Last night's Q & A on ABC Television, Premiers, Population & the Politics of Fear, featured as panelists Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, former NSW Premier Bob Carr, Heather Ridout from the AIG and Simon Sheikh from GetUp. Oh, and one other that had me scratching my head: Shimrit Nothman - simply described as an "Israeli-born communications consultant."
What Q & A didn't tell us was that Ms Nothman was a professional hasbara (pro-Israel PR) spruiker. I had to google to find that out:
As one of the speakers at a December 2009 State Zionist Council Israel promotion, Small Country, Big Ideas, Nothman was introduced thus in its program: "Shimrit Nothman grew up in Israel and worked in Israel advocacy in Europe and North America. She has a Masters in Conflict Resolution and runs a small communications consultancy. Shimrit plans to return to Israel next year and work in policy development." And in case that didn't sink in, Nothman and her fellow panelists at the promotion's Symposium: 2020 - Visions of the Future of Israel were billed as "various members of our community with a special relationship to Israel [selected to] discuss the future of our beloved and complex homeland." (encounters.edu.au)
Which begs the questions: How did she come to be on Q & A and why wasn't she introduced as an Israel advocate?
Clearly out of her depth, Nothman's vacuous interventions were few and far between, but revealing nonetheless.
Here she is on the issue of population:
"I think we can learn a lot from Israel, actually, because Israel and Australia are very similar in the way they both have huge immigration waves. Well, Israel had a bigger one. It actually has had a tenfold increase in population within 60 years and I think that's a huge amount of newcomers, and you can see in Israel that this has been the only country, basically, to finish this - the last century with more trees than it started. Israel has also managed to grow all its own goods in Israel to accomodate every person that lives in Israel and also to export food, and it's a leading - it's just a leading country in agriculture technology today around the world, so I think that in any case with innovation, with people that are willing to understand that changes will have to be made when we are more people around in Australia, I think it can be done."
You'll note here the Israel advocate at work. You'll also note the glaring omission of the fact that that the bulk of Israel's indigenous population continues to rot in refugee camps beyond its borders, following their ethnic cleansing in 1948, not to mention the fact that you can only immigrate to Israel if you have a Jewish mother/grandmother. Note too how Ms Nothman parrots Jewish National Fund* (JNF) propaganda: "The planting of the first forest in honour of Herzl in 1904 started a revolutionary enterprise: the reafforestation of the land. By 1947 the JNF had planted 5 million trees, but by the JNF's centenary in 2001 the total topped 220 million. Israel became the only country in the world with more trees at the end than at the beginning of the 20th century." (jnf.org.au) [See my 14/6/08 post A Certain Jewish Tree Planting Group]
And here's Nothman on the vexed issue of asylum seekers:
"It's very interesting because I'm a new immigrant. True, I did not escape persecution. It's a very nice country, Israel, and I did follow my heart here, my husband, but in any case when you come from another country into a new country you have to face so many problems. I don't know how many of the people sitting out here today have actually done it. You know, to move a country means to leave all your support system behind you: your family, your friends, and sometimes get to a country that does not speak your language. Sometimes they have different values. So to add to that the fact that these asylum seekers are also fleeing persecution and obviously willing to risk their life going on boats in the middle of the sea, I think that we should, all of us as Australians, be very compassionate to these people."
Aw, ain't that nice? Let's all show some compassion. Yet a little more googling suggests that Nothman was just playing to her audience: In response to a Sydney Morning Herald column by former Liberal treasurer Peter Costello, in which he argued that the government should "stop the sea trade and insist all claims for refugee status be made offshore," (Be firm & clear: no access by boat, 4/11/09) one, Shimrit Nothman was singing a different tune in the comments thread of the Herald's website: "The government should definitely listen to the logic behind Peter Costello's words. The question is not simply what action the government should take in facing the problem but rather what message each of the different alternatives for action send to these asylum seekers." (Comment 76 of 77, 5/11/09, 5:35 pm)
Compassion? Stop the boats? Now I'm all confused.
What's going on at Q & A?