Right turn: the Australian Jewish News

Many years ago, I used to write angry letters to the Australian Jewish News. To their credit, they ran some of them, mostly unedited. The op ed pages were never worth reading, but the letters pages were kind of lively. They featured angry dissents from a handful of other progressive Jews. At an Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) Review, it was joked that people bought it to see pictures of their kids and grandkids.

A few years ago, the Goldstone Report came out. One would not expect much from the Jewish News on such an occasion, right?


The editorial was actually quite surprising. So surprising, I think it is worth quoting in full, as I have long expected it to disappear from the internet, and certainly no one else seems to have noted or commented on it.

The boilerplate argument that the report should not be taken seriously because the UN has a historic bias against Israel – a charge that is not unfounded – will not be enough to counter this particular report, for a number of reasons.

Firstly, Justice Richard Goldstone, in accepting the UN’s request to lead the inquest, lent credibility to the process that it would not otherwise have had. A highly regarded figure on the international human rights scene with experience in the prosecution of war crimes, Goldstone commands respect.

Goldstone’s presence also deflects criticism for the report by the fact that he is Jewish and has had a good relationship with Israel in the past.

Secondly, the United States has now joined the Human Rights Council (HRC), which commissioned the report. No longer can the HRC be so easily dismissed as a biased and hypocritical fringe body – not when US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have bestowed upon it tacit legitimacy through US participation.

Its recommendation:

It would be tempting for Israel, given its belief and contention that the report is a sham, to simply criticise its findings, hunker down over the high holy days and pray for the storm to pass – ideally with American support. The US, after all, has defended Israel from vicious attack in the UN many times before.

It would, however, be a mistake. The Israeli government must keep its emotions in check and take this report very seriously – refute what it can refute, and continue to work towards vigorously prosecuting the rest. The consequences of misplaying its hand on this would be grave.

Obviously, the editorial offended the powers that be. The next week, the front page had a picture of Goldstone, with ‘DISGRACE’ in big red letters. The editorial was what one may have originally predicted. No explanation was given for the radical change, but given the seamless change within a week, one can guess at the kind of process that took place.

The AJN has seemingly become more right-wing than ever. For those of us who read it, the only interesting thing in it is how appalling it can get. Strangely, it has been balanced by unusually progressive occasional op eds, such as one by former AUJS head, and New Israel Fund board member Liam Getreu supporting a settlement boycott.

A few months ago, I noted that they had run a column by the executive director of the Anti-Defamation Commission urging that ‘We need to monitor the Australian Muslim community’. This largely passed unnoticed.

Last week, the AJN ran a ‘correction’. It said: ‘In last week’s AJN (20/07) Rabbi Chaim Ingram expressed an opinion on homosexuality held by certain sections of the Jewish community. The AJN apologises for any offence caused.’

Note the lack of apology for the sentiment, or criticism of the opinion. Gay Jewish activist Michael Barnett featured the offending column on his blog. According to Barnett, Rabbi Ingram wrote that ‘Orthodoxy sees [homosexuality] as a sin for which one must be prepared to give up one’s life if necessary.’

Apparently, Rabbi Ingram believes gay people should be ‘prepared’ to give up their lives if necessary. This opinion is, according to the AJN, ‘held by certain sections of the Jewish community’. If anything, I think this ‘correction’ is an insult to the Jewish community, unfairly stigmatised by the unbelievable views of Rabbi Ingram.

The latest issue of the AJN (03/08/12) is rather interesting and revealing. It features a column from the publisher of the AJN, Robert Magid. Titled ‘Curb your compassion’, it explains that ‘long suffering refugees … have been pushed down the queue and told they must wait years beyond their due date because the unscrupulous illegal immigrants have taken their place in the queue.’

What’s that you say? The Australian Press Council slammed Greg Sheridan for using the term ‘illegal immigrants’ to refer to asylum seekers? Yep, that was last year.

Evidently, Mr Magid, in solidarity with Greg ‘Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons’ Sheridan, wanted to reclaim the egregiously false and inflammatory term.

Achieving greater moral distinction, he describes as ‘unconscionable’ those who

bring the Holocaust into the discussion. The Jews who fled the Holocaust fled certain death. I doubt whether there is a single boat person in that position. Some may have fled a war zone or limited economic opportunities, while others are seeking an easy life. None were facing certain death.

None. Apparently, within his own premises, he holds the startling view that no one in war zones die.

It has been a while since one has heard this level of apologetics for groups like the Taliban, and I guess one might not have expected it from the Jewish News. As it happens, I have a friend who is a refugee from Iran. He was going to be executed for apostasy before he managed to escape the government’s custody and flee the country. He was then locked up needlessly, cruelly, for a year by Australia. I suppose Mr Magid, however, prefers to believe in the benevolence of the Iranian government.

I will spare you what he wrote about Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Mr Magid went on to write that

obviously, if Al-Qaeda or another jihadi organisation wished to create a network of terrorists in Australia, undocumented illegal immigration would ensure that Australian authorities had no way of verifying their bona fides.

Should one laugh? Should one cry?

On one point I almost agree with Magid. I tend to view with strong distaste glib appeals by non-Jews to the Holocaust when seeking to win arguments. The prevalence of such comparisons in some circles, I think, is grossly insensitive and inflammatory. I would not expect rape survivors to be confronted with ubiquitous tropes of rape when debating political questions. The point seems too obvious to labour further.

However, there was one rather interesting mention of the Holocaust in relation to refugees I read the other day: in Blind Conscience by Margot O’Neill. In the context of an interview with Philip Ruddock, we read this exchange:

Margot: Would you expect Jews to apologise when they jumped in boats and tried to escape from Nazi Germany?
Philip: What I do say in relation to the Jewish community is that I cannot recall any who sought to access Australia unlawfully.
Philip: … Of course Jews were entitled to flee from Germany and to seek a sanctuary.
Margot: Would you have been annoyed if they’d come here by boat?
Philip: Yes.

The representatives for the largest Jewish electorates are Malcolm Turnbull and Michael Danby. These are not the hardest politicians on asylum seekers. But I guess Magid’s views are ‘held by certain sections of the Jewish community’.


Michael Brull

Michael Brull is a columnist at New Matilda. He’s written for other publications including Fairfax, the Guardian, Crikey, Tracker and the Indigenous Law Bulletin.

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