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Friday, September 30, 2005

Fiction and fact


The Age's Tory, Tony Parkinson, on what Tony Blair can teach our ALP:

"This week, as Latham raged bitterly against party colleagues, the media, and "the system", Blair was delivering to his party conference a speech rated as among the best of his prime ministership: bold, resolute, challenging, uplifting.

"For a man written off not so long ago as a leader in terminal decline, this was a vibrant, high-intensity performance, reminding critics that Blair is far from a spent force. Confident about who he is, and what he stands for, the British PM appears also to have an acute sense of what matters most in the lives of those he is elected to lead.

"The contrast with the identity crisis of the ALP could not be more pronounced."


The Guardian's John Harris on why Blair's Labor conference is "so scared of debate":

"...With the [Labor] party long since becalmed and the activists still on board adjusted to the supposedly tough realities of power, those at the top would have us believe that Labour now moves with a hard-headed kind of rationality. But strangeness still rules - only now, riotous chaos has been replaced by a bizarre spirit of contorted denial. What, you wonder, does the outside world make of the fact that repeatedly hailing the London Olympic bid is obligatory, but mentions of Iraq must be avoided? How about the news that on the second day, Labour's National Executive resolved not to make any decisions on what resolutions to back, so as to avoid being "divisive"? And what of the see-through fact that the debates are so transparently managed?"

Parkinson is right. Blair is a figure to be admired and cherished. Shame about those pesky Iraqis murdered in the name of "freedom." Parkinson should listen to David Clark, former Labour government adviser:

"On Iraq Blair is not simply discredited: his personal pride has become a fundamental obstacle to any rational discussion about what now needs to happen. It has been obvious for some time that the presence of British and American troops is causing more problems than it solves, but to change policy would be to admit error and that is something he will never do. As long as Blair remains in office, saving face will take precedence over saving lives."

Parkinson reminds me of a belligerent child, not unlike James Morrow, an American Sydney-based journalist that I debated last night. The topic was "Why Hate America?" Morrow insisted that the anti-war movement in America was "petering out", we shouldn't really care about the environment and global warming because that was little more than praying to an Earth goddess and the Vietnam war was perhaps slightly misguided but essentially about eradicating Communism in Vietnam.

When I suggested that Iraq was never about spreading freedom and democracy in the Middle East, Morrow suggested that George W. Bush had said otherwise during his State of the Union address and therefore should be taken at face value. He seemed perplexed when I dared suggest Iraq was strongly aligning with Iran, America's new whipping boy.

Morrow was pleasant enough, but seemed to live in a world of absolutes, good vs. evil, a kind of Fox News/Weekly Standard perspective. There's a term for such individuals who love using the American military to spread "freedom": chicken hawk.

Let me make a reasoned suggestion. Morrow needs to get out more and actually meet some of the millions of Muslims who feel outraged by America's "War on Terror". They can smell hypocrisy a mile away and Bush's America is their justified focus. They wonder why the freedom-loving USA supports despotic regimes around the world. They're curious why Iran's nuclear capability is unacceptable but Israel's is encouraged. And they'd like to know how many innocent Iraqis can be killed by the Americans or the insurgents - most of whom started their campaign of terror after the US invasion - before the Americans realise a terrible mistake has been made.

When will the Morrows of this world actually look beyond the corridors of Washington, London and Canberra for the true price of Western policies?

Beating the British

George W. Bush on Iraq:

""We can expect they'll [the insurgency] do everything in their power to try to stop the march of freedom. And our troops are ready for it."

It seems the Australian media have largely decided that Iraq is in such a dire state that honest and brave reporting is simply too difficult. Where are the reports on Australia's actions in the country? Where are the questions to leading parliamentarians regarding our troops? Surely the tax-paying public has a right to know what we're doing over there.

The British press are a little braver. This week's New Statesman provides a chilling insight into British troops in the south of the country. The result?

"For politicians in Westminster, the idea that Basra's new British-trained police force might be, to some degree, in league with Britain's enemies seems to have come as a surprise, prompting some to demand a hastened withdrawal. Yet most insiders have known it all along; the religious militias that now threaten British forces have been the hidden hand. They have largely controlled the city since its liberation from Saddam Hussein. The dilemma for the British was always whether to confront or tolerate these forces. One British officer summed it up: "It's not that the extremists have infiltrated Basra's police. They run it."

"Since taking over Basra, the British army has been forced to play a dangerous game. Though the level of insurgency it has faced has been lower than that faced by the Americans in northern Iraq, the British forces' potential armed opponents have acquired critical jobs all around them, in the civil administration and the police."

Peace is at hand.

A real opposition

The following advertisement by Israeli peace group Gush Shalom appeared in Haaretz on September 30:

"Few of us will mourn the defeat of Binyamin Netanyahu.

"But Ariel Sharon is not a man of peace, either. With the enthusiastic support of the Labor Party ministers, he exploits every opportunity to escalate the attack on the Palestinians.

"He does not want a cease-fire, and even less negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, in order to reach an agreed solution. His utterances about "security" are but a cover for his plan to annex large parts of the West Bank and to "fix the border unilaterally". Every attack on Israeli citizens helps him in promoting these aims.

"The time has come for those who want peace and an end to the occupation to organize an independent and vigorous opposition, both in the street and in the Knesset."

The truth obscured

Reuters writes:

"By limiting the ability of the media to fully and independently cover the events in Iraq, the U.S. forces are unduly preventing U.S. citizens from receiving information...and undermining the very freedoms the U.S. says it is seeking to foster every day that it commits U.S. lives and U.S. dollars."

This is yet another report that proves we are not receiving the full picture of Iraq's chaos. Western journalists rarely venture past their heavily fortified Baghdad bunkers, instead relying on Iraqi reporters to risk life and limb to gather information.

"'Hotel journalism' is the only phrase for it. More and more Western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq's towns and cities. Some are accompanied everywhere by hired, heavily armed Western mercenaries. A few live in local offices from which their editors refuse them permission to leave. Most use Iraqi stringers, part-time correspondents who risk their lives to conduct interviews for American or British journalists, and none can contemplate a journey outside the capital without days of preparation unless they "embed" themselves with American or British forces.

"Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. The New York Times correspondents live in Baghdad behind a massive stockade with four watchtowers, protected by locally hired, rifle-toting security men, complete with NYT T-shirts. America's NBC television chain are holed up in a hotel with an iron grille over their door, forbidden by their security advisers to visit the swimming pool or the restaurant "let alone the rest of Baghdad" lest they be attacked. Several Western journalists do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad."

Militarisation of Israel

(AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

From Yahoo News:

"Israeli bride Reut Unger poses for a wedding photographer next to an Israeli army mobile artillery piece at a staging area near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, just outside the northern Gaza Strip, Wednesday Sept. 28, 2005. "

Get out the measuring stick

"It would be interesting to do a word count for mentions of the word "hero" in American public life, as compared with Britain, France or Germany. A hundred years ago, conservative nationalist Germans used to characterise the "true" Germans as heroes and the Jews as wheeler-dealers: Helden against Handler. Today, we have a different stereotype: true Americans as Helden and limp-wristed Europeans as Handler. Yet in practice, of course, you had the same mix of true bravery and, as one journalist on the spot noted, "real raw panic" in the response to Rita and Katrina as you would in most societies."

Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, September 29

An Australian suggestion: a word count for mention of the words "un-Australian" and "anti-American" and an examination of their disproportionate use.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Spreading the word

I appeared on LA radio this afternoon to discuss the Israel/Palestine conflict and the Zionist lobby. "Middle East in Focus" is a weekly show on KPFK. The show started in 1980 during the Iranian hostage crisis and is currently hosted by Don Bustany. KPFK is owned by the Pacifica Foundation. They are listener sponsored and of the 140 programmers, 130 are unpaid volunteers.

The first guest on the program was a correspondent in Iran. He discussed the nuclear stand-off between America and the Islamic state.

