Sunday, October 18, 2009

Lowy's Elephantine Agenda

"[Frank Lowy] is a man who has deliberately sought to be under the radar here [in Israel]... It may not bear his name, but the Israeli version of Sydney's Lowy Institute for International Policy - the Institute for National Security Studies, attached to the University of Tel Aviv - is equally his creation." (The quiet benefactor: Lowy's close ties with Israel, Jason Koutsoukis, SMH, 29/9/08)

"It was my birthday this week (yes, another year older) and how did I spend my day? Well I had lunch with Frank Lowy, for starters! Yes I was sitting just 2 seats from Frank Lowy at The Lowy Institute's Wednesday lunch. The Lowy Institute is an independent international policy think tank based in Sydney - but apart from the Wednesday lunches on site, everyone can access a huge array of podcasts, research papers and an extensive video library of its presentations via the website. The objective of The Lowy Institute is to generate new ideas and dialogue on international developments and Australia's role in the world. Its mandate is broad. It ranges across all the dimensions of international policy debate in Australia - economic, political and strategic - and it is not limited to a particular geographic region. Most of the events at The Lowy Institute are free to attend but they book out fast so my friend Sue Jackson at Westpac Women's Markets suggested we join The Lowy Institute's Wednesday lunch club - to get advance notification of the free lunchtime lectures every week. So along I went to hear about Post-Election Iran from a visiting Israeli Professor and sure enough - at my very first turnout - I met Frank Lowy!" (Lunch with Frank Lowy & tap into the resources of the Lowy Institute, Jen Dalitz, The SheEO Blog,, 21/8/09)

Hmm... Sounds like The Lowy Institute's running a bit of an agenda here. But just how much of an agenda? Well, if its Australia & The World: Public Opinion & Foreign Policy polls from 2007 to 2009 are anything to go by, its agenda could be described as positively elephantine.

Let's deal first with The Lowy Institute's elephant-in-the-room - Israel. In its 2007 poll, just over 1,000 Australians were asked to rank 15 foreign countries on the basis of their feelings towards them. The higher the %, the more favorably those polled felt towards these countries. Of the three Middle Eastern nations included, Israel scored 50%, while Iraq and Iran scored 36% and 34% respectively. Perhaps the 50% rating for Israel came as something of a blow to Frank, and so may explain Israel's omission in the 2008 and 2009 polls. Such a pity. It would have been most interesting to see Israel's post-Gaza approval rating in the just-released 2009 poll, but alas we're afforded no such opportunity. Out of sight, out of mind.

Given, then, that the institute's elephant-in-the-room is Israel, its current agenda could only be... Iran:

In the 2007 poll, we find the following thoroughly loaded and decidedly Israel-centric question: "Iran has recently announced that it has successfully enriched uranium. Do you think that Iran is producing enriched uranium strictly to fuel its energy needs or do you think it is trying to develop nuclear weapons?" While 62% of respondents plumped for the latter, and 19% guessed the former, only 19% had the humility to say they simply didn't know. In the same poll, we find the following question (without, it should be noted, being told whether only the above 62% were asked): "You said you think that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. In your opinion what is the best response?" It seems that 62% opted for a combo of economic and diplomatic efforts, 22% for diplomatic efforts, and just 9% for military force. (Total:93%)

In the 2008 poll, by contrast, Iran (and Iraq - but not, as I've already indicated, Israel) cropped up only in the 'rate your feelings towards the following (17) countries' section, scoring 38%, a 4% improvement on the 2007 poll's rating.

The 2009 poll, however, gave Iran a prominent place, chiming in with the wider USraeli-Murdoch media war on that country as a diversion from the fallout of Israel's rampage in Gaza and a softening-up of public opinion for a similar Israeli rampage in Iran. Iran again featured in the 'rate your feelings' section, gaining another 38% rating. It also cropped up when those polled were asked to 'rate your trust in other countries to act responsibly', coming in with the largest negative rating at 75% (in contrast to the US's positive rating of 83%!). As well, Iran even got its own heading with the following commentary: "Iran's nuclear program has attracted considerable media attention since our last poll. To test Australia's preferred way of approaching Iran's continued obstructionism [Note the spin and the assumption that we have to do something], we asked people whether they would be in favour of or against the use of military means, economic sanctions, and diplomatic negotiations to deal with Iran developing nuclear weapons. [Note the assumption that this is what Iran is actually doing] The most favoured response was 'diplomatic negotiations', with 85% of respondents supporting these. A large majority (69%) also supported 'economic sanctions', while just a third (32%) were in favour of 'military means'." That 23% increase over the 9% warmonger finding of the 2007 poll must have been gratifying!

Now here's a question I'd like to see in a Lowy Institute poll: While Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program has attracted considerable media attention, Israel's actual possession of 200+ nuclear weapons has not. Is this because a) Australia's mainstream media is biased in favour of Israel; b) Israel is harping on Iran's alleged nuclear weapons program to divert attention from its own nuclear weapons stockpile; c) Israel is more than ever in need of a diversion following the exposure of its war crimes in Gaza; d) Israel needs to deflect attention away from its colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem; e) Israel is always in need of an external threat, whether real or not, to justify its aggression towards its neighbours; f) All of the above?

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