ANALYSIS: Israel’s attempts to demonise Hezbollah and get it proscribed as a terrorist organisation are a reflection of its own sins, writes political commentator Jay Tharappel.
In a multicultural society like Australia it is inevitable that there will be disagreements among us regarding overseas conflicts, but does that mean we should allow lobbyists representing the agenda of a foreign state to get away with potentially criminalising their fellow Australians for their opinions about those conflicts?
I’m confident most Australians would say no, but for over a decade now, lobbyists for one foreign state in particular have attempted to ban a mainstream Lebanese movement as a “terrorist organisation” despite it never having threatened Australia.
The movement in question is Hezbollah, and the foreign state is Israel.
The ‘foreign interference’ laws introduced two years ago includes a “Transparency Register” established by the Attorney-General’s department that obliges organisations in Australia to register their activities if they involve foreign agents. According to the Register, on 3 June this year, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry registered an activity, in which they requested the Israeli Ambassador, “brief members of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security about recent measures taken by the UK and German governments to list the whole of Hezbollah (not merely its External Security Organisation) as a terrorist organisation.”
According to The Australian, attempts to proscribe Hezbollah are the consequence of “12 months of lobbying by Jewish groups”, or perhaps more accurately, by the Israel lobby, whose influence on Australian politics speaks for itself.
Two years ago, former PM Kevin Rudd suggested that the Israel lobby contributed to the abrupt leadership ‘coup’ that ousted him from federal Labor leadership in June 2010. Apparently the lobby was angry at Rudd for expelling an Israeli Mossad operative caught by ASIO misusing Australian passports to carry out an assassination overseas (for more, see ‘Yes, Australians Should Worry About Foreign Interference’). For more on how the Israel lobby influences Australian politics, see ‘Why should Israel’s lobby have different standards?’ by the former Palestinian ambassador to Australia, Ali Kazak.
According to Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton in February, “nobody should have sympathy for Hezbollah”. This is a deeply troubling statement. It suggests that if the moves to proscribe Hezbollah are successful, it will only lead to the criminalisation of otherwise law-abiding Australians. Because of the vague nature of Australia’s anti-terrorism laws, individuals could potentially be charged for simply donating to certain Lebanese charities or posting online sympathetically about the Lebanese movement in question (see Section 102.8 of the Criminal Code Act 1995).
Given we are a multicultural nation, naturally there will be Australians who find themselves sympathising with opposite sides of overseas conflicts. So long as Australia isn’t threatened, why should the government take sides, especially if it means alienating many of its citizens? Is this the Australia we want to build, one in which some communities lobby the government to criminalise their fellow Australians from other communities for having different opinions?
Such lobbying is exactly what the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Committee (AIJAC) are doing. In March they pointed out that, “Australians are not allowed to fly Islamic State flags, not allowed to raise money for Islamic State and cannot recruit supporters of Islamic State” and demanded that Hezbollah be afforded the same treatment. This is both ironic and hypocritical given that Israel – the state AIJAC defends – spent the last decade aiding al-Qaeda & Islamic State.
Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu with an injured ‘rebel’ fighter in Syria in February 2014 (Image: Reuters)
AIJAC correctly points out that according to Australian law, it is a criminal offense to aid al-Qaeda & Islamic State, but how many Australians know that Israel has done exactly that?
The war in Syria, which began in March 2011, is driven by the attempts to overthrow the Syrian state, not by the Syrian state resisting those attempts, which in turn are dominated by al-Qaeda & Islamic State militias. Who defeated these forces? The Syrian government and its allies, i.e. Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. In this context, over the past decade, the role of Hezbollah & Iran has been entirely focussed on preventing the Syrian government from being overthrown by al-Qaeda & Islamic State. Based on the objective consequences of Israel’s actions, what side did they effectively take in this situation?
They chose to attack Hezbollah & Iranian forces, thereby aiding al-Qaeda & Islamic State on the battlefield. If, as the saying goes, ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’, then Israel’s friends over the past decade have been al-Qaeda & Islamic State. By contrast, the reason ancient Christian towns like Ma’aloula in Syria have survived – a town where Aramaic, the language of Christ is still spoken – is because of the decisive role played by Hezbollah in defeating the al-Qaeda militias that had invaded the town, murdered innocent civilians, and plundered its ancient historic sites.