Next up was Amy Wilentz, a contributing editor of The Nation magazine, author of The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier and a novel, Martyr's Crossing. Her review of Alan Dershowitz's "The Case For Israel" appeared in the Los Angeles Times last week:

"Dershowitz is not the only supporter of Israel and of peace who argues in this way. Many Jews in America never really examine how Palestinians might feel about certain Israeli policies, always assuming that Israel tries to be humane (even when it drops a bomb on an apartment complex to eliminate one terrorist and also kills 10 children; even though more than 500 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli soldiers and settlers since the start of the second intifada). He always assumes that Israel will be the one to set the parameters of what's an acceptable peace. Sadly, the vicious and self-defeating suicide-bombing strategy of the masterminds of the second intifada has not changed such condescending and intemperate talk, to put it mildly."

Wilentz suggested that Dershowitz was not unlike her young boys: petulant, always claiming to be right and incapable of seeing fault with the Jewish state.

My segment consisted of a general overview of my forthcoming book on the Middle East conflict, the power of the Zionist lobby in Australia and some possible reasons why honest debate about the Israel/Palestine conflict is next to impossible without resulting in raised tempers.

A number of listeners wanted to engage in the subject. Max from LA called in and asked why the Palestinians "always want to destroy us" and if I was proud to be a Jew with my views. I said that Jews historically always questioned official dogma and they should speak out if they see injustice. Israeli treatment of the Palestinians is one such example.

It was a fascinating 30-minute session and proved that rational discussion is possible on this subject if, unlike Max, contributors don't start claiming God-given rights to the land.

On a related issue, since the recent publication of my article on Counterpunch, I've received nearly one hundred emails from around the world, orders for the (as yet) unfinished book, requests from libraries across the globe and words of support. Thank you all. The strongest message I received is the level of frustration amongst people who want to talk about America's relationship with Israel, the power of the Zionist lobby or the disgraceful role of Arab countries towards the Palestinians.

Let honest debate begin.

Censoring the genes

From the UK Observer, November 2001:

"A keynote research paper showing that Middle Eastern Jews and Palestinians are genetically almost identical has been pulled from a leading journal.

"The paper, 'The Origin of Palestinians and their Genetic Relatedness with other Mediterranean Populations', involved studying genetic variations in immune system genes among people in the Middle East.

"In common with earlier studies, the team found no data to support the idea that Jewish people were genetically distinct from other people in the region. In doing so, the team's research challenges claims that Jews are a special, chosen people and that Judaism can only be inherited.

"Jews and Palestinians in the Middle East share a very similar gene pool and must be considered closely related and not genetically separate, the authors state. Rivalry between the two races is therefore based 'in cultural and religious, but not in genetic differences', they conclude."

These conclusions are just as controversial in 2005.

Giving respect

It seems some British Muslims are upset that Holocaust Memorial Day solely represents the victims of the Jewish Holocaust and ignores victims of other genocides.

Dr Daud Abdullah, Assistant Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain, spoke to ABC Radio's Religion Report:

"...Other peoples have suffered grave injustices. Our argument is let us recall and commemorate those victims also, because inasmuch as a Jew may feel the hurt and pain of the Holocaust, so too an African descendant will feel the pain of slavery. Three-hundred years of slavery in America has no comparison in modern history."

One of the most sensitive allegations relates to commemorating the Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression since 1948. Daud Abdullah wants Israel's "genocidal" policies to be given equal footing in British society.

The Holocaust was a unique event in history and resulted in the deaths of around six million Jews and countless others. It deserves to be remembered. And there is simply no comparison to be made between the Nazi onslaught against Jews and Israeli behaviour towards Palestinians. We need to be careful in making some comparisons. I am a strong advocate of a Palestinian state and Palestinian human rights, but there has never been a systematic program of extermination akin to the Nazis. Anybody who says otherwise is purely trying to score political points.

None of this negates the fact that Israeli governments over successive generations have caused untold hardship, oppression and violence against the Palestinian people and at times have attempted ethnic cleansing in one form or another.

Daud Abdullah has a point when he says:

"...What is happening here is that many people use the idea of criticism of Israel to equate it with anti-Semitism, and to silence critics of Israel’s policies, policies which are being condemned internationally by the various human rights bodies, including the United Nations and including Israeli human rights bodies."

No argument there. One can almost predict the vitriol against those who challenge Israeli myths with increased Israeli aggression in the occupied territories.

Let's be proportionate and rational. Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany is ludicrous and historically inaccurate. Fighting for Palestinian rights is an important challenge that will continue until a secure homeland is established. The fact that Westerners see their own victims more deserving of commemoration - usually whites of European background - is an indictment of our society.

Perhaps a memorial day to remember all victims of state sponsored terror is in order.

Rewriting history

Former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating tackles the proposed changes to the country's media laws:

"The Government's apparent decision to close down any option for new free-to-air television outlets or multiple channels while removing the existing cross-media laws and foreign ownership restrictions is a recipe for massive media concentration and further abuses of power by the existing network owners [Kerry Packer and Rupert Murdoch]."

True enough, though Keating needs to be take some responsibility for the media moguls unprecedented power, due to his decisions while in power.

It was back in 2003 that the Sydney Morning Herald refused to run a Keating article on the same topic. In that same year, Eric Beecher - current owner of online magazine Crikey - offered these immortal lines:

"Even if Rupert Murdoch emerged with a TV network (possible), or Kerry Packer acquired Fairfax (unlikely), does anyone really believe either of those enlarged groups would harness their television stations alongside their newspapers as serious political propaganda tools?"

Beecher seems to have changed his tune since but let's not forget that he took a long while to reach the conclusion that proposed changes to media laws will benefit a select few.

If anybody talks about the proposed laws offering greater "diversity", look them in the eye and tell them a few facts about how power works in Australia.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Jew-sponsored stock car booed off track

Thanks to Onion Sports.

All hands are dirty

American dissenter Scott Ritter publishes his latest book, Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of America's Intelligence Conspiracy:

"The CIA coup plan went like this: if Unscom inspections could somehow be used to trigger a crisis, that would create a pretext for a US military attack against the Special Republican Guard, then Saddam's personal security force could be decapitated. This would clear the way for the plotters, led by Mohammad Abdullah al-Shawani, a former commander of Iraqi Special Forces who had defected to Amman in Jordan and been recruited by the CIA, to make their move."

The untold story (which remains hidden in the Australian media) is how our very own Richard Butler played a crucial role in compromising the ability of UNSCOM to carry out its UN mandated task and turned it into an intelligence gathering and policy instrument of the US administration. Have you ever heard a single Australian reporter ask Butler about Operation Rockingham?

(Thanks to reader Michael for this tip.)

Dedicated to peace

"Despite Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza, major violations of human rights continue to result from its occupation of Palestinian territories, construction of barriers and expansion of settlements, according to the United Nations official monitoring that situation in his latest report to the General Assembly."

UN News Centre, 28 September

UPDATE: Amira Hass continues to expose Israel's true agenda:

"Next month, as is the case every October, the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza will begin issuing 16-year-olds their first identity cards. Each 16-year-old will bring photographs and documentation to his school, which will pass them on to the ministry. And, just as it has every year since the Palestinian Authority was established, the ministry will pass all the information on to Israel's Interior Ministry. Despite Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian ministry still cannot issue identity cards unless Israeli clerks approve the applications."

They're afraid

Independent journalist Dahr Jamail:

"A contractor I know working in Iraq wrote me recently. He gives me periodic updates about how life is on the base where he works in support of the military. He wrote:

'"Another convoy hit hard-3 drivers killed and many others wounded - I don’t know if it’s my friends yet. They don’t like to advertise these kinds of things much around here because they cause the exit planes to fill up - the only problem is, there are more plane loads waiting in Houston [to come here]. The gullible waiting for their chance at the tarnished brass ring. [Me and my friends] agree this countries’ policies of oil have led us down the path of Armageddon.'

"At least 1,917 US soldiers have died in Iraq now, 16 just in the last week. At least 10 times that number have been wounded for life, both physically and psychologically."

With the world's oil supplies dwindling and the media reluctant to ask even the most basic questions of our leaders, Iraq will continue to descend into chaos.

How about these suggestions for journalists:

"John Howard, how do you feel about the fact that tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis have died since the "Coalition" invaded in 2003?"

