A case study in obsession

Two months before he was assassinated, Malcolm X, in a speech at Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom in December 1964, spoke about the influence of the corporate media. Malcolm told his audience that the corporate media often worked in the service of those in power and sought to convince ordinary people not to fight on the side of the oppressed. ‘If you aren’t careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing,’ he said.

For anyone following closely the Australian newspaper’s coverage over the last month of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, Malcolm X’s words ring true. As most pro-Palestine supporters in Australia will be aware, the Australian has developed an obsession with the campaign, which was initiated in 2005 by 171 Palestinian civil society groups, including political parties, unions, youth and women’s associations. Inspired by the South African struggle against apartheid, the campaign is conducted in the framework of human rights, solidarity and resistance to injustice and oppression. It calls for non-violent punitive measures to be maintained against Israel until it meets its obligation to recognise the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination, and fully complies with international law. The campaign opposes all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

Anyone reading the pages of the Australian over the last month would not, however, be aware of any of these facts. Between May 1 and May 31, the Australian published 26 news articles, editorials or opinions on the BDS campaign, the vast majority of which have been overwhelmingly negative, condemning the Palestinian BDS campaign and Palestine supporters as anti-Semitic and running an intolerant hate campaign. Of the seventeen news articles, four editorials and five opinion piece run the Australian, only one of the op-eds was pro-BDS. All editorials have been anti-BDS, as have most of the news articles.

What has been overwhelmingly noticeable about all of the Australian’s coverage of BDS is the absence of the voices of the oppressed: in this case, the voice of Palestinians. In contrast, the vast majority of news articles and op-eds have privileged the voices of pro-Israel politicians and leading members of various pro-Israel Zionist lobby groups in Australia. Also noticeably absent from the Australian’s coverage of BDS is an acknowledgement that under international law Israel is carrying out an illegal and belligerent military occupation of Palestinian territory. The Australian’s denial of Israel’s occupation, and the human rights abuses against Palestinians document by the United Nations and human rights organisations both inside and outside of Israel and Palestine, reached absurd proportions on 30 May in an article by Ean Higgins, which claimed that Israel was only engaged in the ‘alleged oppression of the Palestinians’.

In 2011, the Australian ran a similarly obsessive campaign in its pages when the Sydney Marrickville Council passed a pro-BDS resolution and Melbourne BDS supporters began a series of demonstrations outside of one of the Australian Max Brenner franchises. The franchises are part of the global operations of one of Israel’s largest food and beverage companies, the Strauss Group, which become a focus for BDS protests because of it collaboration with the Israeli military. Not only is Strauss an approved supplier to the Israeli Department of Defence, it has also boasted of its support two of the military brigades heavily involved in Israel’s military assault on the Gaza Strip in December/January 2008–2009, an operation that resulted in the death of more than 1400 Palestinians (mostly civilians), including approximately 350 children.

While the Australian’s latest round of BDS bashing reached ridiculous proportions in May, its initial anti-BDS reportage began in April, when University of NSW students announced they would protest against Max Brenner opening a store on their campus and the Sydney University’s Student Representative Council passed a motion in support of the Palestinian BDS campaign and Associate Professor and Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney, Jake Lynch. Over the last seven months, Lynch has become the Australian’s favourite BDS whipping boy, with the paper publishing numerous negative op-eds, editorials and news articles castigating him and the Peace Centre for their principled human rights stand.

So why has the Australian become so obsessed with BDS?  The Australian has long been associated with the ideological Right and big business in Australia. It has also long been viewed by those in the Palestine solidarity movement as an unabashedly pro-Zionist, pro-Israel newspaper. Chris Mitchell, the rightwing editor-in-chief of the Australian, is also well recognised not only as an ideological editor unafraid to push his opinion through the pages of the newspaper but also ‘strong campaigning, activist editor’ according to at least one member of his staff.  According to some of Mitchell’s critics, including one of his former journalists, the paper has ‘replaced good journalism with agenda setting’.  Media commentator, Jonathan Holmes from ABC’s Media Watch has noted that the Australian has become so ‘driven by its obsessions and campaigns’ that it is now a difficult newspaper to read.

