Gillard reassures the Jews that she loves Israel to death
 28 Jun 2010

This week’s Australian Jewish News:

Within the Jewish community, discussions about Julia Gillard often include the whispered question: “She might support Israel now, but have you heard what she was like in her university days?”
So, when we spoke to her last August, while she was still Deputy Prime Minister, The AJN decided to explore Gillard’s days in student politics. Where did she stand in debates about Israel when she was president of the now-defunct Australian Union of Students (AUS)?
“The AUS in the late 1970s and into the early 1980s was racked by conflicting views over Israel and Palestine,” Gillard explained during an interview with The AJN in her Melbourne office on Friday. “It caused many Jewish students around the country and their representative organisation – the Australasian Union of Jewish Students – to become anti-AUS.”
Gillard commenced studying an arts and law degree in Adelaide in 1979, but it wasn’t until a couple of years later, when she transferred her studies to Melbourne, that she launched into the quagmire that was student politics at the time.
“When I came into the AUS, sensible people – and I put myself in that category – were saying ‘Well people will have their individual views about this question, it is a democracy, people can debate and try and persuade each other, but this is not business for AUS’.”
Gillard went on to become a leading figure in the movement and she supported the AUS members’ vote to discard their Middle East policy and not replace it.
“I supported that – the union not having any formal policy on that – as a way of concentrating, or trying to concentrate, the union on the things that make a difference. That was always my position on it.”
The Middle East debate, she added, was at its height a few years before she joined the AUS and her time there was during the tail end of the controversy.
With her early relationship with Israeli politics established, Gillard told The AJN about her recent trip to Israel.
Last July, she led the Australian delegation to the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum in Jerusalem.
Speaking highly of that forum, the first of its kind between the countries, she compared it with the prestigious Australia-American Leadership Forum.
“[The Australian-American Leadership Dialogue] has done so much to drive connections between the two countries: at a political level, at a business level, at a social level, at a scientific level. So to be there for the start of what you would hope will grow into something like that, I thought that was a tremendous privilege and opportunity.
“While it is early days and it was the first meeting, I thought all the signs were good.”
The contents of the forum were, unfortunately, confidential.
But one can imagine the debate that took place between Gillard, former treasurer Peter Costello, Liberal shadow minister Christopher Pyne and other Australian MPs sitting across the table from members of the Israeli Knesset, journalists and other ­decision-makers.
Writing in the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange newsletter, a journalist called the event an “invigorating, candid and often amusing collaboration”.
Gillard said the forum and the rest of her time in Israel demonstrated to her that, excluding the security situation, the two countries had wide-ranging commonalities.
“I think both countries visualise themselves as having a highly skilled, high-tech, high-innovation future,” Gillard said.
She echoed a thought that appears to be verbalised more and more in recent months: that Australia has a lot to learn from Israel, particularly in the high-tech field.
Speaking on education, a matter close to her heart – as well as Deputy Prime Minister, she holds the portfolios of education, employment and workplace relations and social inclusion – she said Australia and Israel would benefit from sharing ­knowledge.
“Both countries are working through how do you keep improving quality, particularly in circumstances where you’ve got large numbers of migrants into the nation from different places,” she said.
“They have had to have an education system aspiring for excellence, but dealing with a lot of diversity and our education system is the same. I think the possibilities for exchange there are very strong.”
Throughout the interview, Gillard was relaxed and comfortable talking about Israel, emphasising recent meetings with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leaders.
“To have a discussion about economic issues, security issues, world events generally, that was a great privilege,” she said.


Gillard and the Zionist lobby are completely separate (or not)
 28 Jun 2010

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is asked on ABC Melbourne radio about a news story today regarding her blind support for Israel and her partner’s job with the Zionist lobby.
Even Murdoch columnist Andrew Bolt sees an issue:

Gillard said on ABC 774 this morning that as Deputy Prime Minister she excused herself on decisions on Israel that might raise this conflict of interest. How could she possibly do the same as Prime Minister? I’m surprised she doesn’t instantly see how inappropriate this arrangement now is.