"Prime Minister, any concerns that Iraq is increasingly aligning itself with Iran?"

"Howard, what exactly are Australian troops doing in Iraq?"

The sick system

"I want to thank the political and media establishment for the way in which they have received The Latham Diaries. When John Howard, the Australian Labor Party, the Canberra press gallery, and the Packer and Murdoch empires combine, as they have over the past fortnight, to tell people not to read this book, it sends a powerful message: the Canberra club has a lot to worry about and a lot to hide. Thankfully, the reading public (is) not silly. They are not easily swayed by media hysteria and sensationalism. They know what's going on here: The Latham Diaries (blows) the whistle on the Canberra club, providing a contemporary, behind-the-scenes account of the many flaws in the system. This is why the book sold out last week and MUP has had to triple the print run."

Former Labor leader Mark Latham, speaking last night at Melbourne University.

Issue goes international

US-based Counterpunch publishes my article on the recent controversy regarding attempts by Federal Labor MP Michael Danby to censor my forthcoming book on Israel/Palestine. Read it for a perspective on the wider issues at play.

Since publication, I've received dozens of emails from around the world, including Australia, Iceland and America. And I'll be appearing tomorrow on an LA radio station explaining the story.

UPDATE: I'll be on KPFK's "Middle East in Focus" program tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

News bytes

- What exactly is the US military doing in Paraguay? Blogger Benjamin Dangle wonders if they're trying to secure the country's oil fields.

- Beyond Right and Left is a new book by academic David McKnight that looks at Australia's culture wars and the rise of the Right. The Left gets a justified serve as well.

- Norman Solomon on the mainstream media and its inability to deal with the anti-war movement:

"If 'journalism is the first draft of history,' the journalism of corporate media is usually the quickie top-down view of history that's told from vantage points far removed from progressive movements. Media technologies and styles aside, what we're experiencing now from major U.S. news outlets is not very different from the coverage of the Vietnam War.

"A persistent myth is that mainstream American news outlets were tough on the war in Vietnam while boosting the antiwar movement. And these days - after a summer of plunging poll numbers for President Bush along with the profoundly important media presence of Cindy Sheehan - many people seem to think that the news media have turned against the war makers in Washington. But overall the media realities are something else. Actual history should make us wary of any assumption that the press is apt to be a counterweight to militarism."

- Former Labor Prime Minister Bob Hawke thinks Australia should be a nuclear waste dumping ground. His progressive credentials grow by the day.

Human rights act

Malcolm Fraser, Elizabeth Evatt and Greg Combet plus others will be speaking.

Tit for tat

The Guardian reports:

"The US military told an al-Jazeera cameraman being held at Guantanamo Bay that he would be released as long as he agreed to spy on journalists at the Arabic news channel."

Perhaps the Iraqi government would like to demand American troops report on the shameless profiteering and war-mongering of Fox News.

Monday, September 26, 2005


"...Israel needs no one but itself. If Israel does not resolve the conflict of its own free will and at its own initiative, it will not be resolved. If Israel does not establish the Palestinian state, it will not arise."

Alon Liel, former director general of the Foreign Ministry and member of the Council for Peace and Security, Haaretz, September 24

Perhaps Dr Liel needs reminding of the foreign aid budget of the American administration. Without the billions of dollars - and political capital - that find their way to the Jewish state every year, Israel would arguably cease to exist.

Same old story rehashed

Australian columnist, Glenn Milne, is never one to shirk a government or opposition leak. In fact, he's best known for channelling Howard government propaganda as his own musings.

Today, he writes of the ALP's supposed antagonism towards Israel. Following recent comments by Labor backbencher Julia Irwin in federal Parliament, "an understandably furious Australian Jewish community believes Irwin is engaged in dangerous moral relativism, putting forward the phony proposition that Israel is acting in the same way as Hitler."

Irwin said the following:

"Gaza is now a Palestinian ghetto; a prison for its one million people. All flows of people and goods must pass through Israeli border controls, which has resulted in the World Bank's reporting that unemployment and poverty will rise in Gaza. Now Israel will rule Gaza like a walled ghetto, a giant penal colony, a concentration camp.

"We are witnessing the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Palestinian nation. The world must not allow this to happen."

Irwin's comments - except perhaps her use of the word "concentration camp" - are reasonable and factually accurate. If Milne doubts Irwin's veracity, perhaps he'd like to read this on Israeli settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian territory and attempts by Israeli authorities to marginalise and ghettoise Palestinians in East Jerusalem. I saw it with my own eyes earlier in the year. If Milne ever goes to Israel, of course, he'd be on a Zionist lobby paid jaunt.

For Milne however, "Labor's overall credibility on the Middle East" is in question. The comment is ludicrous. During an interview with the Australian Jewish News in June, Beazley completely agreed with the extreme positions taken by the Howard government in relation to Israel. There were no quibbles or disagreements. Surely a mature political party can stomach dissent from the official line? It's clear, however, that neither Labor nor Liberal are evolved enough to hear anything other than "Israel is always right".

A number of Australian Zionists including AIJAC's Martin Guenzl - a man who used to write abusive emails to me in years past, chastising my less than acceptable Zionist credentials - accept nothing less than complete subservience to the pro-Israeli and pro-American line. If they do not receive that from either Labor or Liberal, except propagandists like Milne to stand up for what's "right".

Milne suggests that any debate daring to suggest Western actions contribute to Islamic fundamentalism is almost tantamount to treason. After all, he writes, "anti-US sentiment necessarily equates to being anti-Israel."

Milne's "you're either us or you're with the terrorists" worldview fits perfectly with the Murdoch line as well as the established Zionist perspective. Surely with the Iraq war beyond its tipping point - ably supported by "pro-US" types like Milne and the Zionist lobby - the days of lecturing us are well over.

Never expect a propagandist to admit he's wrong. Milne isn't a journalist, he's a useful mouthpiece for various factional interests in the Liberal and Labor teams. And his understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict is as nuanced as Binjamin Netanyahu.

When former Labor minister Barry Cohen claimed in late 2004 that anti-Semitism was rife in the ALP, he had people like Irwin in mind. I interviewed Cohen for my forthcoming book on the Middle East and his view of Israel was far removed from reality; a perfect, democratic paradise amidst evil Arab states, he thought.

Milne's column rehashes old prejudices and attempts to shut down legitimate debate around the most sensitive of subjects.

Exporting death

John Pike, director of the Washington military research group,

""How many evil-doers have we sent to their maker using bullets rather than bombs? I don't know."

The Independent reports:

"US forces have fired so many bullets in Iraq and Afghanistan - an estimated 250,000 for every insurgent killed - that American ammunition-makers cannot keep up with demand. As a result the US is having to import supplies from Israel."

Read the whole article. It's comforting to know that war-mongers spend their days calculating how many bullets have been used in the "War on Terror" and how many "evil-doers" have been killed in the process. Any chance of a body count of innocents killed?

No real opposition

Anti-war protests shook America and Britain yesterday - remarkably, today's Sydney Morning Herald completely ignores the events - but where were the Democrats?

Wayne Madsen Report explains:

"Very few Democratic members of Congress to appear. Reason: [leading pro-Israel lobbyists] The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), according to Democratic insiders on Capitol Hill, put out the word that any member of Congress who appeared at the protest, where some speakers were to represent pro-Palestinian views, would face the political wrath of AIPAC.

"According to Democratic sources on the Hill, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts was the chief conveyor of the AIPAC warning to his colleagues. At the time of this report, three members of Congress were to address the anti-war protestors: Reps. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA), John Conyers (D-MI), and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA). The word is that AIPAC will direct its massive campaign support to Woolsey's neo-con and pro-Iraq war primary challenger, California State Assemblyman Joe Nation, who has strong connections to the Rand Corporation, one of the Pentagon's chief war-making think tanks. Woolsey represents California's Marin and Sonoma counties."

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Spreading democracy

"U.S. Army troops subjected Iraqi detainees to severe beatings and other torture at a base in central Iraq from 2003 through 2004, often under orders or with the approval of superior officers.

