Not Fit To Print


At the time of writing this, Israeli shells have hit a UN Compound and Gaza City’s Media Centre. Gaza hospitals are about to run out of power and medicines. The death toll in Gaza has reached 1078, with more than 5000 injured and tens of thousands internally displaced. Hamas rockets are still being fired into southern Israel.

Israeli spin doctors continue to use the neoconservative rhetoric, claiming to be at the forefront of the West’s "war on terror". But the reality is that the wheels are falling off this paradigm. On the eve of the inauguration of America’s first African-American president, British Foreign Secretary David Milibrand has rejected the Bush doctrine as self-defeating:

"The idea of a ‘war on terror’ gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda … The more we lump terrorist groups together and draw the battle lines as a simple binary struggle between moderates and extremists, or good and evil, the more we play into the hands of those seeking to unify groups with little in common."

But while the rest of the world (apart from Israel) may turn its back on terror tunnel vision, Paul Sheehan seems happy to provide an "analysis" of the Israel/Palestine conflict that relies on it completely. Sheehan’s column is based on his visit to Israel last November, before the most recent bombardment commenced. Almost a quarter (170 out of 939 words) in Sheehan’s column is "[b]ased on briefings I received from the Israeli Government".

Of course, Sheehan is entitled to agree with (if not repeat almost word-for-word) the line of one side to this conflict. Sheehan is also entitled to fill his columns with as much of this kind of content as he wishes. His piece is opinion, not reportage.

And we, as media consumers, are entitled to call a spade a spade, to express our own opinions. So in expressing my own opinion, I cannot help but ask this question: Did Sheehan completely fall for the well-oiled Israeli PR machine’s spin when he visited them last November? After seeing the way this Media Watch story hung a question mark over Sheehan’s fact-checking rigor I would not be surprised.

If not, how else could Sheehan have reached the ridiculous conclusion that support for Palestinian human rights and opposition to the current Israeli bombardment is necessarily about hating and/or blaming the world’s entire Jewish population? Must criticism of Israel necessarily involve sentiments Sheehan describes as "Kill Jews. Dirty People. Sub-human. Mass murderers. Greedy."?

Sheehan paints all critics of Israel, Jewish or otherwise, with the same brush based purely on reports of what some people and their placards said at a protest in Melbourne, along with a BBC report of what a "young man with an Australian accent" said at a rally in Beirut. So a few people at a few rallies reflects the sentiments of millions of people across the globe, many of whom despise Hamas, want a ceasefire and abhor the loss of civilian life.

Using Sheehan’s logic, surely the persons in this video taken by Max Blumenthal must necessarily reflect the feelings of every one of the much smaller number of people who support Israel’s continued bombardment.

Using Sheehan’s logic a bit further, Australian federal MP Julia Irwin surely feels the way she does because she thinks that all Jews are greedy. Sara Dowse, the Jewish author of a novel about three generations of Jewish women, regards Jews as sub-human. Readers of Sheehan’s article will now realise that Amira Hass, Israeli journalist and daughter of Holocaust survivors, just wants to kill Jews. And they’ll understand that activists from the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem are just a bunch of anti-Semites.

But as (relatively conservative) UK sociologist Frank Furedi wrote in The Australian recently: "I have always criticised the tendency of some Zionist commentators to dismiss all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. Such a defensive knee-jerk reaction simply avoids confronting the issues and undermines the possibility of dialogue."

Sheehan claims such alleged anti-Jewish sentiment is "carried by the spread of Islamic fundamentalism". I have no doubt a fair few Muslim theocrats are deeply anti-Semitic. Certainly the literature of groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir does contain grossly anti-Semitic references, something their Australian spokesman Wassim Doureihi had trouble explaining away when grilled by Radio National’s Mark Colvin some years back.

Sheehan claims Gaza had become a second Iran, its Government implementing Sharia law. His evidence is that a senior deceased Palestinian leader had 4 wives and 14 children. Back in 2005, King Mswata III had 10 wives and 3 fiancées. Does this make Swaziland a super-Sharia state?

Sheehan insists one cannot generalise about a group whose population of 13 million makes up hardly 0.2 per cent of the world’s population. I agree. But I wonder on what basis Sheehan feels comfortable making generalisations about the sentiments and attitudes of 1.2 billion Muslims who make up 20 per cent of the world’s population? Or does Sheehan subscribe to Rupert Murdoch’s theory that Muslims share certain genetic defects?

Of course, when Sheehan points the finger at others for allegedly being racist and making generalisations about groups, he should be sure that it isn’t just his own fingers pointing back at him. Last April, Sheehan wrote a column referring to "Tongan morons" and claiming that Goulburn jail "is dominated by Aborigines, Pacific Islanders and Lebanese Muslims". Shakira Hussein refers to one piece penned by Sheehan in 1995 in which he claimed that a race war in the US involving blacks against whites had cost 25 million lives.

Paul Sheehan doesn’t once mention civilian deaths in Gaza. Sheehan’s column has about as much nuance as a Corey Worthington interview. I’d love to see him try to get such a ridiculous piece published in an Israeli newspaper.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.