Veteran Australian journalist John Lyons provides a glimpse into how journalists and editors are censured for stories that reveal Israeli crimes against Palestinians.
When I published a report several months ago into the physical and sexual abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention facilities, Dov Hikind, a former New York Assemblyman and self-described “staunch supporter of Israel,” publicly accused me of promoting an “anti-Jewish blood libel.”
This is a mere and minor snapshot of the territory journalists and editors tread, and the baseless but vicious smear attacks they encounter, whenever they cast a critical eye over Israel’s conduct in the occupied Palestinian territories.
A newly published book by veteran Australian journalist and editor John Lyons, titled Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s Toughest Assignment, provides a rare inside look at the pressure and threats journalists and editors alike are forced to endure at the hands of right-wing supporters of Israel, or what is loosely described as the “Israel Lobby.”
Having served previously as editor for the Sydney Morning Herald, and Middle East correspondent for The Australian, Lyons currently heads ABC News’ investigative journalism division, where he won his country’s most prestigious journalism award in 2014 for Stone Cold Justice, which exposed Israeli human rights abuses in the Palestinian territories.
Lyons recounts how in preparing for the story that would later win him a Walkley Award, he knew Israeli supporters “well enough to understand…it would unleash a propaganda fatwa” against him.
“I knew that if I reported the truth about the treatment of Palestinian children in the West Bank, I would be the target of a backlash which would be tough, nasty and prolonged. I knew that the report would not encourage a debate about the central theme of the story — whether it was fair that in the West Bank there is one law for Jewish children and one for Palestinian children — but rather a round of attacks on me,” he writes.
Lyons says he has not only been called an anti-Semite, but also “Goebbels” and propagandist for Hamas, a smear the right-leaning The Australian used against me when it accused my editors at the Sydney Morning Herald of giving a “stage to a Hamas defender.”
“Anyone who thinks this…doesn’t have a chilling effect is kidding themselves. I have seen its effect in the years of hesitancy on the part of editors and trepidation about any story which may show Israel in a negative light,” observes Lyons.
He contends editors view even mildly critical stories of Israel to be “more trouble than it’s worth," which not only robs the Australian public of objective information about Israel and its occupation of the Palestinian territories, but also denies them the ability to “evaluate or question Australia’s voting for Israel at the United Nations, no matter the issue, or if Australia’s continued support of Israel’s 54-year occupation meets our values and interests."
Is it any wonder Australia is the only Western democracy to vote lockstep with the US in blocking every UN resolution and ICC investigation meant to investigate, condemn or sanction Israel’s violations of human rights and international law in the Palestinian territories?
Most probably not!
Where the word 'Palestine' is forbidden
Today, the Israel Lobby is so powerful and influential that it can force governments into reversing policy, pressure newspapers into offering unneeded apologies and hound journalists out of their jobs, a fate that befell African American journalist Marc Lamont Hill, who was fired from CNN in 2017 after giving a speech at the UN calling for a “free Palestine.”
Equally, Lyon’s book cites some jaw dropping examples of how the Israel Lobby attacks and threatens Australian journalists and editors who report honestly and accurately about life under Israeli military occupation.
In one cited example, he describes how his former employer – Nine (previously Fairfax Media) – was forced into submitting a humiliating and reputationally damaging apology to the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) for including the word "Palestine" in a crossword puzzle asking for a nine-letter word to the question "Holy Land?"
Palestinian-Australian journalist Jennine Khalik learnt first-hand how the word “Palestine” can land a journalist in metaphorical hot water, after a sub-editor at her then employer The Australian yelled at her for referring to a Palestinian refugee as a “Palestinian refugee.”
“PALESTINE DOES NOT EXIST…Palestine is NOT a place…What kind of journalist are you, using the word Palestine?”
Khalik, who had been on the receiving end of a smear campaign coordinated by the Israel Lobby for months leading up to this encounter with her sub-editor, resigned shortly thereafter.
When I spoke with Khalik this week, she described to me how she was forced to navigate a “hostile” work environment by “constantly walking on eggshells.”
“I'd been roped into meetings or superiors would have a quiet word with me often after they'd received complaints and having meetings with pro-Israel lobbyists…they would complain about me tweeting about the [Israeli] Occupation. They didn't want me there. I'd been moved to a different section, and then moved interstate. I was constantly anxious and watching over my shoulder. I had wanted to leave much, much earlier, but could not bear the idea of being bullied out so persevered,” she said.
Lyons says Khalik and many others have been deliberately targeted in a very strategic way, with colleagues confiding in him “over and over again” how fearful they are of being falsely branded “anti-Semitic.”
“The notion that anyone who criticizes Israel or its army is being anti-Israel or anti-Semitic is nonsense,” says Lyons. “Worse than that, in my view it’s used way too often to try to scare the media away from reporting without fear or favour.”
Ultimately, the Australian media needs to reach a point whereby the reality of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories can be reported accurately and honestly, without fear of intimidation from the Israel Lobby.
The same can also be said for American, British and European news outlets.
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