Former Greens leader Bob Brown has also accused the Australian of running an obsessive and agenda driven campaign against his party. In January 2011, Brown requested the parliamentary library to investigate how many times the Australian had mentioned the Greens or himself in editorials over the previous decade and whether or not their editorialising had been favourable, neutral or negative. The investigation found that during that period there had been 252 mentions, with 188 of them negative, 59 neutral and only five (or 2 percent) positive.

A similar obsession can now be seen in relation to the Palestinian BDS campaign. It has become clear that the Australian’s reporting of the issue has become agenda driven, so much so that any fair reporting and commentary has gone out the window.

The ideological nature of the Australian’s campaign against the Palestinian BDS campaign and its supporters is even more notable when you compare its coverage of the campaign to that of other newspapers, both in Australia and internationally. While the Australian ran 26 news articles, editorials and op-eds on BDS in May, Fairfax newspapers’ the Age and Sydney Morning Herald ran a total of two different news articles on BDS between them. Neither paper found it necessary to print either an op-ed or an editorial on the subject in that period.

While the Australian’s editorials have sought to vilify pro-BDS campaigners as anti-Semites, other newspapers of note have defended BDS as a legitimate non-violent way to express political dissent. In May, renowned physicist Professor Stephen Hawking withdrew from the President’s Conference in Israel.  On 11 May, The Boston Globe ran an editorial defending his right to peaceful dissent in boycotting Israel:

the decision to withdraw from a conference is a reasonable way to express one’s political views. Observers need not agree with Hawking’s position in order to understand and even respect his choice. The movement that Hawking has signed on to aims to place pressure on Israel through peaceful means. In the context of a Mideast conflict that has caused so much destruction and cost so many lives, nonviolence is something to be encouraged … Foreclosing non-violent avenues to give people a political voice ­– and maybe bring about an eventual resolution – only makes what is already difficult that much more challenging.

In stark contrast, the week before Hawking’s boycott became public, the Australian demanded that peaceful non-violent BDS protests not even be tolerated. After the revelation of Hawking’s support, the Australian was uncharacteristically quiet. While three of the op-eds did make reference to Hawking’s boycott, the primary focus of two of them was not Hawking but a broader condemnation of the Palestinian BDS campaign.

In the past two weeks, we have seen attempts to curtail freedom of speech stepped up a notch, with the Federal Opposition announcing, via the pages of the Australian that ‘the Coalition will institute a policy across government that ensures no grants of taxpayers’ funds are provided to individuals or organisations which actively support the BDS campaign’. Funds would be cut not only for BDS-related activities, but also for any research, educational or other purpose. On 30 May, Ean Higgin’s noted in his article in the Australian that the Coalition was also demanding that Federal Labor similarly pledge to also curtail the freedom of speech of individuals or organisations that supports BDS.

The false labeling of BDS as anti-Semitic is not unique to Australia. Israel and its advocates around the world have sought to discredit it and criminalise support for BDS. All such attempts must be strongly rejected, whether it is done by newspapers or politicians. The attempt to intimidate supporters of the Palestinian human rights must also be rejected. As Malcolm X noted, we cannot allow the media to convince us that it is wrong to fight against power and for the oppressed. Instead, we must not be afraid to make our voices heard in support of justice, freedom and human rights.

Kim Bullimore

Kim Bullimore is the author of 'BDS and the Struggle for a Free Palestine', which appears, Left Turn: Political Essays for the New Left, edited by Antony Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow. She is a long time anti-racism campaigner and a volunteer with the International Women’s Peace Service, the only all-women international peace team working on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In 2010, she co-organised the first Australian national Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Conference in support of Palestine. Kim has a blog at www.livefromoccupiedpalestine.blogpost.com

More by Kim Bullimore ›

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  1. Thank you Kim for a most informative and eloquent response to the vitriolic smear campaign by The Australian newspaper and its ideological counterparts in the corporate media.

