In his book ‘On Air’, Mike Carlton describes the how the Israel lobby in Australia organised a campaign of vilification in response to his coverage of IDF atrocities. The depth of racism and hatred displayed by the pro-Israel network is shocking, particularly from a section of society so quick to take offence and demand government action at the slightest hint of anti-semitism.

Avi Yemini - Served in the IDF guarding the Gaza ghetto perimeter fence

The state of Israel is very unpleasant in many ways, so we should probably not be surprised to find some very unpleasant people among its supporters. No principled individual can like what the state of Israel represents anymore, nor can anyone believe anything the Israel lobby and corporate media say about events in Palestine. There have been simply too many lies. Israeli propaganda is an insult to the intelligence and common decency of ordinary Australians.

When everyone knows the hasbara narrative is a pack of lies, the only recourse remaining is abuse and intimidation. You will swallow our nonsense or else! The type of filth directed at Mike Carlton for challenging the hasbara narrative, i.e. doing his job, should not be tolerated in Australia or anywhere else. Who do these people think they are?

Thanks to Middle East Reality Check. Excerpts from ‘On Air’ are presented in 5 separate posts on the Middle East Reality Check blog. We have taken the liberty of reproducing the entire work here by joining the 5 original posts into a single text.

In earlier posts on the subject of Australian political memoirs that tackle the bullying ways of the Israel lobby, I dealt with those of former foreign minister Bob Carr and former prime minister Kevin Rudd, as well as journalist John Lyons‘ contribution to the genre, if I may call it that. It is now time to focus on the last of the four, journalist Mike Carlton‘s On Air (2018).

Those of you with long memories will perhaps recall that Carlton first came under attack in 2010 following his criticisms of Israel’s Mavi Marmara massacre, prompting him to describe the lobby, in his Sydney Morning Herald column, as “a ferocious beast.” (See my 12/6/10 post A Ferocious Beast.)

Then, in 2014, in the hardest-hitting opinion piece in the Australian corporate media on Israel’s murderous Operation Protective Edge*, in which he accused the apartheid state of waging “a war of terror on the entire Gaza population,” Carlton again came under attack from the aforementioned ferocious beast. (See my 27/7/14 post Carlton & Le Lievre Get Gaza.)

It is this lobby-orchestrated backlash that he deals with in some detail in his memoir.

He begins with the circumstances which led up to Operation Protective Edge and an account of its brutal 50-day course, and describes precisely what it was that led him to write his offending column, Israel’s rank and rotten fruit is being called fascism:

The ABC’s Matt Brown reported for 7.30 on the killing of the four boys on the beach, interviewing the bereaved father and an eleven-year-old boy who had been injured by shrapnel but escaped. I watched his 7.30 story shaken to the marrow, choking back tears, achingly conscious of our own little boy peacefully asleep in his bedroom.” (pp 504-05)

With the column,” he adds, “was a cartoon by the artist Glen Le Lievre, depicting a Jewish man seated in an armchair marked with a Star of David and operating a TV-style remote control to blow up a Gazan township. It was a pungent spin-off from news photographs – seen worlwide – of Israeli families relaxing with drinks and snacks on a border hillside as they watched Gaza being bombed in the near distance below. The column, its headline and the cartoon touched off a firestorm.” (pp 505-06)

[*Sadly, typically, I’m not aware of any other.]

A tsunami of hatred, bigotry, racism, insult and abuse

I had expected a torrent of abusive emails. The Israel lobby in Australia is well organised, hyperactive and loudly vocal. It wields weight and power beyond its size. Anyone working in the media is aware that any criticism of Israel – the slightest hint of it – stirs much of the Jewish community to the wrath of God. But even prepared for that, I had no idea what was about to descend. For more than a week I was engulfed by a tsunami of hatred, bigotry, racism, insult and abuse beyond anything I have ever experienced.

“It began with emails… The trickle that began early that Saturday morning became a flood over the weekend and beyond. ‘Heil Hitler, you ignorant, Jew-hating, anti-Semitic slime,’ was one of the first. I was attacked as ‘a Hitler lover’, ‘a Nazi’, ‘a Palestinian cocksucker’, ‘a Muslim lover’, ‘an anti-Semitic motherfucker’, ‘Palestinian scum’ and ‘Holocaust denier’. On it rolled, a stream of filth. I lost count of the times I was called a Nazi. ‘People like you started World War II,’ said one woman. ‘You would have gassed my grandmother in Auschwitz,’ said another. A nutter named Ziggy, apparently thinking I might be spawn of the SS or similar, helpfully wrote in German: ‘Die Nazi-Obst fallt nicht weit vom Stemm.’ The Nazi fruit does not fall far from the tree.

“Twitter chimed in. One Alex Ryvchin, the Public Affairs Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and a leading figure of the Israel lobby, berated me with a slew of ever more creative insults. A travel agent from Sydney’s Rose Bay announced I was in cahoots with the corrupt New South Wales politician Eddie Obeid. ‘Carlton’s business is bankrolled by the Obeids,’ she tweeted. Others displayed blatant racism. ‘We are the Chosen People. Get over it,’ was a jaw-dropper. One man wrote: ‘Jews make things. Can’t remember the last Palestinian invention.’ A woman – apparently professional and well educated – thought my supposed religion might somehow be relevant. ‘Catholic, much?’ she snapped. I did not know whether to laugh or cry at that one.

It became obvious that a lot of the attack was coordinated. Some lines were repeated over and over again. ‘We gave them Gaza; they gave us rockets,’ was a common one. ‘Israel takes every care to avoid unnecessary casualties, but Hamas is using children and civilians as human shields,’ was another. There were scores of these tweets and emails with identical wording.” (pp 506-07)

Juicy carrots for politicians of all sides and pliant journalists

The lobbying is slick and sophisticated, sometimes subtle and unseen, at other times loud and combative. Huge effort goes into influencing Australian political and public opinion, and media coverage of Israel and the Middle East. Cabinet ministers and editors invariably take the phone calls. The AIJAC is always ready with a free, well-written article to push the current line on the opinion pages.* Generous financial donations are slung to the major political parties. In his entertaining Dairy of a Foreign Minister, Bob Carr complains at length of the lobby’s attempts to browbeat the Gillard government into backing the belligerent Likud hard line in Israel, a situation he thought scandalous and depressing.

“The respected Australian journalist John Lyons has explained, in detail, how the AIJAC operates and agitates above and below the wire to advance the policies of the Netanyahu government. Lyons, now a senior ABC editorial executive, is a former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald and for six years was the Australian’s Middle East correspondent. In his memoir, Balcony Over Jerusalem, he writes: ‘The longer I was in Israel, the more I realised that key figures in the Australian Jewish community sat on the far right of the Israeli political spectrum. In Israel I was able to have meaningful discussions with key army or intelligence figures about the Palestinian issue. But with many of Australia’s Jewish leaders this was just not possible. It was almost as if they felt that, given they were not living in Israel, they needed to take a harder line than many people living there.’

“Lyons details the AIJAC’s relentless public and private attempts to discredit him for his reporting, and the work of other Australian correspondents in the Middle East. When all else fails, the lobby hurls the ‘anti-Semitic’ tag into the ring. You criticise Israel or Netanyahu or the Likud party: therefore you must hate Jews. You are an anti-Semite. This is a giant leap, as daft as suggesting that to criticise Tony Abbott, say, or to question our defense policies is to hate Australians. But it is a charge almost impossible to rebut, with a dizzying catch-22 dangling from it. We say you are anti-Semitic, you say you are not. But if you disagree with us you must be anti-Semitic. Even to suggest that there is an Israel lobby is anti-Semitic.

That’s the stick for journalists unwilling to regurgitate the hasbara or propaganda pumped out by the Netanyahu government and the Israeli military. There are also juicy carrots for politicians of all sides and pliant journalists willing to be schmoozed. Money is no object. The AIJAC and another group, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, run regular ‘study tours’ to Israel, funded by generous Jewish donors. Selected politicians and hacks are flown business class, put up in five-star hotels, and wined and dined in the best Tel Aviv restaurants while being escorted around showpiece hospitals, kibbutzes and settlements. Lyons writes: ‘No editors, journalists or others should take these trips: they grotesquely distort the reality and are dangerous in the sense that they allow people with a very small amount of knowledge to pollute Australian public opinion.’

“He is right. They offered me one of these junkets many years ago; I declined it for exactly those reasons. But it is a heroic figure indeed who stands between an Australian journalist and a gravy train. As I write, another eight hacks have returned from one. They were the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, the editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Australia, the editor of the Weekend Australian‘s Inquirer section, the news director of the Daily Telegraph, reporters from Channel 7 and Sky Television, and producers from SBS Television and radio 2GB. Their minder was Vic Alhadeff, from the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

“Alhadeff evidently weaved his magic. At a welcome home reception at Sydney’s Australian Jewish Museum in October 2017, the eight brimmed with gratitude. Israel ‘captured my heart and my mind’, wrote Anna Caldwell of the Telegraph. There were ‘so many signs of hope… every day we saw Israelis and Palestinians working side by side – they all wanted peace’. All this discovered in a week. Everyone agreed it had been wonderful. Fancy that. These travelling troupes are sometimes allowed to see Gaza, but only from a distant hill.

