The first chapter of Ecclesiastes states that “there is nothing new under the sun.” Despite being written thousands of years ago, it could not hold more true today. Unfortunately, it is all too relevant when it comes to the same old singling out of Israel as a pariah state. In the wake of the devastating explosion in Beirut on Tuesday, the world’s oldest hatred has reared its ugly head once again, this time in mainstream Australian news.
On Wednesday night, Channel 10’s ‘The Project’ interviewed Beirut based photographer João Sousa in response to the explosion that at the time of writing has killed at least 135 people, injured around 5,000 and reportedly left 300,000 homeless.
Asked by host Waleed Aly if Lebanese officials’ explanations that the cause of the explosion was ammonium nitrate was “widely accepted by people there”, Sousa responded by saying that “99 percent of the people I’ve spoken with” do not believe the official explanation, and that “people are more likely to believe that this was an attack, a military attack, possibly by Israel”.
He continued, alluding to the history of conflict between Israel and Lebanese based terrorist groups, suggesting that “people are always expecting something like this to happen”. He did not offer one single alternative explanation. Perhaps responsibility could lie with Hezbollah, who held three metric tons of ammonium nitrate in London – the exact chemical believed to have caused the explosion – until it was found by MI5 and the London Metropolitan Police in 2015. It could even be related to the trial over the 2005 assassination of ex-Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, with the verdict being postponed as a result of the explosion. There are a myriad explanations to be explored.
The fact is that at this stage we simply do not know with certainty who is responsible for the explosion, yet the crew of The Project felt comfortable for their interviewee to spread conspiracy theories about Israel’s involvement, without feeling any need to question him or push for any other alternatives. They were happy with the explanation. To all those watching at home who are not entirely aware of Middle Eastern affairs, the message was clear as day. Israel was responsible.
As blatantly antisemitic and dangerous as this interview is, it should come as no surprise. Following the 2014 kidnapping and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, in an interview with Tel Aviv University professor Yossi Shain, Waleed Aly suggested that the heinous murder of the boys was “connected to a broader political picture” and that it could be “a response to the occupation”. Once again, the message is clear. The kidnapping and murder of innocent teenagers on their way home is a perfectly legitimate response to Israel’s military presence in Judea and Samaria.
At the very best, The Project’s hosts failed in their duty as reporters to challenge views put forward by a civilian – by no means an expert on the matter. At the very best, they failed miserably in their responsibility to be fair and accurate. Some may say that Sousa is not a Channel 10 journalist and was simply stating others’ opinions. But if The Project specifically chose to interview him, do they not have a responsibility to ensure that his comments are appropriate, and if not, to challenge them?
Given the history of Aly – who solely conducted the interview – this ‘best case scenario’ appears highly unlikely. He was quite content with the explanation that Israel was probably responsible for what may very well constitute a war crime – given that Israel has been in a technical state of war with Lebanon for decades – if it indeed was a military attack. And he was successful. Although footage of the interview has since been taken down from The Project’s social media channels, the damage is done. All those watching at home immediately understood that Israel was the culprit in this utter humanitarian disaster.
Even more upsetting, however, is what this represents. It is more than just another false accusation against Israel. Instead of embracing the Lebanese and offering support – as Israel immediately did – The Project chose to exploit what will be remembered for years as an unmitigated humanitarian disaster, and place the blame solely on Israel. They used the sympathy of the world and turned it into anger aimed at the world’s only Jewish state.
This is nothing new, and one does not have to do much digging to unearth examples of Israel portrayed as a pariah state.
Do Waleed Aly and the hosts of The Project care and feel for the victims in Beirut? I have no doubt that they do. But were they able to put aside their dislike of the only Jewish nation state and focus on the tragedy over its northern border? No.
Our community should not put up with this blatant antisemitism. It cannot.