16 December 2015

ASIO boss errs in Islam swipe at Tony Abbott

From The Australian, 17 Dec 2015, by Greg Sheridan:
Illustration: Sturt Krygsman
ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis and, to some extent, Malcolm Turnbull have combined to damage ASIO by embroiling it, in a completely improper way, in a domestic partisan political issue.

I have never seen a director-general make such a fundamental and foolish misjudgment about ASIO’s proper role.

Last Sunday in the News Corp Australia papers, Lewis had an interview with Samantha Maiden in which he made comments about the proper way to talk about Islam. Lewis said unnamed irresponsible people were fuelling a backlash against Muslims and that this was “dangerous” to national security.

Lewis went on to say, uncontroversially, that there was a need to work closely with the Islamic community “to secure the outcome we want, which is the security of the country”.

He further said “that the estrangement, should it occur with the Muslim community here, would be very unfortunate for our operations. It impacts negatively on what we are trying to do”.
Lewis added, “I don’t buy the notion the issue of Islamic extremism is in some way fostered or sponsored or supported by the Muslim religion.

“I think it’s blasphemous to the extent that I can comment on someone else’s religion.”

The interview was conducted last Thursday. The day before, on Wednesday, Tony Abbott, the prime minister three months ago, had written an opinion piece in the News Corp Australia tabloids arguing that Islam needed reform. In it Abbott said that “most Muslims utterly reject terrorism” and he warned against “demonising Islam generally”.

However, Abbott also said: “We can’t remain in denial about the massive problem within Islam.” Abbott argued Islam had never experienced either a reformation or the Enlightenment and had consequently not developed acceptance of the separation of church and state and of pluralism.

Abbott also quoted polls that show a large minority of European Muslims supports extremist aims, if not terrorist methods.

He praised international Islamic leaders who also argue their faith needs to modernise. In perhaps the most clumsy part of his piece he called for more cultural robustness and that people should be happy to proclaim the superiority of Western civilisation over that strand of Islamic extremism which justifies killing people in the name of God.

One or two sentences were definitely clumsy, but the comments were within the bounds of reasonable debate.

However, Abbott was not alone. Reading back through interviews and contributions in parliament, you could add Peter Dutton, Josh Frydenberg, Scott Morrison, Andrew Hastie, Michael Sukkar, Alan Tudge, ­Andrew Nikolic, George Christensen, Angus Taylor, Eric Hutchinson and quite a few others to the list of politicians who supported an open, honest and of course respectful discussion about Islam. and made comments which would offend the Lewis standard of what is acceptable for politicians to say.

All through last week ASIO was briefing journalists, on a notionally not for attribution basis, that it opposed the thrust of what Abbott was saying, though it is not clear Abbott’s name figured in the briefings.

Certainly offending the Duncan Lewis standards of acceptable speech was Peter Costello, the former treasurer and former deputy leader of the Liberal Party. Costello sat on the National Security Committee of cabinet for 12 years and no one ever accused him of religious prejudice or being a threat to national security.

In an article last month, Costello wrote: “After each atrocity, complacent political leaders trot out the same platitudes — it has nothing to do with Islam, etc. It is wearing thin with the public. All these attacks are coming from people who subscribe to one religion, which is not Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or Buddhist or Yazidi. Plainly it has something to do with Islam.”

Lewis has rung a number of Coalition politicians to tell them in effect that if they do not use Turnbull’s softer form of words on Islam, they are in danger of becoming a threat to national security. In the Lewis formulation, Costello is surely a threat to national security.

When we speak of anyone’s religion we should do so carefully and with some sensitivity. But Muslims, like everyone else in a free society, deserve to have their beliefs subject to searching scrutiny.

But for sure it is no part of the role of the director-general of ASIO to get involved on one side or other of a legitimate partisan debate within Australia, even if that partisan debate is within the government rather than between government and opposition.

Lewis’s actions and words have drawn private condemnation from government frontbenchers and backbenchers, from serving and former national security figures, and from very senior former politicians other than Abbott.

All the former very senior national security figures I have consulted consider it at the very least a serious misjudgment by Lewis.

The context is everything. Lewis gave his interview the day after Abbott’s article appeared and in the week of Abbott’s speech in Singapore that made mention of the same subject, and a few days after his interview with Paul Murray on Sky News.

Turnbull could not address the media without being hounded for a response to Abbott. Maiden, a first-rate journalist, naturally juxtaposed Lewis’s comments with those of Abbott.

Lewis’s comments could only be read as slapping down Abbott and all the other Liberals who had made comments critical of the Grand Mufti of Australia, or calling for a discussion about Islam.
There are only two possible interpretations. The first is that Lewis intended to slap down Abbott. If this is true, then Lewis has gravely exceeded his brief and interposed the security agency into a direct political role that is wrong in principle and dangerous in practice.