"Three U.S. army personnel - two sergeants and a captain - describe routine, severe beatings of prisoners and other cruel and inhumane treatment. In one incident, a soldier is alleged to have broken a detainee’s leg with a baseball bat. Detainees were also forced to hold five-gallon jugs of water with their arms outstretched and perform other acts until they passed out. Soldiers also applied chemical substances to detainees’ skin and eyes, and subjected detainees to forced stress positions, sleep deprivation, and extremes of hot and cold. Detainees were also stacked into human pyramids and denied food and water. The soldiers also described abuses they witnessed or participated in at another base in Iraq and during earlier deployments in Afghanistan."

Human Rights Watch, September 24

Close to Osama

Robert Fisk's new book, "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East" is soon to be released. His newspaper, the Independent, is running extracts this week. First up, his access to the inner sanctum of al-Qaeda.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Enough is enough

This appeared in the Washington Post on September 22, page A23:

"The Pentagon has no accurate knowledge of the cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or the fight against terrorism, limiting Congress's ability to oversee spending, the Government Accountability Office concluded in a report released yesterday."

Let me get this straight. The report found "inadvertent double accounting" by the Navy and Marine Corps and inaccuracies totalling billions of dollars. "Neither DOD nor Congress can reliably know how much the war is costing and details of how appropriated funds are being spent," the report to Congress stated.

Columbia Journalism Review's Gal Beckerman wonders why such a story is buried and why such figures aren't causing newspaper editors to investigate much further:

"Perhaps newspaper editors have become insensitive to the idea of a few billion dollars misplaced or, worse, just missing. But from the looks of things down south, with New Orleans in ruins and Hurricane Rita barrelling toward land with 165 mph winds, the federal government is going to need every cent it can find."

Meanwhile, back in fantasy land, the Sydney Morning Herald today leads with this: "Biggest ever surplus: now for tax cuts." The paper ends the article like so:


What to do with the surplus:

- Business: cut the top tax rate and capital gains tax.

- Labor: tax relief for middle-income earners.

- Motorists: cheaper petrol.

- Access Economics: save it for when we need it.

In a different part of the paper, there is an extensive examination of global environmental degradation.

Clearly the Sydney Morning Herald sees no contradiction in both these stories. Tax relief may win votes, but environmental destruction could eventually kill any children born through the baby bonus. It's time for responsible journalists and editors to wake up and join the dots.

Voice of an Israeli soldier

"We took up positions of ‘Straw Widow’ (a disguised ambush). We were told that this ‘Straw Widow’ was against armed people and against people climbing on our armed vehicles. Our APCs (armed personnel carriers) were cruising 24 hours a day close to buildings (in Jenin), waiting for kids to climb on them and try to dislodge the top - mounted MG (machine gun) - and when the kids come, to shoot them. We had fixed observation posts in houses inside Jenin’s Casbah, the APCs were on the streets, below us. They were moving continuously.

"We were expressly told that we were just waiting for someone to climb on an APC. We were ordered to shoot to kill. We quickly understood that we weren’t expected to deal with armed people, as no armed Palestinian would roam the streets with so many APCs around. They (our authorities) were looking for children or plain people daring to climb on an APC or on any other armoured vehicle. We understood that from the talks with our officers.

"After a day or two, a 12-year old kid climbed on one of the APCs. There were lots of guesses about his age. First they said he was 8, later, that he was 12. I don’t know. In any case he climbed on an APC and one of our sharpshooters killed him. I already mentioned, we were looking for kids. The neighbouring company also had an incident with a kid or teenager, climbing an APC, who was also killed. Some of us said that this whole operation was unnecessary as its purpose was to kill kids, while others said that it was very good."

1st Sergeant, Paratroops, Jenin, February-May 2003
Breaking the Silence

Colonial mentality

Tariq Ali writes in the Guardian about the disastrous Iraqi occupation and all-important Iranian connection. Australian journalists, care to ask John Howard about this? No, didn't think so. You'd much prefer hyping up the "imminent" threat posed by Tehran.

Back to Ali:

"The argument that withdrawal will lead to civil war is slightly absurd, since the occupation has already accelerated and exacerbated ethnic and religious tensions in Iraq. Divide and rule is the deadly logic of colonial rule - and signs that the US is planning an exit strategy coupled with a long-term presence is evident in the new Iraqi constitution, pushed through by US proconsul Zalmay Khalilzad. This document is a defacto division of Iraq into Kurdistan (a US-Israeli protectorate), Southern Iraq (dominated by Iran) and the Sunni badlands (policed by semi-reliable ex-Baathists under state department and Foreign Office tutelage). What is this if not an invitation to civil war?

"The occupation has also created a geopolitical mess. Recent events in Basra are linked to a western fear of Iranian domination. Having encouraged Moqtada al-Sadr's militias to resist the slavishly pro-Iranian faction, why are the British surprised when they demand real independence?

"The Iranian mullahs, meanwhile, are chuckling - literally. Some months ago, when the Iranian vice-president visited the United Arab Emirates for a regional summit, he was asked by the sheikhs whether he feared a US intervention in Iran. The Iranian leader roared with laughter: "Without us, the US could never have occupied Afghanistan or Iraq. They know that and we know that invading Iran would mean they would be driven out of those two countries.""

Ali concludes by reminding us that England can no longer call itself a representative democracy:

"He [Tony Blair] was re-elected with only 35 % of the popular vote and barely a fifth of the overall electorate - the lowest percentage secured by any governing party in recent European history. Britain is undergoing a crisis of representation: a majority of the population opposed the war in Iraq; a majority favours withdrawing British troops; 66% believe that the attacks on London were a direct result of Blair's decision to send troops to Iraq."

Why hate America?

Sydneysiders, looking for something to do on the evening of Thursday, September 29?

Come down to The Salon:

Sydney's Monthly Arts & Debate night gets up close and personal with the USA and the American way of life.

The Debate - featuring:

NEVILLE MEANEY (Assoc. Professor - 20th Century American History, University of Sydney)
JAMES MORROW (Editor, Investigate & New Yorker)
ANTONY LOEWENSTEIN (Freelance Journalist and Author)

Knot Gallery, Level 1, 342 Elizabeth Street, Surry Hills.
7:30-11:30pm (debate starts at 9:00pm; film screening at 8:30pm)
$8 entry

Come on down and join the debate.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Agents provocateurs?

While the Australian media rarely challenges Howard government spin on Iraq - indeed, Iraq is rarely in the news anymore - the city of Basra is experiencing strong dissent against the presence of British forces after the occupiers forcibly raided a prison and freed two SAS soldiers. Who exactly were these two soldiers and what were they doing there?

Journalist William Bowles investigates and finds it hard to get past the British and BBC spin:

"When viewed in the context of all the stories that have been circulating about the mythical 'al-Zarqawi' and the alleged role of al-Qaeda, the events in Basra are the first real evidence that we have of the role of occupation forces in destabilising Iraq through the use of agents provocateurs masquerading as 'insurgents'."

As for American, British and Australian ambitions in Iraq, this gives us a clue:

"A Foreign Office source said the goal of the US Administration to turn Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East had long ago been shelved. "We will settle for leaving behind an Iraqi democracy that is creaking along," the source said."

For some Australian armchair warmongers, however, blind propaganda for the Iraq cause will always smell sweet, no matter the facts.

Peace in our time

"Travel on the roads of Gaza, which were closed to Palestinian traffic for years, exposes the full dimensions of the physical destruction Israel left behind. A thousand words and a thousand images cannot describe it. That's not because of the weakness of words and photos, but because of the ability of most Israelis not to see and not to grasp the extent of the vineyards and groves and orchards and fields that the people's army of Israel turned into desert, the green that it painted yellow and gray, the sand turned over and the exposed land, the thorns, the weeds."

Amira Hass, Haaretz, September 22

And how do pro-Israel supporters feel about this?

"Sixty-one women have given birth at Israeli checkpoints since 2000 due to delays in getting through the checkpoints, and 36 of their babies died as a result, the United Nations said on Thursday."

Phil Donahue vs Bill O'Reilly

The Iraq war, dissent, geo-politics and Halliburton are all discussed in this Fox news debate. Watch it.