And this:

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has defended the right of her partner Tim Mathieson to work for a property group owned by a pro-Israel lobbyist.
Mr Mathieson is employed as a real estate salesman at a company owned by Melbourne developer Albert Dadon, a prominent pro-Israel lobbyist.
Ms Gillard said her public condemnation of Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli territory during the Gaza intervention occurred well before there had been any suggestion of Mr Mathieson working for Mr Dadon.
Mr Mathieson was his own person with his own life and his own job, she said.
Mr Gillard said she had taken advice on the issue because she did not want to make an inappropriate decision in cabinet.
“I have made all the necessary declarations and disclosures.”
Ms Gillard said her becoming prime minister indicated to the nation that this was a different age, adding the personal situation of her predecessor Kevin Rudd had also broken new ground.
“Kevin was the first prime minister, as I understand it, to have a partner with her own career, and a formidable and successful career it is,” she said.
Ms Gillard said she was the first prime minister with a male partner who had his own career and job.
“I hope that people would understand that, that he’s got a right to live his life too.”


Free Palestine in Warsaw’s Jewish area
 28 Jun 2010

Yesterday, Israeli and Polish activists met in the ruins of Warsaw’s old Jewish Ghetto.
The activists sprayed ‘Liberate All Ghettos’ in Hebrew, followed by ‘Free Gaza and Palestine’ in English on a wall of an original block in the ghetto. The block is across the street from the last fragment of the remaining perimeter wall of the Ghetto. They also hung Palestinian flags from the wall.
This was first time such an action took place in the ghetto.


Gillard and Israel are like peas in a pod
 28 Jun 2010

It’s very healthy to see some critical thoughts over new Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her tight connection to the Zionist lobby. Much more transparency is required. Watch this space:

A former Australian ambassador to Israel has accused Prime Minister Julia Gillard of being silent on the ”excesses” of Israel, and has questioned why her partner has been given a job by a prominent Israel lobbyist.
In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, Ross Burns, who was ambassador in Tel Aviv between 2001 and 2003, said Ms Gillard had been ”remarkably taciturn on the excesses of Israeli actions in the past two years”.
He questioned Ms Gillard’s stance given that she led an Australian delegation to Israel last year for the inaugural meeting of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum. ”It looks a bit funny when you go on this tour to promote bilateral relations, but you don’t seem to have any reservations about the issue that was number one on the horizon,” Mr Burns said.
He also questioned the propriety of Ms Gillard’s partner, Tim Mathieson, being employed as a real estate salesman by the founder of the Australia Israel Forum, Melbourne property developer Albert Dadon.
Mr Dadon is close to prominent pro-Israel Labor MP Michael Danby, who was influential last week in the coup that installed Ms Gillard as Prime Minister.
Ms Gillard disclosed her partner’s appointment to Mr Dadon’s Ubertas Group in a letter to the registrar of MPs’ interests in December, saying the job had started the previous month. A spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said at the time that she did not expect any perceived conflict of interest to arise from the job.
But Mr Burns said in his letter the perception that Ms Gillard’s support for the Australia Israel Leadership Forum was linked to Mr Mathieson’s job was unavoidable. ”Happy coincidence? In this new world of ‘whatever it takes’ ALP federal politics, is this a new benchmark in ‘jobs for the boys’?” Mr Burns wrote.
The first meeting of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum last June came six months after Israel launched its military offensive in Gaza in December 2008, in which more than 1300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.
Ms Gillard, who was acting prime minister when the invasion took place, put out a statement at the time criticising Palestinian group Hamas for firing rockets into southern Israel, but pointedly declining to criticise Israel for causing civilian casualties.
”Clearly the act of aggression was engaged in by Hamas which commenced shelling with rockets and mortars into Israel,” Ms Gillard said at the time. ”That is what breached the ceasefire, and Israel responded.”
Former prime minister Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith have since expressed unease at the  subsequent blockade of Gaza by Israel.
“She went there for a couple of days of talks and I don’t think made any critical comment about the blockade of Gaza or treatment of Palestinians in general,” Mr Burns said.
“And now we learn from both Rudd and Smith that there were concerns within the Australian Government about the blockade, that we didn’t agree with the blockade. Well, we never said so at the time, and she didn’t say so,” Mr Burns said.
Mr Burns was supported in his criticism of the government’s attitude towards Israel by another former Australian ambassador to Tel Aviv, Peter Rodgers, who served in the Israeli capital from 1994 to 1997.
Mr Rodgers told The Age last night that under successive governments, Australia’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had become increasingly unbalanced, and that this was unlikely to change under Ms Gillard’s stewardship.
“There’s been a marked swing away from the old attempt to be evenhanded on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to a much more determined pro-Israeli position, and I think Gillard is part of that,” he said.


