Palestine and the Saturday Paper

There’s been high praise for the Saturday Paper. If you’ve been – as they say – living under a rock, I’d direct you to the paper’s  twitter feed, where many of the comments are retweeted.

Unbeholden to 140 characters, let me try and capture the flavor of those tweets: the paper’s commentary is insightful and well-informed; it has a stable of some of Australia’s best writers working for it and it’s a welcome addition to the Fairfax/News Ltd duopoly that’s been one of the great scourges of Australian democracy.

I agree with all those sentiments.

Nonetheless, the Saturday Paper’s coverage of Israel’s assault on Gaza has been conspicuously, well, non-existent. As the death toll rises and more atrocities are committed, the Saturday Paper’s pages remain, to date, devoid of any comment.

One might consider this highly unusual. After all, it’s long been left to independent Left-wing media to support the Palestinian cause in the face of the grossly more powerful Israeli state and its supporters here in Australia. But for long-time readers of The Monthly, which, like the Saturday Paper, is published by Morry Schwartz, the coverage might not come as such a shock. (Mr. Schwartz also publishes Black Inc. and the Quarterly Essay.)

At the recent Wordstorm Festival in Darwin, John Van Tiggelan, former editor and now staff writer at The Monthly, said this:

…when you work at a small publication, it doesn’t matter if it was Graham Wood at the Global Mail or whether it’s Morry Schwartz at Black Inc. or The Monthly, you work very closely with the publisher and things do get spiked and you have raving rows about what goes through and what doesn’t and there are certain glass walls set by the publisher that you can’t go outside of and […] one of those is Palestine. I mean, it’s seen as a Left-wing publication, but the publisher is very Right-wing on Israel […] And he’s very much to the, you know, Benjamin Netanyahu end of politics. So, you can’t touch it; just don’t touch it. It’s a glass wall.

Robert Fisk, the brilliant Middle-East correspondent for the Independent, is fond of quoting the Haaretz journalist Amira Haas on the role of the media. ‘What journalism is really about,’ she says, ‘is to monitor powers and centres of power.’ There is, perhaps, nowhere in the world that this is more important than in the Middle-East, where the bellicose Israel – thanks to American backing – is grotesquely more powerful than its neighbours.

Here in Australia, the major parties refuse to rebuke Israel, even though in the current assault schools have been targeted and innocent children have been blown away while playing soccer on the beach. At the time of writing, some 1,300 Palestinians have been killed. It’s the responsibility of the media to protest this slaughter and challenge not just Israel but also the Australian government for tacitly supporting the bombardment.

Instead, one of Australia’s most important publishers says, according to Van Tiggelen, ‘just don’t touch it’. In principle this is no different to the Murdoch press’ universal support for the Iraq War (though the scale is smaller): top-down, institutionalised censorship based on the political beliefs of one individual. It’s fundamentally undemocratic and undermines the whole notion of a free press.

Morry Schwartz’s publications have done their best and most important work – on Indigenous rights, climate change, asylum seeker policy – when they’re railing against those in power and struggling to achieve a more just society administered by more moral leaders. That’s what we’ve come to expect from them. But on Israel’s assault on the Palestinians, they remain shamefully silent.

Tim Robertson

Tim Roberson is an independent journalist and writer. He tweets @timrobertson12.

More by Tim Robertson ›

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  1. Clearly, Morry is is not sympathetic towards alternate, even very moderate positions that are not fully supportive of Israeli political or military action. As a publisher, this is his right of course, but in terms of public discourse and platforms, it is a great pity because within Israel itself there are voices of opposition.

    This is a fault-line in the Jewish community. It is as simple as that. There are very few people in the Jewish community prepared to voice alternate viewpoints and those who are do not find themselves too welcome in many places.

  2. I don’t remember subscribing to the Morry Schwartz Opinion Weekly. I subscribed to a publication that said it was free and fearless. Now I find it’s just another Murdoch wannabe, reflecting one person’s opinions and nothing much else. Israel’s cruelty is now a key event in the world and should be reported by any free source. Shame TSP.