    It is astounding that the corporate-owned press, while extolling the values of a free media, resort to such sordid, underhand tactics to attack a grass-roots community campaign on such an important issue. The ideological mass productions of the corporate media gain a certain level of legitimacy among working class people, and it is important to respond to the slurs against the BDS campaign.

    This article also raises the crucial question of what kind of media we want and need in Australia – a media run by and for a small financial oligarchy, or a reader-supported media that incorporates the many diverse voices of the working class in this one world that we all inhabit.

  2. Here in Philadelphia, the Inquirer has been markedly silent on any BDS events, as I think most of the populace is unaware of its existance, and, better to keep it that way. More noticeable is the lack of ANY balanced opinion of any thing Palestine related. Op/Ed page consists more about school lunch programs and corrupt city government, except for a weekly Charles Krauthammer right wing diatribe. All pro Israel, all con Obama. Not that Obama is doing anything different that the string of past US Presidants dating back 50 years or so! Middle East columnist Trudy Rubin gives us a usually well balanced perspective on events pertaining to all but Israel. Her most recent column discussed the negotiation Process but made no mention of Palestinian oppression, peaceful resistance, right of return. All nor potatoes whose mention would,probably land her on the street.

  3. Thanks for this article, Kim. What I have found, in Australia, as an advocate of BDS, is that I seldom meet with reasoned opposition to my arguments (with honourable exceptions, such as one or two members of my own Centre at the University of Sydney). Generally, the instinct of the pro-Israel lobby is to shout us down, smear us as racist, or – as with the swish of Julie Bishop’s jackboot – use the coercive power of the state to crush dissent. I wonder why? Could that instinct be one of fear, that if people had the chance to appraise the arguments on a fair and transparent basis, they would end up agreeing with us? That is a process that seems to be underway in the UK, with the decision by Stephen Hawking to join the boycott now promising to create more opportunities for the case to be heard. And in many other countries – which is now feeding through into political process, as witness the large number of EU member states who voted ‘yes’ on the Palestine motion at the UN General Assembly last November. It is since then that the anti-BDS demonisation machine has gone into full swing here, and the timing is not coincidental.

  4. After publishing a piece in the Conversation on a very similar trend at the Australian (http://theconversation.com/establishing-the-facts-about-the-boycott-of-israeli-academic-institutions-11565) I have also been personally targetted through attempted intimidation and libel. This was through a libelos email campaign, where the writer impersonated me, claimed that I was running some racist boycott of all things Arab and Iranian, and also claims to have distributed this fake press release to hundreds of thousands of international news outlets. Indeed some news outlets have mistakenly run a very similar fake press releases: http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL1208/S00158/apology-for-fake-press-release-published-in-error.htm

    Here is an excerpt from the libelos email masquerading as a press release. Let me be clear that this is a completely untruthful smear and that no such campaign exists:

    No. NR – 98,771
    For Immediate Distribution
    The new boycott campaign is supported by David Shoebridge, leader of the NSW Greens, NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon, the Centre for Peace and Conflict Resolution of the University of Sydney, the Association of Australian Arab Professors, Australian Friends of Middle East Democracy, the Socialist Alternative, Bishop George Browning, the League for Iranian Democracy, Rev. Gregor Henderson, Past President of Uniting Church in Australia, Sonja Karkar, President of Australian Women Against Saudi Gender Apartheid, Jill Hickson and Josie Evans leaders of the Socialist Alliance, and former Australian Ambassador to Syria Ross Burns.
    AUBAIG co-founder Paul Duffill, a professor at the University of Sydney and a crusader for the seething Arab masses in the Middle East, pointed out that the illegitimate Muslim Arab government leaders are being targeted by his cadre of activists with arrest warrants should they step foot on Australian soil or seek asylum here. Under the international laws of universal jurisdiction, war criminals and their genocidal ilk are liable to arrest upon the deposition of a citizen’s complaint before the Attorney General.