If Lewis did not intend to slap down Abbott, then it was an astonishingly incompetent strategic communication, because that is how everybody has interpreted the remarks.

Either way, it’s a very poor show from Lewis.

This is not a question of being fair to Abbott. It is not about Abbott at all. It is about the integrity and role of ASIO and the nature of free speech in Australia.

The other question is whether Lewis was prompted to make these remarks.

The Prime Minister’s Office is insistent that it played no role in getting Lewis to give the anti-Abbott interview to Maiden. The Attorney-General’s office was informed that the interview was taking place and was informed, after it took place, of its general contents.

The interview had been requested some time before, but of course directors-general of ASIO have countless newspaper interview requests. Deciding to accept one, and the timing and content, are a proactive strategic choice.

Several Liberals believe Turnbull’s office played a role in priming Lewis to say what he said and to make the phone calls he has made.

Several of the most senior national security figures of the past told me they could not believe the head of ASIO would do such a thing without political guidance.

Lewis is wrong in substance to say extremism bears no relation to Islam. He is wrong in principle to inject ASIO into a legitimate political debate. This is reminiscent of the ASIO of old at its worst.
Turnbull is profoundly wrong to keep quoting ASIO as his authority for the way he talks about Muslims. This is a complete misuse of the moral authority of ASIO, which derives from its apolitical, technical competence. All sides of politics have striven mightily in recent decades to depoliticise ASIO. It is irresponsible to tamper with that.

I have been writing about ASIO for nearly 40 years. It is a magnificent organisation full of dedicated professionals who labour long and hard to keep Australians safe. It deserves our thanks. The last time I wrote a critical column about ASIO was in the early 1980s. But its DG is accountable for what he says, like everybody else. In this hopefully isolated incident, Lewis, a profoundly admirable man in general, has performed very poorly.

14 December 2015

Resolution adopted by the State Executive of the Labor Party in WA on the current violence in Israel

Luke Walladge, Adviser at Office of Senator Joe Bullock, announces:
  • Delighted to see WA Labor accept our motion unanimously this evening, standing in support of or fellow liberal, tolerant, secularist democracy Israel.
  • Disappointed to see some delegates abstain from the vote, and even more disappointed to see one delegate insist that the abstainers' names not be noted.
  • I'd have thought that a motion condemning murder was worthy of support, and that anyone who didn't agree might have put their name to it. If you're ashamed of your own position, it's time to reconsider it.
  • However, what's important is WA Labor's stance - that murder is wrong, that terrorism is never justified and that those who excuse these things are to be repudiated. May it ever be so.

The resolution is as follows:

That the Swan Valley branch:

Condemns in the strongest possible terms the attacks on Israeli civilians carried out throughout Israel and the West Bank by Palestinian terrorists, frequently targeting children and the elderly, which have left dozens of Israelis dead or injured;
Deplores the acts of incitement by Palestinian clerics and political leaders which have precipitated the current violence, including inflammatory declarations by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, which appeal to racism and claim that “Jews have no right to desecrate the mosque with their dirty feet,” and calling upon the Palestinian people to “spill blood in Jerusalem”;
Rejects any attempts to draw a moral equivalence between Israeli victims of terror and Palestinian perpetrators whether in media reports or public statements by Australian political leaders;
Conveys condolences to the Government of Israel and its people, particularly to victims of terrorism and their loved ones;
Rejects claims that the ‘root cause’ of these attacks is Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and settlement construction, noting that the Arab rejection of peaceful co-existence with Jews pre-dates both the occupation and the commencement of settlement building in 1967, and even pre-dates the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948, noting for example the religiously motivated massacre of Jews by Palestinian Arabs in Hebron in 1929;
Affirms: the rights and duties of the Israeli authorities to take appropriate measures to defend and protect its population from terrorism

RECOMMENDATION: That the motion be referred to the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

13 December 2015

Debate turns ugly at National Union of Students Conference

From an AUJS MEDIA RELEASE 10th December 2015, by Julian Kowal / December 10, 2015:
A debate on “ethno cultural policy” at the National Union of Students (NUS) Conference on Wednesday nearly ended in violence after it was hijacked by an aggressive group of far-left student delegates.
The group had controversially put forward a motion that referred to Israel as “an apartheid state” and accused it of “ethnic cleansing”. It said that in the event of future hostilities between Israel and its neighbours, regardless of which side is at fault, “NUS will issue statements in solidarity with the Palestinian people” and “will take steps to enact, where practicable, a boycott of Israel”.