Punishing Palestinian independence
 28 Jun 2010

Hamas leader in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahar, doesn’t want his territory to become like another US-backed wasteland, Afghanistan:

The Hamas co-founder was bitterly critical of Western policy towards Hamas and Gaza over the four and half years since the Islamic faction won the last Palestinian elections. “Why did the Western people boycott Hamas after the election?” he asked. “Because they want a new Karzai in Palestine”. He was equally contemptuous of Western support for the blockade imposed by Israel when Hamas seized control in a short but bloody civil war with its Fatah rivals and coalition partners in June 2007. He claimed the closure of Gaza conformed to Western definitions of “terrorism” by using “violence” to change the attitudes of its victims. “I am asking you, why did you accept this process four years ago?”


How Rolling Stone should spread its wing
 28 Jun 2010

I’ve talked extensively here about Michael Hastings’ piece in Rolling Stone that helped fire General Stanley McChrystal (more savvy comments here).
But what of the magazine itself? The Guardian comments:

The resignation last week of General Stanley McChrystal had the impact of a pterodactyl egg dropping on the US news agenda from 30,000 feet. A Rolling Stone magazine interview by the freelance writer Michael Hastings documented the insubordinate attitudes of the McChrystal camp towards the Obama administration and caused the general’s dismissal. US generals, Rolling Stone, ill-conceived conflicts, weekly magazines setting the agenda; it only lacked the involvement of Joan Baez and Walter Cronkite to complete the feeling that we had woken up in 1968.
Not since the days of Hunter S Thompson has Rolling Stone made itself so unpopular with the White House. But the magazine’s story management prompted media analysts to wonder if, in fact, nothing had essentially changed for the publication in the past 40 years. Although the ownership of the amazing scoop was always clear, its rapid dissemination around the web after Rolling Stone had “teased” news outlets with a few advanced copies left the publisher out of the conversation it had provoked.
Not available to readers until three days after McCrystal’s sacking, Rolling Stone had taken the decision that by seeding “buzz” in other news outlets, but hiding the story from its readers until the issue hit newsstands, it would maximise revenues. This might still be the case, but the overall effect of ignoring the invention of the internet was that Rolling Stone ceded all control of how its own story unfolded, and potentially compromised any associated benefits it might have harnessed in terms of online readership and revenue.
News agencies, blogs and newspaper websites all made hay with the McChrystal conversation whilst Rolling Stone’s own website initially did not even acknowledge the story’s existence, only weakly posting the piece once the western world had already read it.
The problem Rolling Stone encountered was a direct result of not understanding what the purpose of its web presence is. If it understood it to be marketing – to lure subscribers, engage readers, advertise writers, trail its content – then it ought to have been very explicit which route to take, and presumably that would not have included handing all its marketing over to other outlets. If, however, the primary purpose was to raise advertising, gather readers and distribute content, then it should also have been clear that some form of publication of the material was better than none.
The embarrassing stasis does suggest it defined one potential purpose of the website as selling magazines. And the best way of selling magazines, or newspapers, in the minds of some publishers, is to establish a web presence but to stop people reading your content. This is a perfectly reasonable view to take, but there is little or no evidence that it works in the way envisaged by Rolling Stone.


Believe it, BDS is biting
 28 Jun 2010

So you’re an Israeli who does business with the international community. The Jewish state is facing increasing criticism and isolation but what to do?
An Israeli publication offers some handy tips to beat the issues and still turn a profit.


Divide and rule in Jerusalem
 27 Jun 2010


The Jerusalem District Planning and Building Committee is set to approve an unprecedented master plan that calls for the expansion of Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, a move largely based on construction on privately owned Arab property.
The committee’s proposal would codify the municipality’s planning policy for the entire city. In essence, Jerusalem would uniformly apply its zoning and construction procedures to both halves of the city.