    Such concerted misinformation campaigns function as a cover-up for the basic established legal facts of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. The clear illegality of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory was established by a ruling of the International Court of Justice (aka the World Court) back in 2004 (http://www.icj-cij.org/docket/index.php?p1=3&p2=2&case=131&code=mwp&p3=4)

    It is concerning that the Australian seems to be afraid of reporting these basic legal facts of the Israel-Palestine conflict which are obviously of interest to many of the Australian’s readers and other typical law-abiding people in Australia.

    I agree that the timing of this cover-up does not appear to be coincidental. With recognition of the Palestinian state by the international community at the UN, and growing support for the BDS now including argulably the most world-renowned Steves (Stephen Hawking and Stevie Wonder: http://mondoweiss.net/2012/11/report-stevie-wonder-pulls-out-of-idf-fundraiser-after-bds-activists-wage-campaign.html) It appears those lobbying against Palestinian legal equality have changed tactics as awareness of the basic illegality of Israel’s occupation spreads. Veterans Today reports that eighteen months ago the Israeli government released a new training manual “new media warriors” to disseminate positive information about the state and attack the BDS. (http://www.veteranstoday.com/2011/03/04/stuart-littlewood-warning-bds-success-answered-by-%E2%80%98boycott-arab-goods%E2%80%99-smear/). The same article also notes that almost identical emails have been distributed the same day it was announced Israel is spending $1.6 million to train these “new media warriors”.

    It would be remarkable indeed if these tax-payer funded “media warriors” were upfront about Israel’s basic obligations under international law, when even Israel’s own Ministry of Foreign Affairs ignores these basic facts of the ground (http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/foreignpolicy/peace/guide/pages/israeli%20settlements%20and%20international%20law.aspx)

    So the responsibility falls even more on media, (including the Australian) to show neither fear nor favour, and report the basic facts of this serious conflict which are of clear interest to people in Australia.

    1. Hi Paul

      Just an old chalkie’s comment on the spelling of libellous! It appears to have two Ls and a U in the OUS bit!
      But too, on the other hand, no other country has experienced such disapproval as Israel and that is a pity for it looks awfully like special pleading to me.
      more another time. Israel should not be in Palestinian territory I agree. But it is a right wing religious government; nothing will change until the government does.

  5. Interesting! A person called “Kim marie” keeps popping up in my facebook pages, though i have not friended her. Though apparently neither Israeli nor Palestinian, she is always the first to cast the stone against Israel, apparently spending her days hunting the world’s anti Israel sites for everything nasty, while being apparently deaf and blind to the nasties of the middle eastern ‘hood. Ive often wondered whether she has some kind of OCD. Her tone is invariably less about loving Palestinians than about hating Israel. Projection of ones own feared flaws onto the “Other” has always been at the heart of anti-semitism. I see that for Kim the OCD worm has finally turned.

    Anyone who stumbles on this article needs to know that the Australian supporters of BDS are a tiny handful of haters and obsessives who hope to represent themselves as some kind of moral majority. Their black and white thinking fuels the flames. The Australian is a respondent in this polarisation and oddly enough for centre leftist Jews and yes, Palestinians, working for two state solution against the extremists of both sides, seems to be doing a good job of defending Israel’s right to exist.

    1. Strange how all Zionists sing from the same hym book of smear, slander, abuse and intimidate. If Israel is not colonisng and carrying out an ethnic cleaning of Palestine, please show with evidence where the writer is wrong and disprove her. If there are are no facts to oppose her, then she is right. And hasbara is the means of trying to silence voices opposing the genocide.

  6. Forgot to mention that OCD appears to be at the centre of conspiracy theories. Nice example above from Jake Lynch, nice try associating the “jackboot” … hmmm …. with the defenders of Israel’s right to exist.

  7. One would have to deduce that this was the only country acting in a protectionist way to the detriment of another country..
    I can’t help but feel that it is rather lacks perspective.
    Could we look at Syria? Russia, some African countries and take up BDSs on those too..?

