By Matt Buckley
I recently witnessed a Christian social justice group, which I greatly respect, be successfully pressured into suppressing the issue of Palestine from their work. The episode raises broader questions about censorship and the concepts of ‘bias’ and ‘balance’.
JustSalvos is an Australian organisation within The Salvation Army that seeks to raise awareness, and campaign on, social justice issues. Its website includes information on such issues as poverty, refugees and asylum-seekers, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and the plight of Australia’s indigenous people. Visitors to the website can purchase Fair Trade products, and can also purchase products for disadvantaged people in developing countries, such as education tools, micro-financing kits, livestock, seeds, toys, and health supplies(1). JustSalvos also has a blog, and Facebook and YouTube pages. I have been a member of JustSalvos’ Facebook page for some time now, and wrote an article for their blog.
One of JustSalvos’ awareness-raising methods is JustSalvos Live, which is a regular webcast featuring interviews with experts on a wide range of social justice issues. Interview topics on JustSalvos Live have included food wastage, human trafficking, gambling addiction, LGBT rights, refugees and asylum-seekers, poverty, and indigenous Australian issues. Episodes of JustSalvos Live are featured on the organisation’s website, blog, Facebook and YouTube pages and are also burnt onto DVDs, with copies sent to Salvation Army corps (in The Salvation Army, a “corps’ is the term for a Salvationist church).
In October 2011, JustSalvos Live took up the issue of Palestine, with the episode featuring an interview with Jessica Morrison from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network.
After JustSalvos uploaded the episode onto their Facebook page, particular group members expressed disgust and disappointment, claiming the episode was biased against Israel. One person said she did not want anything to do with JustSalvos any more. Heated debates about the Israel/Palestine conflict ensued, in which I partook.
In the debates, it was claimed that Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and that the withdrawal just resulted in more violence from Palestinians. I responded by stating that Israel did not withdraw from Gaza. Rather, Israel withdrew the settlements from Gaza, sealed the territory off like a prison camp, and expanded settlements in the West Bank. I also pointed out that, according to Ilan Pappe’s and Noam Chomsky’s book Gaza In Crisis, Israel only withdrew the settlements from Gaza due to it not being worth the money and effort to sustain them (2).
It was pointed out that the Zionists agreed to the United Nations 1947 Partition Plan but the Palestinian Arabs did not. I responded by stating that the Zionist camp [under David Ben-Gurion] only agreed to the Partition Plan with the intention of getting the rest of Palestine later, which they did in 1967.
It is also worth noting that Irgun Zvai Leumi commander – and future Israeli Prime Minister – Menachem Begin rejected the partition plan because it did not give all of Palestine to the Zionists (3).
It was claimed that at the time of Partition, Arab leaders from countries neighbouring Palestine told Palestinian Arabs, via radio broadcasts, to leave Palestine so that the leaders’ militaries could invade the territory and kill the Jews. I responded by pointing that that this myth is debunked in one of the chapters of the book Blaming The Victims: Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, which is edited by Edward Said and Christopher Hitchens, and that as Hitchens points out – he wrote the chapter – even if there had been such broadcasts, it would not mean that the Palestinians should be denied the right to return to their homes, or that their property should be confiscated sans compensation(4).
It was claimed that Israel was defending itself in the Six Day War. I responded that Norman G. Finkelstein’s book Image and Reality in the Israel-Palestine Conflict has a chapter debunking this claim(5).
It was claimed that the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are treated as equal to Jews under Israeli law. I responded that the human rights organisations Amnesty International, Rabbis for Human Rights, Mossawa, the Arab Association for Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Adalah, the Association of Forty, Jewish Voice for Peace, Pax Christi, and the New Israel Fund, as well as the USA’s State Department Report on Human Rights, all claim that Israel discriminates against its Palestinian Arab citizens.
The Israeli military’s conduct in the Occupied Palestinian Territories was passionately defended as necessary action against Palestinian terrorists. I pointed out the massive numbers of Palestinian civilian deaths from Israeli bombs, bulldozers and bullets, and that the Palestinian civilian death toll far outnumbers that of Israelis(6). One person claimed that the massive Palestinian death toll was due to Hamas firing rockets from civilian areas. I responded that the reports of human rights groups about IDF conduct show that the death tolls cannot simply be put down to this reason. I also pointed out that Israel has used cluster bombs and white phosphorous bombs, which are clearly indiscriminate weapons, and that this fact negates that argument.