Reporters are not supposed to thank the establishment at the end of the day
 27 Jun 2010

Journalist Michael Hastings believes in journalism. You know, asking questions, not protecting military men because they’re in the military and telling things how they are. Crazy ideas, I know. Others, like The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg, rather like war and Israel and like to contribute to the Middle East being filled with the former as much as possible.
So, here’s Hastings explaining his Rolling Stone piece:
And here’s CNN’s Lara Logan getting all upset that Hastings dared to actually report fairly on the military rather than protecting the honest men and women in uniform:
Obama is a barrier to any kind of Middle East peace
 27 Jun 2010

Even if this story is accurate, that US/Israeli relations are struggling, other reports indicate Washington is very happy to continue carrying the water for Tel Aviv, even if it means not releasing Gilad Shalit because it would strengthen Hamas.
First, this:

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, denied painting a dark picture of U.S.-Israeli relations during a briefing at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem last week.
Israeli diplomats say Oren described the current situation as a “tectonic rift” in which Israel and the United States are like continents drifting apart.
Oren’s comments come in the run-up to the July 6 meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House.
Oren visited Israel over the past week, briefing Israelis at the ministry’s North America and research divisions. Five Israeli diplomats, some of whom took part in the briefing or were informed about the details, said Oren described relations between the two countries in bleak terms.
According to the Israeli diplomats, Oren said relations between the two countries are not in a crisis because a crisis is something that passes. Oren opted to use terms from geology: “Relations are in the state of a tectonic rift in which continents are drifting apart.”
Oren noted that contrary to Obama’s predecessors – George W. Bush and Bill Clinton – the current president is not motivated by historical-ideological sentiments toward Israel but by cold interests and considerations. He added that his access as Israel’s ambassador to senior administration officials and close advisers of the president is good. But Obama has very tight control over his immediate environment, and it is hard to influence him.
“This is a one-man show,” Oren is quoted as saying.

Then this:

Ali Abunimah blogs that a diplomatic source has told him that George Mitchell directed the Israelis not to make a deal for Gilad Shalit’s freedom, as it would only strengthen Hamas.  In addition, this report from Yediot Achronot (Hebrew) notes that Shalit’s freedom would come at the expense of freeing Marwan Barghouti on the Palestinian side.  The latter would become the defacto popular leader of Fatah and thus displace the U.S. crony Abbas, which this administration wishes to avoid.

And Ali Abunimah on some realities in the Middle East that our kind and friendly corporate press are unlikely to report:

I had some interesting conversations with what I can refer to as diplomatic sources familiar with these matters and thought the following points worth sharing:

  • Despite all the talk of ending/easing the blockade of Gaza, there is no way in the foreseeable future of a shift in Quartet policy toward Hamas. Rather, the EU and other peace process stakeholders are waiting for US envoy George Mitchell to pull a white rabbit out of his hat (i.e by restarting “peace talks” leading to a two-state solution). At the same time, no one really believes that is going to happen. So essentially, nothing serious is happening on the diplomatic front.
  • World Bank figures due to be published in coming weeks are likely to show that economic growth in the Gaza Strip in the first quarter of 2010 has exceeded that in the West Bank. While virtually all economic growth in the West Bank is a result of foreign aid, much of the growth in Gaza is attributable to a “parallel economy” that has emerged thanks to the tunnels. This has even created a small new class of nouveaux riches in Gaza.
  • Many Palestinian Authority employees in the Gaza Strip are having their salaries paid by the EU in order NOT to go to work. If they go to work (and therefore legitimize the Hamas government) their salaries are cut off.
  • Palestinians have already succeeded in breaching the US-financed underground steel wall being built along the Gaza-Egypt border.
  • Press reports that US envoy George Mitchell once again put severe pressure on Egypt and other parties not to allow a Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal to proceed are accurate. The logic is that the US wants to avoid any legitimization of Hamas and focus on the “proximity talks” leading to “direct talks” (leading to nowhere?).
  • Press reports from last December that Mitchell vetoed a prisoner swap deal between the Netanyahu government and Hamas mediated by the Germans are accurate. (So if Israelis want to whine about the fact that Gilad Shalit is still a prisoner of war in Gaza they can direct their ire at their “best friend” the United States which nixed the German-brokered deal). Same warped logic – to avoid giving Hamas a victory.
  • Salam Fayyad’s “state building” initiative is a hollow shell. All he is is a pass through for foreign funds and a ceremonial ribbon-cutter and has not developed any independent or credible institutions and none are in the offing.

Some of this information was already known or obvious, but useful to have it further confirmed by people with direct knowledge.


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