    1. There are activists working on those countries as well, if you care to come down to the state library in Melbourne on any Friday evening you will see some protest or campaign on issues from Western Sahara to West Papua.

      Presumably you will urge them not to target those countries but campaign against Israel.

  8. Thanks so far to everyone so far who has commented, including both those who found my article useful and those who disagree.

    In response to those who have some disagreements:

    Jenny McNaughton:
    There are many boycott campaigns happening around the world, so it is a fallacy and a myth created by pro-Israel advocates that Israel is the only country being “targeted” for boycott.

    A key point that The Australian and many pro-Israeli advocates like to ignore in relation to the BDS campaign against Israel is that it is a campaign initiated not by supporters of Palestine but by Palestinians themselves against their oppressors.

    As I noted in my chapter on BDS in Left Turn: “While the Murdoch media and many Zionists were content to try smear the BDS campaign with the false claim of anti-Semitism, other opponents of BDS have sought to discredit the campaign by arguing that it is hypocritical because it ‘singles out’ Israel, ignoring other countries such China, Saudia Arabia or Syria who are also committing human rights abuses. But this overlooks that BDS is an anti-colonial campaign initiated by an oppressed, colonised people against their colonial oppressor. It would therefore make no sense for the Palestinians to be calling for the boycott of China or Saudi Arabia or Syria, when the state oppressing them is Israel”.

    If the Syrian people opposing Assad’s brutality called for a boycott of Syria, both myself and many other Palestine solidarity activists would be happy to support it. In Melbourne, I would point out that quite a few pro-Palestine activists have also played an active role in organising demonstrations with members of the Syrian community against the Assad regime over the last year and many of us have attended these rallies (myself included).

    Zionists and pro-Israel advocates like to believe that Palestinian solidarity activists are blind to any other injustices in the world, including in the rest of the Middle East. Speaking only for myself personally, over the years I have helped organise rallies in support of women in Iraq against the Saddam Hussien regime, as well as rallies against the repression of women in Iran and Afghanistan (I have also been involved in many other social justice campaigns which have nothing to do with the Middle East).

    What is noticeable at all of these events is that the Zionists and pro-Israel advocates who are always demanding that pro-Palestine supporters protest other injustices in the Middle East are nowhere to be seen, thus making it clear that they have little interest in supporting justice for the people of Iran, Iraq or Syria or elsewhere. Instead, their main aim is simply to deflect attention from the human rights abuses being carried out by the Israeli state out against the Palestinian people.

    In my personal experience, every pro-Palestine solidarity activist I have ever meet, whether in Australia or overseas, are also actively involved in a variety of other human rights campaigns. .


    Doves Are Grey:
    It seems we share some similar FB friends – how nice for you! My first point would be to say I never realised you had to be a particular nationality to oppose injustice, oppression or human rights abuses. As a child, I was taught by my parents that it is the duty of every single human being to oppose injustice and oppression where ever it may exist and to demand dignity and human rights for all my fellow human being irrespective of religion, race, sex, sexuality or gender. It is a life lesson I will always be grateful to my parents for teaching me.

    So in case you are still confused: one does not have to be either Israeli or Palestinian to oppose the oppression of Palestinians by Israel, one just has to be a human being who believes that their fellow human beings should have the right to live a life of dignity, free from oppression and human rights abuses.

    Gandhi once said: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”. While I thank you very much for your concern for my health (which is wonderful by the way), I also appreciate you proving the truism of Gandhi’s adage.

    When oppressors and their supporters can no longer ignore you, they try to laugh at you and/or belittle you, primarily because they are unable to actually counter your arguments either rationally, logically or morally. It is par for the course as any social justice activist knows. It is a sign that the oppressor and their supporters are on the backfoot and that the oppressed and their supporters are on the right track and will eventually win out.

  9. It seems to have (wilfully) escaped your notice that no matter what the propaganda states, BDS does not have the best interests of the Palestinian people as heart and are not interested in any peaceful solution to the conflict. If the organisers cared, they would foster any and all collaboration between Israelis and Palestinians as a step towards peace and a better life for the Palestinian people. But are they? No. They are vigilant against any form of Palestinian Israeli collaboration. It is not The Australian newspaper that is obsessed – it is the BDS movement.

