Friday, September 2, 2011

Who Speaks for Palestine?

Ex-Labor leader Mark Latham had its number*, and it's certainly one of the major targets of this blog. Now Robert Manne, professor of politics at La Trobe University, has taken it on in the next issue of The Quarterly Essay (out Monday).

[* See my 7/1/11 post Running Amok...]

'It', of course, is Rupert Murdoch's 'flagship', The Australian.

An extract from Manne's essay was published in today's Fairfax papers under the header Fair, balanced reporting not on Murdoch's agenda. What follows is an extract from that extract:

"Under Chris Mitchell's editorship, the paper has played the role not so much of reporter or interpreter but of national enforcer of those values that lie at the heart of the Murdoch empire: market fundamentalism and the beneficence of American global hegemony. Unquestioning support for American foreign policy led the paper to conduct an extraordinarily strident campaign in favour of an invasion of Iraq - launched on the basis of false intelligence - which was responsible for perhaps 400,000 deaths, and for which it has never uttered an apology. The Australian has conducted a prolonged campaign against action on climate change and undermined the hold in public life of the central values of the Enlightenment: science and reason. This has helped make action by any Australian government on the most serious question of contemporary times for more difficult than it ought to have been. The paper has led a series of high-volume and unbalanced campaigns against Labor governments, in which its reporters, rather than investigating a problem with an open mind, often sought out evidence in support of a pre-determined conclusion. It has sought systematically to undermine the credibility of its only broadsheet rivals - the Herald and The Age - and, in a relentless campaign, to intimidate and drive towards the right the only other mainstream source of analysis and opinion in this country, the ABC. It has conducted a kind of jihad against the Greens, a party supported by 1.5 million. By its own admission it has devoted itself to the task of trying to have that party destroyed at the ballot box, a statement which in itself undermines any claim to balance. The Australian has turned itself into a player in national politics without there being any means by which its actions can be held to account."

Whilst I agree with everything Manne says here, I note that he has omitted from his account one of The Australian's most salient features - its unremitting support for Israel, particularly in its editorials, the columns of its foreign editor, Greg (Jerusalem Prize) Sheridan, and the plethora of Zionist apologetics on its opinion pages (under the editorship of Rebecca Weisser).*

[* To cite but 2 examples: In today's Australian we have this from Micah Halpern on 9/11: "Terror would have been one of those unfortunate world events the Israelis deal with on a regular basis and the Europeans deal with every once in a while. But 9/11 changed us all. It awakened Westerners to a new reality." (The wake-up call no one wanted) In Tuesday's edition we had Efraim Inbar telling us that "Palestine needs more than a UN resolution to become a stable, viable nation." (Still far from ready for statehood)]

Nor does Manne tackle a related feature of the paper - its rampant Islamophobia, unleashed in waves of Muslim-bashing beat-ups over years. (See my 20/1/11 post Get the Sheik! for an example.)

Whence this blindspot?

The problem, I believe, is that despite his claim to the contrary, Manne is a Zionist - by which I mean one who believes in the establishment and maintenance of a Jewish state in Palestine. A reluctant Zionist to be sure, but a Zionist nonetheless. And it's precisely Manne's Zionism, as it is with Phillip Adams', that results in his failure to see and expose the bleeding obvious. (I should add, of course, that it's just possible that he's taken up the issues of Israel and Islamophobia in his forthcoming essay, in which case it will be a welcome breakthrough, but I'm not holding my breath.)

While generally avoiding the issue, Manne made his position clear in 2004 when he wrote that "[A]lthough I am not a Zionist, I have been throughout my life a supporter of the idea of Israel. As a result of the Holocaust, in 1947 the international community decided to establish a Jewish state. That decision seems to me to have been just and, as importantly, irrevocable." (When Jewish loyalty meets the brutality of Israel, Sydney Morning Herald, 6/12/04)

Given his prominence and renown as a liberal commentator, Manne's failure to tackle the ferocious pro-Israel (and related Islamophobic) content of The Australian can only detract from the scope and relevance of his critique.

Manne also refers in the above extract to "[t]he strange passivity of [The Australian's] two mainstream rivals, Fairfax Media and the ABC - even in the face of a constant barrage of criticism and lampooning..." Again, he's dead right, but I won't be holding my breath for a recognition in his essay that a key component of that "strange passivity" extends to accomodating the very same Zionist propaganda that rules the roost at The Australian.

In a blog on a 2009 panel discussion called Gaza: Morality, Law & Politics (See my 22/8/11 post What's Eating Raimond Gaita), which was chaired by Manne and included Ghassan Hage, Mark Baker and Raimond Gaita, the blogger, W H Chong, writes tellingly: "Midway in the discussion Baker was responding to Hage and making a remark about the survival of the Jewish culture. Whereupon, Hage in mock exasperation beckoned the hand mike back from Baker and nuanced: This is not about Jewish culture. Jewish culture has produced some of the great thinkers. I can't think without Jewish culture. I'm talking about Israeli culture'. Just in front of me was this young man. Before the discussion began he was already in a state of high nervous energy, talking to his companions about question time. At last the panelists yielded the floor, and the young fellow - arm waving vigorously - shot up and as requested, identified himself thus: 'Who speaks for me? I am Palestinian. Who is speaking for me?'" (Gaza, not Gazza: Men behaving intellectually, 27/7/09)

In his much anticipated Quarterly Essay will Manne even mention Palestine?

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