Dangerous ideas in Sydney town?

Yesterday, Fairfax journalist Paul McGeough delivered a speech to the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” in Sydney. An edited version of what McGeough had to tell the attendees appeared in both the Melbourne Age and its sister paper, the Sydney Morning Herald as a full page spread entitled ‘The battle for the Middle East narrative’. It is not known how McGeough was introduced when he gave his speech but I would be surprised if the introduction painted him as an advocate for the Palestinian viewpoint, or more correctly as a writer with an anti Israel agenda. More likely, the impression given to the audience would have been that they were being lectured at by a disinterested party but I can’t really say because I wasn’t there.

However, I have been there in the sense that I have closely followed his journalistic style, particularly since the flotilla incident in late May and shortly thereafter when his so-called eye-witness” accounts began appearing in the Fairfax press. From the outset, I was left wondering how it was possible that stories could be filed from the region in a supposedly reputable newspaper without acknowledgement that their author is not an impartial observer?  How could such stories (and I call them “stories” for a good reason) be passed off as objective news items (see here and here)? 

In his latest article, McGeough makes it clear from the very outset that, in his view, the Israelis have systematically been colonising on Palestinian land, representing ‘dispossession, the planting of foreigners and something lost’. He presents no alternative narrative. 

McGeough’s understanding of the conflict is both skewed and flawed as he explains, ‘At the end of May we saw it at its most violent – when Israeli commandos attacked a civilian humanitarian flotilla in international waters, killing nine and wounding more than 50, before dragging 700 of them into Israeli waters, then to Israel itself, where they were charged with illegally entering Israel.’ (again, no alternative narrative like the one presented cogently by Jane Corbin’s recent BBC Panorama programme but more of that later).  Almost grudgingly and as an afterthought, he continues, ‘And there was more last month: Hamas gunmen killed four Israeli settlers near Hebron, in the West Bank.’  One sentence about the murder of four Israeli citizens, that is all. One sentence, in which he does nothing to explain that their senseless and brutal murder was part of an organised plan by Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organisations to derail peace efforts between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority (see more). No mention either, of the attempted murder of more Israelis in the West Bank, including an incident just over a week ago  when Palestinian gunmen opened fire on a car travelling near the West Bank city of Hebron, injuring a man and his pregnant wife (see more). The al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, Fatah’s military wing, and al-Quds Brigades, the Islamic Jihad’s military wing claimed joint responsibility for the attack (see more). 

 This is despite the fact that Palestine Authority Prime Minister Abbas had earlier declared in an interview that his group would not resort to violent. In his own words, “we tried the intifada (uprising), and it caused us a lot of damage” (see more). That memo apparently did not reach the Fatah gunmen involved in the attack.  McGeough makes his thoughts on the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) very clear as well, declaring, ‘How else do we interpret the corruption of the Fatah cronies, squandering the meagre resources of their people at the same time as they enjoy their Israel-sanctioned special privileges?’ What McGeough fails to mention (and his newspaper has routinely ignored for years) is the constant anti-Israel and anti-Semitic incitement in areas under the PA’s control including in its own media (see more).  So, if he doesn’t like Israel, the PA and Fatah, where does this This Middle East correspondent’s sympathies lie?

Well, he certainly exhibits a soft spot for Hamas when he declares, ‘The 2006 Palestinian elections ought to have been celebrated by all sides – a good narrative’. Hamas, as we all remember won the “democratic” elections in 2006, and if we were not aware of their control over Gaza, we were made blatantly aware in June 2007 when they orchestrated a bloody coup against rival Fatah.

But McGeough doesn’t appear to want that part of the narrative to be known.  That, and the contents of the Hamas Covenant, which among other things advocates the destruction of Israel and the genocide of the Jewish people. That, and the fact that the progenitor of Hamas was the fascist Moslem Brotherhood whose leadership collaborated with Hitler in his final solution for the Jews and which also has a connection with the Turkish terrorist group the IHH which was deeply involved in that flotilla incident I mentioned above.

Despite the fact that McGeough has constantly used the fact that he was on one of the ships in the flotilla to provide an air of legitimacy for his flotilla stories, he has generally avoided putting the IHH involvement in the incident under any scrutiny. To him, it was all the fault of the nasty Israelis and in June, he conjured up the image of Israeli soldiers who “hunted like hyenas” (see more), now they are “masked commandos” who quickly moved to ensure that all electronic equipment was confiscated supposedly to hide what was unfolding.

Somebody has been trying to hide what was unfolding that morning on the flotilla but I don’t think it’s the Israelis.  McGeough has spend a good part of the last four months routinely ignoring the fact that the Israeli soldiers were travelling with journalists and relatively swiftly released an enormous amount of footage that showed the flotilla passengers preparing for a violent confrontation with metal rods, sticks and clubs (so who attacked who, Mr. McGeough?). He has also ignored the images of Israeli soldiers being beaten to the pulp and of course forgot to mention the soldier that was thrown over the bow of the ship. Further, the incontrovertible fact that members of the IHH were not only in place to violently confront the Israeli soldiers but they openly boasted about it in the lead-up to the flotilla (see more here, here and here) has been constantly ignored by McGeough.