A conservative Palestinian student, a member of the Liberal club, was due to speak against the motion, but was prevented from doing so when some of the far-Left delegates stormed the stage, stole the microphone from his hand and moved a gagging motion against his right to speak. A number of NUS Delegates have also charged that proponents of the motion used gross racist language during the course of the melee.

“The supporters of the motion yelled the words ‘Jew’ and ‘Ashkenazi Jews’ as terms of abuse”, AUJS National Political Affairs Director, Julian Kowal said. “Their speech and behaviour was indistinguishable from that of the antisemitic fascist student unions of an earlier era.”

“ Overt Anti-Semitism could not be expressed in more simple terms than using the term “Jew” with the intention to defame or insult another individual.” AUJS is deeply concerned that the NUS conference is a space in which students feel comfortable to use “Jew” as an insult.

According to Kowal, Jewish students have been harassed, abused and assaulted numerous times at several Australian campuses in recent years. He named the University of Sydney as one of the worst for Jewish students. “We are simply not free to express our opinions if we support Israel, or even to wear clothing that identifies us as Jewish - some Jewish students have been abused, identifiable only by their religious head-covering”, he said.

“We report all assaults and incidents of harassment and intimidation, and the University authorities have admitted that they have a problem with racism and intolerance of so-called 'non-radical' views on campus, but they have done nothing to address this poisonous culture. There is a growing feeling of isolation amongst Jewish students.

"This motion is just the tip of the iceberg.” Kowal lashed the supporters of the motion as “people who cannot handle contradiction”. He accused them of “having a simplistic, reductionist mindset”.
“The fact that they had to resort to violent behaviour and overt racism, and censored a student from speaking in order to get their motion passed, shows that they are cowards who are afraid of the truth.
University authorities should not allow anybody, especially these fanatics, to behave as self-appointed censors and arbiters of ‘correct opinion’ on campus.”.

07 December 2015

London School of Economics removes ‘contemptible’ anti-Jewish blog posting by Western Australian academic

From Jewish News Online (UK), 4 December 2015:

[please note the 9 December 2015 update** below]

The London School of Economics has removed a “contemptible” anti-Zionism article which accused Israel of treating Palestinians as “sub-human” and described Zionism as being based on “superiority and entitlement”. 

The blog post, entitled “Delegitimising through Dehumanisation: Palestinian ‘human’ rights denied”, was written by academic Dr Sandra Nasr and conflated Zionism with apartheid – as well as accusing Israel of oppressing Palestinians with a “colonial plan” It was described as “contemptible” by Board of Deputies President Jonathan Arkush. 

Western Australian academic Dr Sandra Nasr

Dr Nasr – a lecturer in Middle Eastern politics at [the Fremantle campus of] Australia’s Notre Dame University – wrote on LSE’s student-run human rights blog: “Zionism, the ideological project to secure a Jewish homeland, relies upon notions of separateness, superiority and entitlement.” 

  She added: “Notions of ‘racial’ superiority are contained in Jewish scriptures and Rabbinical pronouncements have the effect of relegating ‘the other’ to a standard which is sub-human and, therefore, not deserving of the same considerations that are reserved for one’s ‘own kind’.”
Dr Nasr, an Amnesty International activist, also claimed Zionism amounts to deliberate “delegitimising” and “dehumanising” of Palestinians. 

The LSE has since removed the post, which was available for just under 24 hours, admitting its “editorial guidelines were not followed”. ...The Union of Jewish Students branded the now-removed post “dangerous”. It said: “This blog not only uses dangerous anti-Israel rhetoric, but also seeks to undermine passages of the Torah which can easily be seen as antisemitism. This type of rhetoric only goes to strengthen the concerns that Jewish students have at LSE, especially in light of the recent exhibition by LSE Palestine Society which used graphic imagery to remember the Palestinian terrorists that have been committing dreadful stabbings on a daily basis.
“It is frankly offensive that the writer of this blog has chosen to state that there are “armed Israeli lynch mobs roaming Jerusalem’s streets looking for anyone who looks ‘Palestinian’”, when Israelis are living in fear about where the next stabbing attack is coming from.”
**Update, 9 December 2015:
I wrote to the Vice Chancellor of the Fremantle campus of the University of  Notre Dame Australia and immediately received a considerate reply including the following:
  • The University of Notre Dame Australia has unreservedly stated that the opinions and comments expressed by Dr Nasr do not, in any way, represent the opinion of the University;
  • Dr Nasr’s blog posting was not endorsed or sanctioned by the University;
  • The University expresses its disappointment and apologies that comments causing such offence have been associated with the University;
  • The University is addressing this issue with due seriousness in accordance with its relevant processes; and
  • The Vice Chancellor has welcomed and accepted my invitation to meet early in the New Year to discuss these matters.