In January last year Israel’s military chief Lieutenant-General Gadi Eisenkot made some major admissions in an interview with journalist Anshel Pfeffer for the Sunday Times. According to Eisenkot: “In January 2017 we began attacking the infrastructure the Iranians were building in Syria … We carried out thousands of attacks without taking responsibility and without asking for credit”. The author also notes that in 2018, “Israel dropped 2,000 bombs on Iranian targets in Syria”.
According to the article, “Eisenkot acknowledged for the first time … that Israel had supplied rebel groups in the border area with light weapons”, apparently “for self-defence” according to Eisenkot. Confirming these policies, in April 2016 and June 2017, Syrian government media presented evidence of weapons they had captured from these “rebel groups”, including rockets and ammunition boxes bearing markings in Hebrew suggesting Israeli origin.
Who does Israel think these “rebels” are? According to Avigdor Liberman, Israel’s defence minister in July 2017, “the rebels are not our friends, they are all versions of al-Qaida” (emphasis added). In other words, Israel knowingly aided al-Qaeda over the past decade.
Military equipment captured by Syrian govt forces from al-Qaeda militants bearing Israeli markings in Hebrew (Image: Supplied)
The first ‘alleged’ act of illegal Israeli intervention in the Syrian war was in January 2013 according to a Washington Post article, however, Israel never took formal responsibility for it. The article acknowledged that “Syrian television footage showed the wreckage of what appeared to be a mobile launcher of the type used to fire SA17 antiaircraft missiles, which are known to be part of Syria’s arsenal”. It appears Israel was knocking out Syria’s air defences then claiming their actions were purely defensive. Israel ‘allegedly’ carried out another twenty-five raids inside Syria before IDF chief Eisenkot went public to make these partial admissions.
From the Syrian perspective, shooting down Israeli planes is risky insofar as Israel is very good at convincing Western governments & media, especially in Australia, Britain and the US, that they are always the victim, even when they’re aiding internationally recognised terrorist organisations like al-Qaeda in order to topple a neighbouring government.
Naturally, Israel presents these invasive military actions as self-defence against Iran, but this is not only self-serving but also illogical because Israel is clearly the aggressor.
That Syria (and its allies) do not want war with Israel when the survival of the Syrian state is at stake is reflected in Eisenkot’s statement that Israel’s undeclared low-profile warfare, “allowed them [Iranians] an area of deniability”. In other words, Syria’s allies never sought excuses to attack Israel, whereas Israel has made every excuse to attack Syria.
Hezbollah soldier saluting a statue of Christ in Syria (Image: Twitter / Supplied)
The Aramaic speaking Christian town of Ma’aloula, liberated from al-Qaeda by Syria’s allies, most notably Hezbollah (Image: Supplied)
The Israeli strategy is to break what they call the “Shi’ite crescent”, referring to the alliance of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. According to Eisenkot, “we identified Syria as the weak link, where we could cut the Shi’ite crescent”. In other words, Israel’s objective was to topple the Syrian government, even if doing so meant al-Qaeda & Islamic State filled the power vacuum. That did not happen thanks in part to Hezbollah, which Australia is now being asked to blindly ban in the service of a foreign state.
The record speaks for itself. Israel admits to aiding terrorist groups that are already proscribed by Australian law, and their operatives have been caught red handed misusing Australian passports to carry out an assassination overseas, thereby potentially jeopardising our relations with other countries, so why should we take the recommendations of their lobbyists seriously?
Israel also does negligible trade with Australia. Why then should their enemies automatically become our enemies, especially when doing so would only intimidate, criminalise, and alienate otherwise patriotic, law-abiding Australians for their political beliefs about foreign conflicts?
When even high-profile Jewish celebrities such as Seth Rogen are now publicly claiming what they have been taught about Israel has been “a huge amount of lies”, maybe these are the questions we should all be asking.