O'REILLY: "We're in a war on terror. Our cause is noble."

Fisk barred

"U.S. immigration officials refused Tuesday to allow Robert Fisk, longtime Middle East correspondent for the London newspaper, The Independent, to board a plane from Toronto to Denver. Fisk was on his way to Santa Fe for a sold-out appearance in the Lannan Foundation’s readings-and-conversations series Wednesday night."

It's too early to tell whether this was merely a bureaucratic bungle or something more sinister.

The inhumane occupation

"Another paediatrician and another baker got a bullet in the face from a paratroopers unit. All day we search houses and kill children."

The "Wild West" of Israel's occupation is detailed in a compelling report published in mass circulation paper, Yediot Ahronot.

The occupation has corrupted untold numbers of Israeli men and women and dehumanised generations of Palestinians.

Facing reality

Sleepless in Sudan is an essential blog about life in Sudan and Darfur. Written by a Western aid worker, she writes with urgency and often desperation.


"Governor-General Michael Jeffery has urged US-led coalition forces in Iraq to study classic counter-insurgency tactics used in Vietnam and the Malayan emergency to win the war in Iraq."

The Australian reports this "exclusive" today. Note that Jeffrey doesn't question the legitimacy of the war nor the real reasons behind it. "We" must win, whatever the cost. Let's not forget that this is a man who once said: "I believe passionately that Vietnam was a just cause in the circumstances of the time."

Jeffrey represents a military establishment that thrives on conflict. Without it, their role seems somehow irrelevant. John Howard has defended Jeffrey. And he offers this telling comment: "It's tough [in Iraq] but it's all the more reason therefore that we stay the distance because if we give up and the place lapses into total chaos, that will put enormous pressure on neighbouring countries and it will be a very bad outcome for the west if that were to occur."

Shame about those tens of thousands of Iraqis killed, Prime Minister.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Strike back

The seemingly endless controversy over my forthcoming book on Israel/Palestine continues in today's Australian Jewish News (AJN):


PROFESSOR Douglas Kirsner has entered the debate on behalf of Michael Danby, justifying his attempt to prevent the publication of Antony Loewenstein’s book next year. Kirsner’s justification is that the author has taken a range of activities against the interests of Israel.

If we are to limit our reading to authors who support our views, or even to writers who are not too strenuously opposed to them, the result would be to deprive all of us of significant intellectual stimulation, and would damage the cause of free speech.

If that is Kirsner’s choice, he is entitled to express it, but he wrote on behalf of B’nai B’rith’s Anti-Defamation Commission. As a long-time member of that organisation, I resent its use to promote actions calculated to interfere with freedom of speech.

Norman Rothfield
Fairfield, Vic


I CANNOT comment on either Professor Jacqueline Rose’s book or Antony Loewenstein’s without reading them. But I can observe the information that is available.

I’m baffled as to how a scholarly practitioner such as Professor Bill Rubinstein (AJN 9/9) can compare Antony Loewenstein with Noam Chomsky. Has he ever read what Professor Chomsky has written?

"The only feasible and minimally decent solution is along the lines of the international consensus... a two-state settlement on the international border (Green Line), with ‘minor and mutual adjustments’... There has never been a legitimate proposal for a democratic secular state from any significant Palestinian (or of course Israeli) group.

"One can debate, abstractly, whether it is ‘desirable’. But it is completely unrealistic. It is understood that this would soon become a Palestinian state with a Jewish minority, and with no guarantee for either democracy or secularism."

This is actually not a million miles from Michael Danby’s publicly-stated view. It is a long way from Loewenstein’s preferred option of a one-state solution.

It is difficult for me to take the rest of Professor Rubinstein’s comments seriously if he gets the elementary details wrong.

Sol Salbe
Maidstone, Vic

[Ed: I have indeed suggested a one-state solution as the ideal way to solve the conflict, however I strongly support a two-state resolution in the short to medium term.]

UPDATE: Also in this week's AJN, Julia Irwin, the federal Labor MP for Fowler, tells a few home truths about the Israeli government and its treatment of the Palestinians. Unsurprisingly, Kim Beazley and the paper itself dismiss her as "arguably antisemitic."

I've never met Irwin, but I strongly suspect she is nothing of the sort. Questioning the motives of the Israelis - after generations of duplicity - should be encouraged in a democracy. Or indeed, the motives of the Palestinians. Once again, is Israel's position within Australia so insecure that one parliamentarian has the power to rattle people this much?

Culture jamming

Check out the many other brilliant examples of "Fun with Propaganda."


Ever wanted to know more about the Kurds? Perhaps you've just relied on this fascinating June 2004 report by Seymour Hersh:

"Israeli military and intelligence operatives are active in Kurdish areas of Iran, Syria and Iraq, providing training for commando units and running covert operations that could further destabilise the entire region, according to a report in the New Yorker magazine."

The Kurdish blogosphere is thriving and Global Voices provides an essential overview.

Some rules

Reporters Without Borders is about to release its "Handbook For Bloggers and Cyberdissidents." Check it out here.

They would say that, wouldn't they?

Norman Finkelstein writes an opinion article that the American mainstream press refuses to publish. Why? The usual reason: Israel's mythical position as Middle East human rights defenders must remain intact. God forbid America's relationship with its client state is exposed for what it really is:

"On the night of August 24, 2005, Israeli troops shot dead three teenage boys and two adults in a West Bank Palestinian refugee camp. An army communique claimed the five were terrorists, killed after opening fire on the soldiers. An investigation by Israel's leading human rights organization, B'Tselem, and its leading newspaper, Haaretz, found, however, that the teenagers were unarmed and had no connection with any terrorist organizations, while neither of the two adults was armed or wanted by the Israelis.

"In Israel, as elsewhere, it's prudent to treat official pronouncements with scepticism.

"This is especially so when it comes to the "peace process."

Read the whole thing.

Countdown to reality

The relationship between America's Israel lobby and the Iraq war remains one of the last great taboos in political and media debate. Mazin Qumsiyeh dares speak some truths about this subject matter. His conclusions should make you most uncomfortable.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Those Western "values"

My latest New Matilda column is about Western "values", the media's war on terrorism and shameless propaganda:

"For liberal democracies, questioning and confronting this orthodoxy presents one of the greatest challenges since Cold War propaganda convinced millions that the (crumbling and inefficient) Soviets were actually determined to destroy our benign, capitalist, Western world. 'Values' are becoming the key battleground of the War on Terror."

My New Matilda archive can be found here.

News bytes

- England's third largest political force, the Liberal Democrats, call for British troops to leave Iraq.

- New York authorities try and silence a New York anti-war meeting with Cindy Sheehan.

- The New York Times is part of the problem, not the solution. Again.

- Check out some films created by the US National Reconnaissance Office, America's spy-satellite agency.

- Jon Stewart at the Emmy's talking about Hurricane Katrina.

- "Regrets? Over the torture of one measly Canadian? No sir. Not the United States of America". Canada's Globe and Mail analyses American "values."

Painting the true picture

George Galloway may have had questionable friendships but who can doubt this tornedo of truth in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?

"The scenes from the stricken city almost defy belief. Many, many thousands of people left to die in what is the richest, most powerful country on Earth. This obscenity is as far from a natural disaster as George Bush and the U.S. elite are from the suffering masses of New Orleans. The images of Bush luxuriating at his ranch and of his secretary of state shopping for $7,000 shoes while disaster swamped the U.S. Gulf Coast will haunt this administration.

"In the most terrible way imaginable they show to the whole world that it is not only the lives of people in Baghdad, Fallujah and Palestine that Bush holds cheap. It is also his own citizens - the black and poor people left behind with no food, water or shelter. This is not simply manslaughter through incompetence, though the White House's incompetence abounds. It is murder - for Bush was warned four years ago of the threat to New Orleans, as surely as he was warned of the disaster that would come of his war on Iraq.

"His is the America of Halliburton, the M-16 rifle, the cluster bomb, the gated communities of the rich and of the billionaires he grew up with in Texas. There is another America. It is the land of the poor of Louisiana, it is the land of the young men and women economically conscripted into the military. It is the land of the glorious multiethnic mix that was New Orleans, it is the land of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and of great struggles for justice."


