In the war of ideas, we operate under huge handicaps. Our adversaries attract sympathy as underdogs, yet carry enormous economic and political clout and effectively control international institutions like the UN. In addition, they have hijacked NGOs purportedly promoting human rights, yet are at the forefront of racist campaigns to demonize and delegitimize us. It is disgraceful that many western journalists collaborate with them.
Australia has consistently maintained a staunch bipartisan friendship with the Jewish State since its creation. Under the current Labor government headed by Julia Gillard, it remains, like the United States and Canada, one of the few countries where Israel still gets a fair hearing.
On November 26, John Lyons, the accredited Jerusalem reporter for The Australian, the leading national daily, wrote a 3000 word feature lambasting alleged inhumane Israeli treatment of Palestinian children.
Although The Australian has a consistent record of being fair and open-minded in relation to Israel, this was a classic compendium of anti-Israeli vilification, reminiscent of the wildest distortions and fabrications contained in the Goldstone report.
The sources attributed were the usual Israeli demonizers – B’Tselem, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din, and in particular, the organization Defense for Children International (DCI) represented by Australian lawyer, Gerald Horton. Lyons also interviewed a spokesman for ‘Breaking the Silence’, the discredited group which paved the way and actively collaborated with the Goldstone Committee, providing ‘evidence’ which, after investigation, proved to be largely unsubstantiated and was even significantly repudiated by Goldstone himself.
Lyons, who the IDF provided with unfettered access to closed courts, portrayed youngsters in shackles and weeping mothers observing swift justice by ‘brutal’ Israeli military authorities. He described IDF courts as a “Guantanamo Bay for kids”.
He quoted at length from DCI’s Horton, who referred to “385 sworn affidavits” alleging the worst imaginable atrocities, including beatings, torture, intimidating children with savage dogs, electric shock treatment, and every conceivable horror. He even referred to an “interrogator from Gush Etzion” who specialized in threatening children with rape.
If only a tiny proportion of these allegations contained a kernel of truth, we would have good reason to be concerned. But as in previous horror stories, I have every confidence that the evidence is based on testimony which will once again prove to be overwhelmingly false. We need only refer to the Mohammed el Dura fraud, the Jenin “massacre”, the Goldstone allegations of “deliberate” targeting of civilians in Gaza and other charges leveled against us, that months later, were shown to have been outright lies.
Not surprisingly, the marathon feature by Lyons created a considerable stir in Australia.
Australian Jewish leaders and pro-Israel activists promptly requested the Israeli embassy to respond with information for rebuttals from the Army, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister’s office. Direct representations were also made to Jerusalem. For weeks, they were told that the authorities were reviewing the matter but no reply was forthcoming. One unofficial response idiotically suggested that the best approach to such a hostile article was to ignore it and it would blow over.
On December 17, the failure to respond resulted in a second article by Lyons, regurgitating what he had written previously, informing readers that Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was deeply concerned over the report and had instructed Australia’s diplomatic representatives to initiate a formal inquiry with the Israeli authorities. It is common knowledge that Rudd is personally keen to distance Australia from Israel in order to curry Arab votes for Australia’s candidature for a UN Security Council seat. But he would not have had credible grounds for initiating such an inquiry had the Israeli authorities provided a meaningful response.
Only following the Australian decision to investigate the matter, did the IDF spokesperson belatedly issue a bland legal statement, outlining the reasons why in this context, the custody of minors did not violate international law.
It may be difficult for those living in Western countries to comprehend the concept of jailing children for throwing stones. However, stone throwing has emerged as a staple component of terrorism and to some extent a wretched form of identity for Palestinian youth.
It should also be appreciated that stones are hurled equally at innocent Israeli civilians as well as soldiers, and in addition to maiming and scarring, have proven to be lethal. Only recently, Asher Palmer and his one year old son died after a stone smashed the windshield of his car.
Yet despite this, the reality is that as a deterrent, only a tiny proportion of stone throwers are being prosecuted. Otherwise, the Israeli jails would be overflowing with them.
The issue is additionally complicated because children in Israel are not tried under the same laws as apply to territories over the green line which, not having been annexed to Israel, operate under Jordanian and British mandatory laws.
Any Israeli official with a modicum of political sensitivity should have stressed that child terrorism represents one of the most reprehensible aspects of the Palestinian culture of death and criminality.
From kindergarten, Palestinian children are brainwashed into becoming martyrs by killing Jews in order to fulfill their Islamic obligation to expunge Jewish sovereignty from the region. Aside from continuously being employed as human shields, they are frequently exploited as suicide bombers.
The monstrous massacre of the Fogel family in March, which included the beheading of an infant, was perpetrated by a Palestinian family group which included a minor.
But what is both incomprehensible and disgraceful is that until now, the IDF response has still failed to repudiate the real source of concern – the outrageous lies and defamations concerning the torture of minors.
The response to the libels contained in Lyons article should have pointed out that many of the NGOs demonizing Israel are the same ones which provided “testimonies” about Israeli atrocities and war crimes to the Goldstone Committee which were subsequently demonstrated to be fabrications.
They should also have asked why Lyons did not query the failure of the defamers to raise these accusations in the appropriate Israeli tribunals such as the Supreme Court which even has a controversial record amongst Israelis for intervening in IDF related matters.
What is wrong with the IDF, Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Department? Do they really believe that they can ignore such vile accusations in the mainstream media of a friendly country? Their deafening silence even led to an editorial in the local Jewish weekly, the Australian Jewish News, foolishly asking whether “God forbid”, the “country we cherish” enabled “the torture of children”.
If this is how our senior military and government offices deal with such issues, it is high time to demand accountability.
It is the Prime Minister’s Office office which carries the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that such matters are efficiently handled. Binyamin Netanyahu, more than most politicians, has a genuine grasp of the crucial importance of the war of ideas. If his office is not fulfilling its obligations in this area, he must, as a matter of urgency, personally intervene to guarantee that government information offices are staffed by personnel who are sufficiently competent to confront such issues in a skilled and professional manner.
The writer can be reached at [email protected]
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post