  3. What? If you want your daily fix of Palestine propaganda just switch to the ABC who support terrorist group Hamas. Reason being they are anti-religion. A person with deep religious beliefs will understand how this war started. Israelis are the indigenous people of that region and that’s final. Palestine should not have a terrorist group running their country, Hamas should not be stealing the aid that America sends their poor, and they should not be using their own people as human shields (that’s why there are more Palestinian deaths than Israelis. Israel tries to protect its civilians and defend its county. They have never in history instigated a war so who are the cruel ones?

  4. Rebecca, you obviously do not know the history of the Middle East. If you did, you would know that the Israeli’s ARE NOT the indigenous people of that region.

  5. Good read Tim.””They have never in history instigated a war so who are the cruel ones?”” – that is not so Rebecca. There was much violence in the years leading to 1948. Also in October 1956 Israel invaded Egypt as part of the operation that led to the famous Suez Crisis.

  6. Gawd Rebecca,

    So … the ABC supports ISLAMIST group Hamas because the ABC is anti-religion???

    And being the only mainstream media outlet in the country that has dedicated religious programming means the organisation is anti-religion now ???

    All reinforcing my experience that most Zionists inhabit another dimension of reality altogether.

    Seriously wondering what evidence you’re relying on for that assertion …

    As for the indigenous thing – in 1948, the population of Palestine was 1,900,000, of whom 68% were Arabs, and 32% were Jews. Israel today has a population of 7.9 million. So, even factoring in a stupidly high birthrate (and we know Palestinian birth rates are actually significantly higher than Jewish rates), the VAST MAJORITY of Israeli citizens are immigrants to the region.

    So. Try again?

  7. Rebecca, send me your address and I’ll mail you a reading list which you desperately need:

    – A hard copy of the ABC charter so that you understand it’s true aims and approaches to topics like religion

    – Hitti’s History of the Arabs with the sections on the Palestine region highlighted

    – ANY basic history book so that you can grasp basic Middle Eastern history, such as the annexation of Palestine and who its indigenous people are

    – Maps both pre and post 1948

    – A guidebook on politeness, maybe ‘Think Twice Before You Troll on the Internet’ and ‘Help! All The Propaganda I’ve Learnt All My Life Is Wrong’ and even ‘The Anti Semitic Flowchart: How To Spot The Difference First Before Accusing’

    It’d be funny if it wasn’t perverse, how hateful commenters on such articles spend their time nesting, breeding, pumping out disinformation, generalisations and crude insults. It is a great use of time – why bother going outside? Playing with the dog? Constructing meaningful human relationships or god forbid, learning something.

    It is a little amusing, because it’s so meaningless and we don’t live in the Dark Ages – we can verify your claims as easy as anything.

  8. I would argue that Crikey too (also supposed to be independent, fearless etc) fails the test of Palestine. It’s as though the Gaza slaughter hasn’t been happening, to read Crikey lately.

  9. Rebecca

    Israel’s defence of their occupation of Palestine is simple: God told us to do this and supports us. Same logic as terrorists claiming Allah as their leader as they commit violences. The support of the Australian and American governments for Israel is founded on blind (religious-like) belief and cowardice rather than justice. What you say just proves to us what the people in Gaza face. You want them obliterated. Shame on you. The point is that most Australians are horrified with what Israel has been doing despite our various government’s stances.

  10. On The Saturday Paper, it has been a disappointment in my opinion. Anyway, it never set out to be Leftist. In fact its editor and Morrie both went public saying they wanted to be seen as middle of the road (read liberal-capitalist, i.e. not Leftist)!

  11. Fleur

    That’s nonsense. Crikey has had several eye-witness reports from Gaza. coverage of the media construction here, opinion pieces about the moral questions behind the event, connection of it wiht policies on refugees etc, arguments about the ‘anti-semitism’ tag, satire, and letters. More than a dozen pieces over the last three weeks. That seems to be a pretty good coverage, with a whole world to cover

  12. Hey Rebecca – I recommend you watch the extraordinary 2012 documentary The Gatekeepers. This is a series of interviews with the former heads of the Shin Bet, the Israeli security service. Not even you could argue they are in any way biased against Israel as their entire working lives were dedicated to the security of the state of Israel as they saw it. Their comments about having much more trouble with Israeli extremists than Palestinian activists are eye-opening. There’s no doubt in their minds about who is responsible for the ongoing troubles.

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