Former Canberra Press Gallery journalist Mungo Maccallum reflects on the current state of the Australian media and Mark Latham's vitriol towards it.

On The Australian's Paul Kelly:

"He may be pompous, up himself and easily duchessed by the great and powerful, especially the Americans, but these are sins of naivety rather than ideology."

On Channel Nine's Laurie Oakes:

"...there is no doubt that the fire has gone out of his belly: the days when he was a leader of the feared gallery rat pack are long gone. He now tends to a laid-back style of journalism, content to wait for his long-time contacts to drop the odd scoop in his capacious lap."

Maccallum is partly correct in his analysis but mistaken in thinking journalists like Kelly are led by "naivety." To thrive in the Australian media establishment, there is little choice but to accept the Packer, Fairfax or Murdoch ideology. A pro-US, pro-privatisation and pro free-markets orthodoxy is the norm. A person like Maccallum would be unlikely to thrive in the Press Gallery today. Most questioning sorts - what journalists are supposed to be, after all - should look for employment elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

All singing, all dancing

I was on Queensland's Gold Coast last weekend with my partner and her family. The weather was warm and high-rise development continued unabated.

We all went to Jupiter's Casino on Saturday night to see the all-singing and all-dancing Todd McKenney show. A judge on Dancing with the Stars, McKenney is a charismatic, cheesy performer who entertained the mostly middle age audience with show-tunes and Peter Allen renditions.

After about one hour, the pace of the show slowed down and McKenney told another unfunny joke. Then, from behind a bar on stage, former MP Pauline Hanson appeared. "Please explain", she said, before singing a song with McKenney. Dressed in a blue ball-gown, Hanson looked uncomfortable but this didn't stop her taking McKenney's hand and ballroom dancing across the stage. The crowd lapped it up and shouted approvingly. "Only in Queensland", I thought.

During the interval, I overheard two men discussing Hanson:

Man 1: That Hanson must be pretty desperate for money these days.

Man 2: Yeah, but she's good looking!

In the second half of the performance, she sang a few more songs. During Peter Allen's "I Still Call Australia Home", with a large Australian flag at the back of the stage, Hanson wore a sailor's hat and seemed to be enjoying the experience. She never looked especially adept at dancing and the lyrics seemed to escape her during the Village People's "YMCA".

Hanson has clearly been forgiven in Queensland. Perhaps her past indiscretions, insults and opinions have always been warmly embraced up north. I don't doubt that many Australians across the country share the sentiment proudly portrayed on her website: "Pauline is the only one who will say what everyone else is thinking, when no one else has the courage."

Her racism, ignorance and bigotry may no longer be in the public domain though others have proudly claimed the baton. One of the great mistakes of the past, however, was simply dismissing Hanson rather than trying to understand the reasons behind her views. One of the few journalists who attempted this was Margo Kingston in her stunning book, Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip.

During my night at Jupiter's, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

The future is here

The Clinton Global Initiative, held recently in New York, aimed to "concentrate a diverse and select group of current and former heads of state, business leaders, noteworthy academicians, and key NGO representatives to identify immediate and pragmatic solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems."

Fine words, if you don't choke on the claim that it was to be "nonpartisan." To claim that representatives from the Democratic and Republican side of politics makes the event "nonpartisan", leaves Clinton living in a world of delusion.

One of the most interesting events was "Managing Major Media Companies in an Era of Globalization". The speakers were certainly the major players of the game:

- William Clinton, Former President of the United States
- Richard Parsons, Chairman and CEO, Time Warner, Inc.
- Rupert Murdoch, Chairman and CEO, News Corporation
- Howard Stringer, Chairman and CEO, Sony Corporation of America

The assembled men all represent corporations that place profit ahead of news judgement and are hardly in a position to be talking about global access to information or spreading democratic values.

This is Murdoch on Tony Blair:

"Tony Blair - perhaps I shouldn't repeat this conversation - told me yesterday that he was in Delhi last week. And he turned on the BBC world service to see what was happening in New Orleans. And he said it was just full of hate of America and gloating about our troubles. And that was his government. Well, his government owned thing. And that's pretty general through Europe today as a fact of life. I think we've got to do a better job at answering it. And there's a big job to do. But you're not going to ever turn it around totally. We just have to get on doing what we think is right."

His claims are laughable, of course. Murdoch belongs to the school of "thought" that dictates any criticism of the American administration as automatically anti-American. He's not alone in such simplistic morality.

Such talk-fests are insightful because they prove how insular and removed from reality such power-brokers really are. How would Murdoch have any idea about life under autocratic regimes? He's long courted the Chinese authorities.

A capitalist system dictates a profit-driven agenda. Expecting news organisations to rise above some considerations is both naive and dangerous. Alternatives are needed.

Real risk

While Australian journalists continue taking incalculable risks in slamming Mark Latham - the Sydney Morning Herald's Peter Hartcher takes the prize for self-important and clueless insider - a number of reporters are gathering together to investigate last year's murder of Paul Klebnikov, the Russian Forbes magazine editor.

"...A group of major media outlets and investigative reporters announced in July the launch of Project Klebnikov. Project K is a global media alliance committed to shedding light on the murder and some of the complex stories that Klebnikov was trying to untangle when he was silenced."

Klebnikov was a real journalist, not a seasoned insider who survived on sanctioned leaks from over-zealous politicians. The vast majority of successful Australian journalists are little more than propagandists for one side or the other. So concerned about keeping their job and not stepping out of line, they'll rarely write anything that challenges the status quo or their media owner's wishes. Their greatest challenge will be wondering when they'll next be asked to interview John Howard in a real "exclusive."

Cracking down

"I could no more consider being a Communist than being a member of a voodoo sect."

- Gene Kelly

American authorities were convinced Kelly was a Communist and investigated him for "unAmerican" activities. The current crack-down on dissent across the Western world suggests a resurgence in government interference in legitimate political activity.

Trouble brewing

An AP cameraman recounts his experience of being kidnapped in Gaza:

"I have been covering the Gaza Strip as an APTN cameraman since the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising five years ago. I know the area well and always travel with Palestinian colleagues. After a recent string of kidnappings of foreign journalists and aid workers, we recently had begun employing unarmed security guards when we went out on assignments."

There may be trouble in Gaza, but if Israel dares interrupt the upcoming elections there due to Hamas involvement, its international reputation will take another deserved battering. Democracy means multiple sides, with various viewpoints, competing for the public trust. Israel can't pick who the Palestinians want.

Developing the questions

Months after the Asian tsunami, a new report provides damning evidence of Sri Lanka's inefficient media in the aftermath of the disaster.

Transparency International in Sri Lanka has concluded: "the voiceless were not given a platform to express themselves at all. The main function of the majority media texts analysed was to conceal the fact that the state of public opinion at any given time is made up of a system of forces, of tensions, and the serious inadequacy of the Sri Lankan way of journalism toward representing the state of public opinion."

Furthermore, the difficulties in developing a rigorous media in a developing country are discussed. During my visit to the beautiful country in March this year, I discovered, as the report states, a media "very Colombo-centred and politicised." As the growth of the internet penetrates further throughout the country, we can hopefully expect more localised and targeted journalism.

Monday, September 19, 2005

The truth about VSU

From a priceless source:

"The federal government's proposed voluntary student unionism (VSU) legislation will effectively sound the death knell for university sport in Australia (along with just about every other service offered by student organisations).

"On Sunday night, federal education minister Dr Brendan Nelson called in to the North Ryde Hockey field to watch his daughter play.

"The match that had just ended featured Macquarie University and UTS.

"Bad timing Brendan."

Victory is coming. No, really

"One billion dollars has been plundered from Iraq's defence ministry in one of the largest thefts in history, The Independent can reveal, leaving the country's army to fight a savage insurgency with museum-piece weapons.

"The money, intended to train and equip an Iraqi army capable of bringing security to a country shattered by the US-led invasion and prolonged rebellion, was instead siphoned abroad in cash and has disappeared."

