John Lyons: Rabbi James Kennard responds

October 3, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Nine Media published an extract from senior journalist John Lyon’s new book Dateline Jerusalem: Journalism’s Toughest Assignment in which he argues that criticism of Israel is not in itself antisemitic.

Rabbi James Kennard

The principal of Melbourne’s Mount Scopus College Rabbi James Kennard penned his view of the extract published in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

He writes:

“The Age today has a two-page spread by John Lyons, former editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, headlined “Touchy subject: We must end self-censorship on Israel and Palestine”.
His thesis, repeated many times but with anecdotal and isolated evidence, is that Australian journalists who want to write critically about Israel refrain from doing so because they are so scared of being “attacked” (physically? Or disagreed with on twitter? – he doesn’t clarify). As a result, negative stories about Israel do not appear.
It seems that Mr Lyons has not read The Age, or watched the ABC, or seen countless other media outlets, for the past few years. If he had, he would have seen more than a few stories in which Israel’s behaviour is highlighted, demonised, and distorted. Evidently the power of the “right wing pro-Israel lobby” of which he is so afraid is not as effective as he believes.
But his main issue is how attacks on Israel are claimed (by this mythical “right wing pro-Israeli lobby”) as antisemitic. Mr Lyons may or may not be antisemitic himself, but it is interesting that he uses the defence popular with Jew-haters around the world: “you’re only calling it antisemitism as part of a conspiracy to protect Israel from criticism”, which has been named as the “Livingstone formulation”, after its creator, Ken Livingstone.
Let us examine his claim further. To defend his position, he quotes former Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans who wrote: “Calling out China for its persecution of Uyghurs is not to be a Sinophobic racist. Calling out Myanmar for its crimes against Rohingya people is not to be anti-Buddhist. Calling out Saudi Arabia and Egypt for their murder and suppression of dissidents is not to be Islamophobic or anti-Arab. And calling out Israel for its sabotage of the two-state solution and creation of a de facto apartheid state is not to be antisemitic.”
Three observations immediately stand out. First, of the four examples that he quotes, which gets the most airtime? How often are the Chinese condemned for their treatment of the Uyghurs? When was the last time Myanmar’s war on the Rohingya was on the ABC? Why is it, then, that anti-Israel pieces are so ubiquitous?
Secondly, let us look at this group of crimes created by Evans, and endorsed by Lyons. The Chinese are estimated to have detained a million Uyghurs in indoctrination camps, with allegations of torture and sexual abuse. Meanwhile their children are brainwashed, their mosques destroyed, and the whole province of Xinjiang, which was independent before the Chinese occupation, turned into a terrifying police state. Myanmar has killed and raped more than 25000 Rohingya and destroyed countless villages. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are both dictatorships with arrest and torture of their political, religious and ethnic opponents commonplace. And is to these crimes that the alleged “sabotage of the two-state solution” is compared!
Thirdly, who is to blame for this “sabotage”? No mention of the Palestinian leadership who refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state or, in the case of Hamas, repeated attempts to end the existence of Israel and its subjects. No reference to the demand of the “right of return” which would change the model of “two states for two peoples” into “two states for one people”. No mention of the lauding of terrorists and payments to their families, and other examples which deter trust between the peoples – an essential pre-requisite for the two-state solution.
So we must conclude that despite the “fear” of the “pro-Israel lobby” (the modern incantation of the ancient trope of powerful Jews controlling others) Mr Evans and Mr Lyons demonise Israel, distort its reality and, by ignoring numerous territorial disputes across the globe, apply double standards. Given that Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, such actions suggest that Mr Lyons’s view of Israel might be a product of antisemitism after all.”




10 Responses to “John Lyons: Rabbi James Kennard responds”
  1. Ori Golan says:

    The readers’ homogenic, monophonic comments, only strengthen the assertion made by Lyons. That some settlers in the West Bank are responsible for violence against Palestinians, is fact. That some soldiers are behaving appallingly towards innocent Palestinians is undeniable. No amount of outrage by supporters of Israel ‘come what may’ can negate that or exculpate the offenders. I fail to see why calling them out is antisemtism. Is it because the Rohingyas in Myanmar’s Rakhine State are not mentioned in the same breath? Is it because the reporting does not add that things are worse for women in Afghanistan? Should every misdeed in the territories be followed by an additional comment that homosexuals in Iran are murdered? Criticism of Israel, particularly by non-Jews, automatically unleashes low rent commentary and nasty, personal attacks on the motives of the writer. I can just predict what reactions this post will get.