One would assume that McGeough did not enjoy Jane Corbin’s BBC Panorama Documentary “Death in the Med” (see here and here) which exposed so many of the lies about the flotilla that people with dangerous ideas and dangerous minds have been so eager to cover up.

Speaking of people with dangerous minds, it’s not surprising that  McGeough acknowledges the findings of the dangerous minds behind the UN Human Rights Council in respect of the flotilla when he quotes that some of the deaths likely were “extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions”. Never mind that the UNHRC commission is not the official inquiry of the United Nations, and Israel is cooperating with the official inquiry (see more). Nor that the UNHRC, the same body that set up the Goldstone Report, is controlled by repeat human rights violators who incessantly pass resolutions against Israel but routinely ignore human rights violations in countries like Iran, Zimbabwe and Venezuela. As Hillel Neuer from UN Watch put it, “let’s remember who the membership is – Saudi Arabia, China and Colonel Gaddifi of Libya is now a member of the Human Rights Council. This is not a body that cares about human rights. This is a body that is political, that is engaged in a constant campaign to de-legitimize Israel, and Human Rights is the last thing on the minds of members like Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Libya” (see more).

Finally, McGeough’s article provides the organisation behind the flotillas, the Free Gaza Movement with a megaphone. He repeats a new narrative that violence directed towards the Israelis is ineffective because it feeds into some sort of Israeli narrative which is then able to oppress the Palestinians based on violence. He declares, ‘after six years in which there had been just a single suicide bomb attack but thousands of erratic rockets were fired into Israel’ a Hamas official concedes, “When we use violence, we help Israel win international support… The Gaza flotilla has done more for Gaza than 10,000 rockets”.

Interesting that McGeough chose to use the word “erratic” when describing the 10,000 Kassam rockets that have been fired into Israel. It is as if the years and years of psychological damage done to Israeli children having to run for their lives when they hear the “red alert” siren means nothing. And as if it would be better if these rockets were more effective.

I find it bizarre that McGeough can write an entire piece about the success of the Israelis and the failure of the Palestinians to get their narratives across, when McGeough continually only seems to present one narrative. In the battle of narratives, the Age has frequently only presented one narrative.  But perhaps the biggest problem is that people constantly talk about their own narratives but not about a shared narrative which might bring a hope for peace and reconciliation between the two peoples.  McGeough’s failure to address this very issue that remains at the very heart of the conflict is what makes his ideas  dangerous.

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2 thoughts on “Dangerous ideas in Sydney town?

  1. Thanks for your article. I did go to the Opera House yesterday to hear Paul McGeough, and am pleased that your heading ended with a question mark. I would regard his comments as mischievous rather than dangerous.

    Firstly, his talk to the crowded hall was pretty much as advertised – the theme was that sentiment in the West is swinging against Israel and his pretty clear subtext was that he was pleased about it and that he would and is doing what he can to assist.

    Secondly, his entire talk was read, so the initial part was verbatim to the article in the Sydney Morning Herald. The fact that he read meant that he was quite fluent and expressive. However, as he went on and on bagging Israel at every opportunity, it became clear that his was a one-eyed, one-track agenda. A recent use of the word “Colony” by Sarkozy, BDS, the Time article on Israelis and money – they all got slily positive mentions, while quotes critical of Israel were prolific. Although, like you, I find McGeough’s writing quite biased, I expected he would have delivered a slightly more even presentation in public.

    But finally, I must say I was pleased when McGeough got his just desserts in the brief question time. Someone asked him why Alan Dershowitz was also not speaking about the Middle East at the festival, and didn’t Sydney deserve to hear both sides of the story. (I subsequently heard that Dershowitz had actually offered to speak about the topic but had instead been given one about the Pope!) McGeough stammered a reply about how that was a question for the organisers. Then another questioner mentioned that McGeough had spent all his time saying what Israel should do, so shouldn’t he also say what the Palestinians and other Arabs do for peace. Again McGeough stammered out an unimpressive reply.

    So while the audience seemed fairly sympathetic to him during his talk, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if by the end of his talk, and question time, many people left being well aware that McGeough was presenting a one-sided unbalanced account, and wondering pointedly why the organisers had failed to make use of Dershowitz’s expertise on the Middle East.

    That’s why I would call Paul McGeough mischievous rather than dangerous.

  2. James - Newtown October 7, 2010 at 8:26 am -

    Wherever you look, there’s Paul McGeough pontificating about the Middle East, and bagging Israel.
    Since the Flotilla, the Sydney Morning Herald can’t seem to go more than 2 days without breathlessly rehashing some lines of his.
    If anyone still sees McGeogh as a disinterested party rather than an advocate, they haven’t been paying attention. It’s instructive to read the article at the time of the flotilla about his Palestinian-American girlfriend and his attempts to promote his book about the Hamas leader as a movie http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/nation/girlfriend-feared-reporter-had-been-killed/story-e6frg6nf-1225875238513
    Reminds me of those lines “overexposed, commercialised” from the Travelling Wilbury’s “Handle with Care”… good song.