The Independent, September 19

The agenda

My forthcoming book on Israel/Palestine, to be published by Melbourne University Publishing, continues to generate interest. Middle East commentator Sol Salbe analyses the attempts by Federal Labor MP Michael Danby to censor my book and the possible reasons behind his desperation.

Preaching values

"Are we therefore in a position to tell our Muslim neighbours to "grasp the nettle"? I rather think not. Because the condition of human rights has been so eroded by our own folly, our illegal invasion of Iraq and the anarchy that we have allowed to take root there, our flagrant refusal to prevent further Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank, our constant, whining demands that prominent Muslims must disown the killers who take their religious texts too literally, that we have long ago lost our moral compass.

"A hundred years of Western interference in the Middle East has left the region so cracked with fault lines and artificial frontiers and heavy with injustices that we are in no position to lecture the Islamic world on human rights and values. Forget the Amalekites and the Persians and Martin Luther and the Caliph Abu Bakr. Just look at ourselves in the mirror and we will see the most frightening text of all."

Robert Fisk, September 17

Orwellian headline of the week

"Sharon opens his heart to peace with Palestinians"

The Australian, September 17, 2005

Tell that to the millions of Palestinians living under a brutal military occupation.

Mark Latham

Former Labor leader Mark Latham must be pleased. His diaries are released today - through my publisher, Melbourne University Publishing - and the mainstream media has talked about little else since last week. Outrage, indignation and ingratitude seem to be the common political and media sentiment. The last week, however, has revealed the inherent weakness of our media establishment.

I never supported Latham nor voted for him. I found many of his policies too far removed from my social justice perspective and besides, the ALP has been a dysfunctional organisation for years. Having said all that, I now greatly admire many of the comments in his diaries. Getting past the slurs against virtually every Labor figure of note, much of Latham's message deserves a fair hearing. Perhaps he has bitten the hand that fed him and clearly he could be accused of hypocrisy for not speaking his "truth" during his time as leader, but this shouldn't diminish his overall message: the political and media system is terribly sick in Australia.

First, the media. He takes a swipe at the so-called leading journalists in the country. He cares little for their agenda, challenges their belief in creating stories and dares to prick the Murdoch worldview. Brave stuff, indeed. And yet, how could we expect such views to receive a fair hearing when the vast majority of Australian print media is owned by Murdoch?

Here's Latham on Paul Kelly, the alleged doyen of Australian journalism:

" Kelly's instance, telling me that it was a good move to get the troops out of Iraq, put the pressure on Howard, and shortly thereafter - a company man, he's very much a Murdoch company man, he's towing the company line, the Murdoch-American stance - to be bagging me for that policy position that in his private moments he supported.

"Paul Kelly sits in his mansion at Hunters Hill not having to deal with these things [sexual harassment allegations], not having to talk about his wife and think about his children in this context. It's easy to do that - write your article and go home to your mansion in Hunters Hill and not have to deal with it and personally in a family context. Well, I'm telling you this, Tony, when you have to deal with it, when it happens to you, it's a different kettle of fish."

The Fairfax and Murdoch press have rounded on Latham and condemned his approach. There is no doubt that his tactics are bold, aggressive and downright punchy. But so what? He has nothing to lose. He can now freely speak his mind. It seems as if the political and media elite are incensed that he would dare criticise the system that raised and supported him.

His Enough Rope interview provides great insight into the contemporary political system. Perhaps Latham is ungrateful and maybe he could have written with less fortitude, but then, would the people have listened? I found his Enough Rope interview very sympathetic. Here was a man unafraid to say that the price to lead a political party was simply too high and perhaps we should take a good look at that system.

Now, the US alliance. "The diaries are frightening on the US alliance", writes Paul Kelly. What else would he say? He's a Murdoch man and therefore knows his place. Why can't Australia have a robust and mature discussion about the US alliance? Why can't we seriously analyse our relationship with America and the Bush administration? Are we so parochial and insecure that an approach like New Zealand is simply dismissed as irrational?

Kelly continues: "[Latham] actually believes that Australia cannot be an independent nation and have an alliance with the US." Australia in 2005 is not a truly independent nation. Our unhealthy obsession with American government opinion leaves us in the position of fighting illegal and/or immoral wars - Vietnam, Iraq and arguably, Afghanistan - and contributing to an environment where terrorists are given the greatest gift imaginable.

Perhaps Tim Dunlop is correct and the media's obsession with Latham is misplaced. He argues that if the same kind of investigation were given to Howard - our Prime Minister after all - our democracy would be in much better shape. But then, Latham's diaries provide a rare insight into Australia's faltering political and media elites and warrant a look.

Latham leaves us with a few key questions:

- If the ALP wins government again, what exactly would it stand for?

- Is the US alliance of questionable value?

- Should journalists have to be more transparent in their allegiances?

- What is the state of Australia's democracy in 2005?

Not happy

The Nation reports:

"On March 17, 2003, two days before the US invasion of Iraq commenced, four protesters - now known as the "Saint Patrick's Four" - entered a military recruiting centre near Ithaca, New York, and poured small amounts of their own blood around the building's vestibule in a symbolic protest against the coming invasion. By their own account, they were alone in the vestibule and no one was prevented from entering or leaving the center.

"For this act of non-violent civil disobedience, the longtime Catholic peace activists--sisters Clare and Teresa Grady, Daniel Burns, and Peter DeMott--are now charged with conspiracy to impede "by force, intimidation and threat" an officer of the United States along with three lesser offences. If convicted of federal conspiracy in a trial starting this Monday, September 19, they face up to six years in prison, a period of probation and $275,000 in fines.

"The trial is the first time the Federal government has pressed conspiracy charges against civilian Iraq war protesters and comes after a previous trial last year in county court on charges of criminal mischief and trespassing which resulted in a hung jury, with nine of twelve members favouring acquittal. As public interest lawyer and law professor Bill Quigley who is acting as legal advisor to the defendants, says, "Federal intervention in this case represents a blatant act of government intimidation and will have a chilling effect on expression of the first amendment rights of any citizen to protest or speak out against their government." Which is, of course, the idea."

The parallels to the American peace protestor, Scott Parkin, being deported from Australia on spurious national security issues raise the spectre that Western democracies are slowly but surely cracking down on dissent.

We must fight this at every turn.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Sorry what?

Please explain:

"A Pentagon employee was ordered to destroy documents that identified Mohamed Atta as a terrorist two years before the 2001 attacks, a congressman said Thursday.

"The employee is prepared to testify next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was expected to name the person who ordered him to destroy the large volume of documents, said Rep. Curt Weldon R-Pa."

The battle is lost

"Both the Cheney Administration and its current puppet-government in Iraq benefit from destroying the voting (and living) ability of the majority of people in the “Sunni triangle,” so we have the operation in Tal-Afar, most likely to be followed by similar operations in Al-Qa’im, Haditha, Samarra, and possibly more.

"In Tal-Afar, the propaganda spewed by the US military (and Iraqi “government”) was that the operation was to fight terrorists coming into Iraq via Syria. If that were true, why did the US military remove troops from the border with Syria who were supposed to be preventing infiltration by foreign fighters? Instead of guarding the border, as they should, they engaged in the operation against Iraqi Sunni Turkmen. Working in unison, the US military launched the heavy-handed attack with the “authorization” of Prime Minister Ibrahm Jaafari, the leader of the Shia Dawa Party. Jaafari even went so far as to venture to Tal-Afar on Tuesday to visit troops and have his photograph taken."

Dahr Jamail, Iraq Dispatches, September 16

We demand more

Think the American media is obsessed with celebrity "news"? Can't understand why world events are routinely ignored on the major networks? Be A Witness agrees. It's clearly time for a similar campaign in Australia.

A town cut in two

The following advertisement by Israeli peace group Gush Shalom appeared in Haaretz on September 16:

In 1989, the masses breached the wall in Berlin. Relatives who had not seen each other for decades embraced in a storm of emotions.

The whole world applauded. So did we.

In 2005 the masses breached the wall in Rafah. Relatives who had not seen each other in decades embraced in a storm of emotions.

The Israeli government immediately started to shout: A scandal! A violation of agreements!

But when you cut a town into two, no wall will endure. Not in Berlin. Not in Rafah. Not anywhere.