  2. Jack Chrapot says:

    If you pronounce the name Lyon often enough, you’ll get a clear picture about what he was doing in his article.

    Ever since he arrived on the scene (at least a decade and a half), he has been presenting a jaundiced view of the conflict. Nothing has stopped him from doing so although it’s poor form when he promotes an agenda through his reporting. Now he complains?

    The fact is that, as Rabbi Kennard’s frustrating experiences have shown is that things are exactly the opposite of what Lyon is claiming. Thanks to editorial influences, it’s harder to get the truth across when covering the conflict. Palestinian terrorists are often a protected species as a result of the failure to report on their activities.

  3. Ryzard Jones says:

    Criticism of Israel should be allowed though. He makes mention of the Israeli embassy and uses multiple sources. Every time Israel is criticised, the Israel lobby comes out and defends it (which is fine they are allowed to.) I have been called anti Semitic for criticising Israel, which is sometimes comical as I am both a Jew myself (on my mother’s side) and had members of my family martyred for their faith in Poland. I think the rabbi completely loses his way with his suggestion at the end that Lyons is anti-Semitic with zero evidence. Criticising Israel is not anti-Semitic-neither is criticising its policies. Just like calling hamas a terrorist organisation is not anti Islamic.

  4. Geoff Feren says:

    I note that John Lyons disparages Black Inc.’s publisher, Morry Schwartz, for interfering in “The Saturday Paper’s” coverage of Israel. It’s chutzpadik of Lyons, who was a journalist and editor at Ruper Murdoch’s “The Australian” for ten years, to criticise the owner of another publication for influencing that paper’s editorial policy.

  5. Ori Golan says:

    The readers’ monophonic comments and the substance of Rabbi Kannard’s opinion piece, only strengthen the assertion made by Lyons. It makes no difference how cogent or dispassionate the criticism is, if it is about Israel, you can be sure there’ll be an almighty reaction. In the early 2000s, when I was living in London and worked at the Guardian, there was a Guardian correspondent named Suzanna Goldenberg. She was routinely excoriated for her reporting and, were it not for her surname, she too would have been accused of (b)latant antisemitism. In the event, she got even worse epithets heaped on her. Janine di Giovanni was roundly hated for what she saw and wrote. The then-head of the Government Press Office, one Danny Seaman, routinely threatened to revoke foreign journalists’ press credentials for what he perceived to be biased reporting. On several occasions he did just that. In Israeli itself, the only journalists who dare openly challenge and criticise Israeli policies in the territories are those who write for Haaretz – and they too are reviled and described as self-haters, traitors and apologists for terrorists. True, there is certainly a lot of hypocrisy in press reporting, but that does not exculpate the settlers’ violence against Palestinians in the West Bank, or the Israeli government’s double standards when it comes to protection of residents in those areas. As an Israeli, what worries me most is the indifference and cruelty exhibited by young IDF soldiers and the enduring effect this stands to have on their psyche. The examples are numerous and the list is long. Criticising Israel, particularly by non-Jews automatically unleashes low rent commentary and virulent, personal attacks on the motives of the writer. Yael Dayan (Moshe Dayan’s daughter) once told me that she was often called Yassir Arfat’s whore by those in the Knesset who disagreed with her. I am already anticipating the reactions this post will get, but a person has to live with his, or her, conscience and call out injustices whenever and wherever they occur.

  6. leon himmelfarb says:

    Bravo for people like Rabbi Kennard, for eloquently pointing out what we all know to be true.

  7. Paul Winter says:

    Rabbi Kennard is 100% correct. The article does not mention if his views were published by Nine, which still qualifies as the unFAIRfax press. Jewish leaders should give the rabbi’s comments the widest publicity.

  8. Daniel says:

    Neither Rashi nor the Rambam could have said it better. Rashi would perhaps throw in his first commentary on Bereishis.

  9. Eion Isaac says:

    Lyons does not balance his critique of Israel with the examination of textbooks and the media in the Palestinian Lands that are immensely Anti-Jewish and minimise the Holocaust .
    Lyons articles are very selective – critical of the Jewish State .

  10. ben gershon says:

    don’t shoot the messenger . invite him for a forum in your school , and zoom it

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