It was asked why Israel’s human rights record is singled out when there are other serious human rights violators in the Middle East, such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. I responded that the governments and militaries of those countries should be held to account as well as, not instead of, those of Israel.
It was argued that Israel should be supported because Zionism fulfils God’s plan for the Jews as stated in the Bible. I responded that I do not buy that argument. Firstly, there are Orthodox Jews who believe Israel’s existence is sacrilegious to Judaism. Secondly, there are Palestinian Christians, and are they supposed to support Israel too? Thirdly, if God supports the way Israel treats the Palestinians, then it means He has forsaken the Palestinians.
While all these debates were ensuing, JustSalvos quietly removed the Palestine episode from the Facebook page. They have also removed the episode from their website, blog and YouTube pages. The episode is also not one of the five in the DVD sent to Salvation Army corps.
Thus, JustSalvos have veritably killed the episode.
Add to this, all the aforementioned discussions in JustSalvos’ Facebook page about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict have been deleted.
I enquired as to why the episode is no longer on any of the websites. A spokesperson got back to me and answered that due to heated debates on the Facebook page, and e-mails from JustSalvos Live viewers, JustSalvos’ Social Justice Director decided to shelve the episode until another could be done “with an interview of someone who had opinions regarding the other side of the issue.” Such an interview never eventuated, and thus, the Palestine episode was discarded.
I asked to be put in touch with the Social Justice Director for this article, but was told that someone else has just taken over that position, which means the current Social Justice Director was not responsible for the decision to bury the Palestine episode.
One question I have is: what is meant by “the other side of the issue”? There are two possible meanings. The first possibility is an interview about Palestinian human rights violations against Israelis. The second possibility is an interview with someone defending Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
The first possibility would not be a problem. There are Palestinian human rights violations against Israelis. As human rights violations, they constitute a social justice issue.
The second possibility raises the issue of the concepts of “bias” and “balance”, and their use in suppressing criticism of Israel.
There is no debate on whether or not Israel systematically violates the human rights of the Palestinians. The jury is well and truly in. Israel does systematically violate the human rights of the Palestinians. To accuse an interview with somebody from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network of bias against Israel is akin to accusing interviews with people from the Australia Tibet Council, Australia West Papua Association, Australia Western Sahara Association or Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation of being biased against the Chinese, Indonesian, Moroccan or Australian governments respectively.
The purported necessity of finding a counter-interview to balance the issue is incongruous with previous JustSalvos modus operandi. For example, a previous JustSalvos Live episode featured pastor Jay Bakker and gay Christian Matt Pearse, and was about the need for Christians and the Christian church to accept same-sex relationships. Such a view contradicts the official Position Statements of The Salvation Army’s two Australian Divisions. JustSalvos Live did not follow this up with any interviews with people arguing that Christians and the church should not accept same-sex relationships. Similarly, another previous JustSalvos Live episode featured an interview with Reverend Tim Costello. Costello is CEO of World Vision Australia and has also been a member of the Inter-Church Gambling Taskforce, which seeks to combat gambling addiction. Among the books he has authored is Wanna Bet? Winners and Losers in Gambling’s Luck Myth, which he co-authored with Royce Millar. The interview with him on JustSalvos Live was about the need, in order to combat gambling addiction and its effects, for the Australian government to adopt proposed legislation curbing the amount of time and money gamblers can spend on poker machines (known in the USA as “slot machines”). JustSalvos Live has never featured an interview with someone expressing disagreement with the proposed legislation.
Yet, any discussion of the plight of the Palestinians apparently requires another view to “balance” the issue.
I will continue to support JustSalvos, as they do great social justice work. But the situation of the JustSalvos Live episode about Palestine shows that the Palestinian issue can still be considered taboo. It shows how powerful Zionist lobbying and propaganda can result in censorship of the Palestinian issue, even in a gutsy, humanitarian, progressive organisation such as JustSalvos.
– Matt Buckley is doing a double degree in Journalism and International Relations at the University of South Australia. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
(2) Chomsky, N & Pappe, I 2010, Gaza In Crisis
(3) Shlaim, A 1988, Collusion Across The Jordan, page 119
(4) Hitchens, C 2001, ‘Broadcasts’ in Blaming The Victims – Spurious Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, eds Hitchens, C & Said, E
(5) Finkelstein, N 1995, Image & Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, chapter: ‘To Live or Perish – Abba Eban “Reconstructs” the June 1967 War’