The great debate

George Galloway vs Christopher Hitchens. Oh to have been in New York last week...

Friday, September 16, 2005

Time out

I'm going up north for a few days. A much needed break is in order and I'll be back early next week. During my absence, use comments for a general discussion about whatever takes your fancy. Take a read of this fascinating report on German Jews. Sometimes history deals a curious card: "Much has already been written about the historic irony in the fact that Germany has the fastest-growing Jewish population in the world, and about the fact that the main agent lobbying to reduce the benefits given to Jewish immigrants is Israel."

Have a good weekend.

The speech we had to have?

Tim Dunlop @ Road to Surfdom offers the speech John Howard should give to the Australian people on terrorism and security. It's a fascinating exercise in presumption, insight, nuance and toughness:

"Democracy is not rocket science; it is much more complicated than that. Balancing security and freedom has been the dilemma of democratic governments since there first were democratic governments. I don't pretend to have all the answers now. But we have learned something over the years and all we can do as your government, I repeat, is adhere to the principles of openness and accountability that define our political system and trust that you will hold us accountable on those terms."

It's also lacking in any discussion about foreign policy. It's a curious omission. Perhaps Dunlop is guessing that Howard would never openly question his "mission" in Iraq or Afghanistan but surely it could be possible in his "dream" speech? Security, terrorism and foreign policy are all intricately linked and taking any of them in isolation misunderstands the motivation of all players.

Australia and Indonesia

Inward looking

The state of Australia's remote indigenous communities is a cause for nation shame. While the world looks to other conflicts - and journalists, myself included, too often ignore our own backyard - The Age's Lindsay Murdoch issues a stark warning to all:

"Some starve and beg for food. Some are molested and abused and nobody talks about it. Most have had no formal education. Their infant mortality rate is four times higher than the national average and they will die 20 years younger than the average Australian. The hidden children of Australia's remote indigenous communities are among the world's most disadvantaged."

NT Grants Commission chairman Bob Beadman explains the urgency. "People need to be shocked," he said. "They need to be moved from tacit acceptance that everything is OK. A huge task confronts the nation and particularly Aborigines themselves."

Greater awareness is a positive first step, but it's far from enough. Throwing money at the "problem" is also a misguided approach, as successive governments of all stripes have discovered. When was the last time Aboriginal issues were seriously discussed in the media, and not just for a day or two?

Useful resource

"The Alternative Information Center (AIC) is a joint Palestinian-Israeli organization which prioritises political advocacy, critical analysis and information sharing on the Palestinian and Israeli societies as well as on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In doing so, the AIC promotes responsible co-operation between Palestinians and Israelis based on the values of social and political justice, equality, solidarity, community involvement and respect for the full inalienable national rights of all Palestinian people."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Our "values"

"Britain's biggest arms firm, BAE Systems, has been identified on US banking records as secretly paying more than £1m to General Augusto Pinochet, the former Chilean dictator. A Guardian investigation has revealed some of the money was listed as being paid through a front company in the British Virgin Islands, which BAE has used to channel commission on arms deals."

The Guardian report presents more questions than answers. Was the Blair government aware? Why is BAE still paying Pinochet money so many years after his reign of terror? Could this affect the current legal woes facing the former dictator? Are there similar deals with other dictators?

The long journey

The ongoing controversy surrounding my forthcoming book on Israel/Palestine, my publisher, Melbourne University Publishing and expressing dissent in Australia continues in this week's Jewish News.

First up, a column by academic Mark Baker:

How to answer to The Question of Zion
Mark Baker

THERE is only one answer to the publication by Melbourne University Publishing (MUP) of The Question of Zion: write a book called The Answer of Zion.

Any other strategy is wrong - the knee-jerk call for boycotts, the cliched slogans of our hasbara departments, the hatchet jobs by our lobby groups, the threat to withhold charity. None of these strategies work because they avoid the real issue: the need for intellectual engagement with the issues raised.

Now one might argue that questions about Zionism do not require answers. They are no different, one might say, from questions about Jews - the so-called Judenfrage (Jewish question) - which has always singled Jews out for exceptional treatment.

To some extent this is true of Jacqueline Rose's treatment of Israel. In a world of human-rights abuses, she is an active campaigner for a cultural boycott against Israel, and the thrust of her book psychoanalyses the violent subconscious of Zionism as though other nationalisms do not have this shared history.

As for Antony Loewenstein, while MUP publisher Louise Adler is right to say we cannot review his book eight months before its publication, she is being disingenuous in asking us not to recognise the nature of the work. Loewenstein does not hide his tracks. On the contrary, he trickles his thoughts on his daily web log, which is avowedly anti-Zionist, while stereotyping the Jewish community in the most self-righteous manner.

And then, three letters:


I FEEL disturbed at the publicity being given to the views of people such as Professor Jacqueline Rose and Antony Loewenstein. Criticism of Israel is one thing, but calling for the dismantling of the State of Israel is quite another.

We Jews have a long and deep connection with the Land of Israel. And yet, here we have people who suggest that we have no right to sovereignty in the land. On what basis? Because of the unfortunate suffering of the Palestinian people? Let me ask them, to which other country in the world do they apply such standards?

Consider Australia for one. Our indigenous people are deprived and suffering to an even greater degree than the Palestinians. And yet, despite the fact that Europeans have no prior connection to this land, and our settlement is of relatively recent origin, I don't hear them calling for the dismantling of the Australian nation. The same argument could be applied to New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and almost all of South America. Here we have countries colonised by Europeans where the indigenous nations are deprived. Not a word from Professor Rose or Loewenstein, or any of their ilk.

One has to wonder why Israel is singled out in this fashion. It is about time that we all stood up to the oh-so-subtle antisemitism that is behind these unreasonable demands for the creation of a bi-national state in place of Israel. Only a naive fool would imagine that the Jews are going to be welcome in such a state!

John Klein
Caulfield, Vic


AT the moment, I am greatly enjoying the novel Don Quixote, in which the hero lives in a fantasy world and tips at windmills. Michael Danby MP is behaving badly, like the Don Quixote of Melbourne Ports. I am one of his windmills, and therefore a target for his practiced McCarthyism.

However, the truth of the matter is that I am not, nor have I ever been a "member" of the socialist left (I assume he means a lunatic faction of the ALP or perhaps something worse). The only sin I can think of has been siding with progressive politics and civil-rights organisations when I lived in both Israel and the US. Nowadays, I admit to being a moderate, balding, 50-ish, bicycle-riding and chardonnay-drinking non-aligned member of the ALP.

However Danby, other than using personalised vilification of poor sods like me, still hasn't explained how he justifies his call for political censorship of the opinions shared by many Israelis and their supporters abroad.

Larry Stillman
Elwood, Vic

[ed: Stillman is responding to these fanciful claims by Michael Danby.]


MICHAEL Danby is being criticised for suggesting that members of the Jewish community not buy two anti-Israel books, Antony Loewenstein's forthcoming book on the Australian Jewish community's response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Jacqueline Rose's The Question of Zion, published by Australia's otherwise premier academic publisher, Melbourne University Publishing (MUP). Prior to the publication of their books (including Loewenstein's in May next year) their ideas were so preconceived as to make the animus of their books absolutely predictable.

It is especially ironic that both authors support the boycott of Israel. Loewenstein has participated in an Islamic website, Western Journalists in Support of Palestine, which advocates a general boycott of Israel [ed: I have never "participated" in this website, though I think some of my articles may have been published there without my knowledge or permission.] Rose's attitude is displayed as recently as August 18 in an interview with Open Democracy: "I think there should be economic and military sanctions against Israel, and an academic and cultural boycott as well. This is a time for deciding which side you are on, and what you can do to prevent the deterioration of the situation."

This is within the context of where the worst leader of a national movement, Arafat, has made his most positive contribution by departing the scene, and where Israel has painfully disengaged from Gaza. This progress towards accommodation brings no acknowledgement by two anti-Zionist Jews who are being given a megaphone by MUP.

To most of the Jewish community, this cloud cuckoo-land must seem absolutely crazy.

Douglas Kirsner
B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission