “Four Corners,” told Haaretz: “‘Four Corners’ absolutely stands by its story.”
Their comments came as an article was published Sunday by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), quoting an unnamed IDF official who branded the documentary “simply fictitious.”
Among a slew of rebuttals, the IDF official debunked the allegations of torture, and branded Lyons’ portrayal of the court system as “fictitious, blatant and malicious.”
Israel’s main advocate in the documentary, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor, rejected the allegations of a policy of fear conducted by the IDF. “The only policy is to maintain law and order, that’s all,” he said. “If there’s no violence, there’s no law enforcement.”
But Palmor admitted that a UNICEF report last year detailing human rights abuses was “intolerable.”
Leaders from major Jewish organizations this week stopped short of confirming whether they would submit a formal complaint to the Rupert Murdoch-owned newspaper or the public-funded broadcaster.
Last Friday, The Australian published a rebuttal by Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, who argued that the documentary “recycled uncorroborated allegations by arrested Palestinian minors and then wove a conspiracy theory based on them.
“Indefensibly, the story was repeatedly promoted as providing evidence that Israel has a ‘new policy’ of ‘targeting Palestinian children’,” he added. “No evidence was provided for this apart from an unsubstantiated claim by radical Israeli activist and lawyer Gabi Lasky.”
Mark Leibler, AIJAC’s national chairman, branded the broadcast a “blanket demonization” of Israel. “Most tellingly, the relentless incitement in Palestinian society … was completely unmentioned.”
Larry Stillman, from the left-wing Australian Jewish Democratic Society, slammed the response by local Jewish leaders.
“Anything to do with the occupation is justified [by them] in the interest of Israeli destiny, existential threats and historical rights,” he said.
Liberal Zionists “appear very reluctant” to comment publicly, Stillman added, for fear of being “picked on” as “fellow travelers with the so-called left” or because they’ll receive the “wrath of the Israeli right and the Foreign Ministry.”
Former Labor foreign minister Bob Carr – who incensed Jewish leaders last year by branding all Israeli settlements “illegal” – also weighed in.
“When I was foreign minister, AIJAC directed a furious effort at trying to block even routine criticism of settlements, as if this were more vital than advocating a two-state solution or opposing boycotts of Israel,” Carr wrote in The Australian.
“Settlers themselves shatter all sympathy, as on the ABC’s ‘Four Corners’ on Monday, when [well-known settler] Daniella Weiss stated they deliberately had occupied land to block the creation of a Palestinian state because ‘this land was promised to the Jewish nation by God.’”
Carr, a cofounder of the Labor Friends of Israel group in the 1970s, offered this advice to Zionists in Australia: “Concede that the settlement mission is controversial within Israel. Point out many Israelis are opposed to the settler vision of a greater Israel indefinitely governing a majority Arab population. Give up any argument that settlements are legal under international law and move on to more fruitful territory.”
Jewish leaders last year blasted Carr’s “contentious and disputed legal claim,” saying it “potentially undermines” a resolution to the conflict.
During a visit to Israel last month, Carr’s successor, the Liberal Party’s Julie Bishop, urged the international community to resist labeling the settlements “illegal.”
“I would like to see which international law has declared them illegal,” Bishop told The Times of Israel, earning praise from mainstream Jewish leaders.