  10. Hello Jet collaboration with Israel means being its stooge in the occupation of Palestine. History should have taught you what Nazi collaborators in the Warsaw ghetto were called. Would you have advised the Warsaw resistance to collaborate with the occupiers ?

  11. Thanks again to those who have taken the time to comment.

    In response to JET:
    As noted in my article and in my comment to Jenny McNaughton, the BDS campaign is an non-violent initiative of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian BDS campaign was initiated in 2005 by 171 Palestinian civil society groups. BDS is called for by the largest and broadest coalition ever created of Palestinian civil society institutions, political parties, trade unions and NGO networks. Therefore, to claim as you have done, that “BDS does not have the interest of the Palestinian people as [at?] [its] heart and are not interested in any peaceful solution to the conflict” is not only false but smacks of colonialism and paternalism.

    As Hind Awwad, the Palestinian national coordinator of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (BNC) in Ramallah explained in an interview I did with her in 2011, the argument that BDS hurts Palestinians “is a very patronising argument. It makes it seem like Palestinians are not mature enough to decide what they want. The overwhelming consensus within Palestinian civil society is very clear on the need for full BDS. We are mature enough to make our own decisions; we are mature enough to know what we want and to know what tactics to use to wage our struggle, our resistance to Israel’s oppression”

    As Hind notes in the interview, there is overwhelming consensus in support of BDS, including academic and cultural boycott amongst all three sectors of Palestinian society – that is those Palestinian living under occupation; Palestinians with Israeli citizenship and Palestinian refugees living in exile. .

    As for the claim that BDS and BDS activists are “against any form of Palestinian Israeli collaboration” is also false. The 2005 Palestinian BDS calls clearly states the following: “We also invite conscientious Israelis to support this Call, for the sake of justice and genuine peace”.

    What BDS opposes is the normalisation of Israel’s occupation and apartheid policies and as such it opposes collaboration with institutions which supports and assists in such normalisation. However, the BDS campaign and BDS activists are more than willing to work with anyone, including Israelis, who oppose such normalisation.

    In fact, the Palestinian BDS National Committee in Palestine works closely with a number of Israeli based groups, including the Coalition of Women for Peace who run the excellent “Who Profits” website. The Palestinian BDS NC also work with Boycott!, an Israeli group which actively support the Palestinian BDS campaign and campaigns for BDS from within Israel.

    In Australia, BDS campaigners have hosted a range of Israeli speakers, including renown Israeli historian, Dr Ilan Pappe was the keynote speaker at last years BDS Conference in Adelaide.

  12. If BDS wanted peace between Israel and Palestinians, I would support it.

    But the majority of BDS people obsessively demonize Israel in unfair, out of context fashion, rabidly promote raw deranged hate of Israel, promote bigotry against Israeli Jews, hold Israel to unfair standards, refuse to take into account the fact that Israel’s crazy neighbors have made war after war after war against Israel, refuse to take into account the fact that Israel’s neighbors destroyed their Jewish populations, constantly accuse Israel of “ethnic cleansing” even though Israel has one million Arab citizens while Arab countries actually DID ethnically cleanse their Jewish populations out, refuse to discuss terrorism against Israel, refuse to discuss the fact that Israel’s neighbors are lunatics (Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, Assad, Muslim Brotherhood, etc)… and worst of all, most BDS people refuse to recognize the democratic right of Israel, via majority of their citizens, to define themselves as a Jewish state — just like Muslim-majority countries define themselves as Muslim states.

    In summary, BDS is mostly a bunch of antisemitic, dishonest garbage.

    If it was a peaceful movement that would bring a Palestinian state AND bring peace between that new state and Israel, I would support it.

    But BDS is mostly Jew-haters and extreme-left radicals who are OK with Muslim states, OK with Arab states, but think the Jewish state should be erased/destroyed.

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