An Open Letter To The Israeli Ambassador


Dear Mr Rotem,

I have to say that the arrogance of your article in The Age, arguing that the paper should not have published a piece by Hamas official Khalid Meshaal left me stunned. Even by the standards of your Government it was quite something. Do you really think that you are entitled, as Israel’s ambassador to Australia, to tell The Age who it should and should not be publishing?

And yet, as I read on, you climbed to even greater heights of audacity. You managed to brag about Israel’s free press and democratic credentials, while calling on our press in Australia to restrict its freedoms — which coming from you amounts to an order from a foreign administration. Perhaps, as a representative of Israel’s Government, you’ve become used to the idea of restricting critical scrutiny of Israel’s actions.?

Of course, the arrogant attitude of your Government towards those who dare criticise Israel’s actions is nothing new. I haven’t forgotten when your Government decided that it would not allow academic Norman Finkelstein into Israel. Your free press did manage to speak out about that, but your demonstration of contempt for freedom of opinion was surprising in its brazenness. And there was more to come.

Not so long ago, I read in your press about Israel’s decision not to admit the United Nations special rapporteur on the occupied territories, Princeton professor Richard Falk. Your Government took this decision on the grounds that Falk thought Israel’s human rights record was abysmal. This is the kind of reasoning that makes perfect sense to military dictatorships around the world, and does rather compromise your attempts to lecture us on how to conduct a mature political debate.

But your Government’s habitual arrogance, expressed through its contempt for international opinion, went even further. Surely you recall that foreign journalists, desperate to get into Gaza to find out what was happening during Israel’s onslaught, were prevented from doing so by Israel’s army. As the Yedioth Ahronot newspaper noted, even relatively conservative foreign journalists were forced to see the parallels between Israel’s attitude to the press and that of Burma and Zimbabwe.

Mr Rotem, we know that your country seeks to restrict political dissent. Your own free press, which you’re so proud of, has been deploring the crackdowns on those who wanted to protest the latest series of Israeli atrocities. (Are you also proud of arresting over 700 anti-war protestors?)

We’ve noticed that your country has decided to ban both of the Arab parties currently in the Knesset from running in the next elections. As Haaretz’s editorial on the matter noted, the petition to ban Balad came from the Yisrael Beiteinu party. Your Government has repeatedly welcomed its head, Avigdor Lieberman into cabinet posts. But while you admonish us for publishing what you call Meshaal’s "hate-filled rhetoric" — and readers can judge that piece for themselves — you apparently see no problem with Lieberman’s views — which include promoting the further expulsion of Palestinians from Israel – getting plenty of play in your press.

With that kind of double-standard in your attitude, who are you, Mr Rotem, to lecture us on what our press should and should not print? What do you think Australia has to learn from Israel on this matter? I’m actually glad you were ridiculous enough to claim that Meshaal "sought to inflame anti-Semitic rhetoric". This is a textbook case of calling someone’s argument "anti-Semitic" simply to demonise them and to avoid engaging with what they are saying. (In this case, it’s a little depressing that this is the best you can do — after all, the man you were attacking is the head of an organisation whose founding charter cites "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion".)

But the problem isn’t that Meshaal’s article was anti-Semitic, which it wasn’t. It’s that he plainly described the suffering of the Gazans, which ordinary people find shocking. And for good reason.

You claim to be appalled that The Age would run an op-ed by one of the leaders of a "terrorist organisation", one that would dare commit such crimes as "aim rockets at civilian targets", and one which "stages attacks on civilians". Do you think we’re stupid? Do you think that we haven’t noticed your crimes against the Palestinians?

Consider, for example, what Amnesty International has discovered, now that you’ve finally allowed them into Gaza. Their fact-finding team says that "previously busy neighbourhoods have been flattened into moonscapes … power lines have been torn down, and water mains ripped up. Gaza’s infrastructure is now in dire condition." The summary of the preliminary investigations goes on to note that "[s]chools, medical facilities and UN buildings all took direct hits from the Israeli army’s indiscriminate shelling [italics added]. Artillery shells for use on conventional battlefields, not for pinpoint targets, have been fired into dense residential areas."

Amnesty also noted that the UNRWA Field Office in Gaza City was shelled on 15 January, destroying "[w]arehouses full of food, medicine and other humanitarian aid", in just one of the reported instances of Israel’s use of white phosphorous ammunition. Amnesty says that white phosphorous should never be used in civilian areas, but it was not only used to destroy tons of aid supplies, but also in an attack on al-Quds hospital in Gaza.

Of course, because you didn’t let journalists into Gaza while you were bombing it, we’ve only been able to get a fragmented idea of your crimes there so far. But we’ve already heard enough stories of your bombing civilian areas, of your soldiers shooting Palestinians waving white flags, and of other atrocities. Are we meant to forget about the hundreds of Palestinian children you’ve killed over the last few weeks? Are we meant to forget about the shameless and inconsistent apologetics you’ve offered for the few atrocities that have attracted the scrutiny of the Western media?

Hamas did kill three Israeli civilians during your campaign of bombing and invading Gaza. Yet your crimes against the Palestinians are literally over a hundred times worse, if we only count murders of civilians through the use of indiscriminate weapons. Meanwhile Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians living under occupation for decades stretch on into many other areas, and Israel’s appalling siege on Gaza has made this latest onslaught particularly grim.

Mr Rotem, I find your views grossly offensive. But I support your right to print them in any paper willing to publish your vulgar propaganda. The more the better, since it is in this realm of free, open debate that your Government is weakest. And all the tanks in the world won’t change that.

Yours Sincerely,
Michael Brull

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.