Here, then, were the wheels and levers of a powerful media machine aimed right at me. Murdoch’s newspapers lined up alongside.” (pp 509-11)

[*For example, Ryvchin popped up on the opinion page of The Australian only yesterday: Amnesty lost its way over Israel]

Great globs of bias and invention in the Murdoch gutter tradition

“The Herald was getting twitchy. There was a snowstorm of letters to the editor from Jewish readers protesting furiously about the column, the headline and the Le Lievre cartoon. The cartoon drew the initial fire; a lot of people assumed I had drawn it, and written the headline as well. There were angry demands for me to be sacked. Dutifully, the editor published some of the more rational letters in the paper. Other people cancelled subscriptions. A number of Jewish-owned businesses withdrew their advertising… On the grapevine, I heard that directors on the Fairfax board were having their arms twisted and their ears bent, not least by the AIJAC. Many were receptive.

“On Monday, 4 August the editor-in-chief of the Herald, Darren Goodsir, publicly apologised for the cartoon. He also phoned to ask me to apologise to anyone I had offended. Reluctantly, I said I would consider it. The time bomb was ticking.

Unsurprisingly, it exploded in the Murdoch press, led by the Australian and the Daily Telegraph. I had been on their notorious ‘shit list’ for years. The Australian had managed to get hold of the tweets and a lot of the emails I had sent to my attackers. The tweets were available for all to see, but the emails were not and obviously had been forwarded to the paper in a bunch. By whom? Your guess is as good as mine. The next day they were splashed in a long front-page story. It was heaven on a stick for the Murdochracy. There were two big birds to kill with one stone: the hated Fairfax press in general, and me in particular. Away they went. ‘Fairfax Media is under pressure to sack columnist Mike Carlton, who has been ordered to apologise for using anti-Semitic and abusive language towards readers,’ it began. On and on it went, a poisonous cocktail of a few facts heavily larded with great globs of bias and invention in the Murdoch gutter tradition. With malicious dishonesty, the paper mentioned not once the torrent of Jewish hatred which had prompted my response. There was not a syllable of the Nazi smear, the ‘Hitler’s bitch’ stuff. The impression given – deliberately – was that I had exploded with rage at polite, reasoned criticism.

“I believe the Telegraph was even more vile in its attack on me. I never bothered to read what it ran – not then, not since – but I was told it splashed all over the shop as well. Somebody showed me the artwork they had confected. Against the background of a bombed and burning village, my head had been wrapped in a keffiyeh, the chequered Arab scarf, then photo-shopped onto the stooped and evidently fleeing body of a man in burned and tattered clothing. Carlton’s a terrorist, geddit?” (pp 511-12)

In conclusion…

“It was Fairfax that cracked. Ignominiously, Darren Goodsir, a decent man and a good journalist, was trapped between the devil and the deep blue sea. From the boardroom and the executive suite, his lords and masters were howling for my head on a platter. So was the lobby. They had to be placated, he told me, yet he wanted to keep me writing for the paper. I could see his dilemma, an added distraction he did not need. As the Herald slowly imploded, with more and more of its best and brightest journalists ‘taking redundancy’ – that cloying euphemism – he had to battle to shore up newsroom morale and to keep the show on the road. Nor was his own job safe: notoriously, Herald editors had the career prospects of a subaltern on the Somme.

“For my part, I was angry that few at the paper seemed at all interested in the filth heaped upon me. Still less was I accorded the courtesy of a face-to-face meeting where I could put my case… Our negotiations were by phone and email. Goodsir wanted to suspend me for a cooling-off period of about three weeks until the end of the month, and he pushed me again to apologise to the aggrieved. I reluctantly agreed, with the proviso that I would not grovel to anyone who had called me Hitler’s cocksucker and the like. I thought the deal was done…

“[A]t around ten pm, the phone rang again. It was Sean Aylmer, Fairfax’s editorial director, and therefore Goodsir’s boss… [H]is voice was cold. ‘We’ve decided to suspend you indefinitely,’ he said… The arrogance, the impertinence of this apparatchik calling late at night to relay this decision was bad enough. But Fairfax had broken its word to me. A rank and cowardly betrayal. Weak-kneed, the company had buckled to the pressure from the lobby and the bullying from the Murdoch press. How they would cheer in Holt Street when they heard they had won. I was not going to cop it anymore. ‘You needn’t bother suspending me. You can get fucked, Aylmer. I’ve just quit.’ I slammed the phone down in his ear.” (pp 513-15)

To access the original article, and other excellent work, click below…

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