Another Example of Myopic, Anti-Israel Journalism
After the Oslo Accords were signed, Australian journalist John Lyons believed that “the world was on the brink of resolving one of the most relentless conflicts in history.” In 2009, he arrived in Jerusalem, where he spent six years as the Australian’s Middle East correspondent. Balcony Over Jerusalem is Lyons’ memoir of his deepening disenchantment with the Jewish state.
An obsession with “occupation through settlements” frames the indictment of Israel that guides Lyons’ narrative. According to Lyons, his transformation on Israel began more than a decade earlier, during his first visit to Hebron. Drawn to the “raw conflict” in that ancient Jewish city — the burial place of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, and the site of King David’s first capital — Lyons fixates on Israeli “cruelty.” In the most prosperous West Bank Arab city, inhabited by 200,000 Palestinians and several hundred Jews, he focuses on the “occupying” Israeli army that protects their tiny enclave, which was decimated by Arab rioting in 1929, and rebuilt after the Six-Day War.
Arriving in Israel believing that “it adhered to the rule of law,” Lyons came to understand that “manipulation” guided “the quest for Greater Israel.” Encountering the “tyranny of the occupation,” he understood that it was “infinitely worse than the public realizes.” Describing “a significant number of settlers” as “heavily armed gangsters” who destroy Palestinian property and lives, he predictably relies upon left-wing advocacy groups (Breaking the Silence, Yesh Din, B’Tselem) to feed his critique. Also guiding his understanding was New York Times correspondent Jodi Rudoren, whose liberal critique of Israel (as an “anomalous ethnocracy” that looks ”a lot like apartheid”) was the distinguishing feature of her tenure as that paper’s Jerusalem bureau chief.
Applying the invidious trope of money-lusting Jews, Lyons believes that “financial incentives” could lure “more than 600,000 settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem” back to Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Anyone who imagines that 200,000 Jews living in East Jerusalem, to say nothing of 400,000 Jews in biblical Judea and Samaria, can be enticed with a government buyout to leave their homes is clearly obsessed with fantasies.
Fixated on “the messianic campaign to colonise the West Bank” in “the march towards Greater Israel,” Lyons insists that the Jewish state attacks the media and tries to redefine reality to deflect attention from its nefarious goal. Claiming that journalists confront pressure from “self-appointed pro-Israel groups” to “sugar-coat“ their reporting, he blames the Israeli government for outsourcing that pressure.
Fueling his pipe dream, Lyons asserts that Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibiting an occupying power from transferring its population into occupied territory, is applicable to Israel. The only problem is that Israel did not “transfer” any of its citizens; they returned to their biblical homeland entirely of their own accord. Indeed (evidently unknown to Lyons), Israeli settlement is explicitly protected by international agreements dating back to the World War I era.
Lyons also asserts that “the right and the centre of Israeli politics are now hooked on occupation.” Whether it “represents a completion of the biblical circle” or merely “cheap housing,” Lyons claims that Israelis, who are “educated to believe that they are the victims rather than the occupiers,” relentlessly pursue their nefarious goal. Lyons was also dismayed by “the amount of racism” he encountered, and saw discrimination “everywhere.” Israeli leaders “are open about their racism,” he says, and even the country’s Supreme Court “makes decisions that entrench it.” Israeli politicians, he laments, “have methodically steered their country towards the abyss of apartheid.” Israel, Lyons concludes, confronts “a cancer growing from within.”
Arriving in Jerusalem with “hope … awe and excitement,” Lyons left six years later convinced of the “tragic consequences” of a shattered peace effort. For Lyons, Jewish settlements are “the single most important issue preventing a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” — yet he fails to notice that the conflict predated Jewish statehood by nearly three decades, and the first settlement by another 20 years.
Unable, by his own telling, to imagine that “a country exercising military authority over 2.9 million Palestinians in occupied territory could be a victim” of unfair media reporting, he persistently demonstrates the unimaginable. He seems oblivious to the reality that there is more to Israel than the “messianic mission” of settlement-building. Consequently, his book earns a comfortable niche among the more misguided critiques of the solitary democratic state in the Middle East.
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of the forthcoming “Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016.”