Danby remains defiant

Michael Danby. Photo: Peter Haskin

FEDERAL MP Michael Danby said this week he was shocked at the attacks levelled against him for using his communications allowance to place advertisements in The AJN, highlighting the unbalanced coverage of Israel by the ABC’s Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill.

“An ad in the community newspaper has sparked a wildfire of unthinking criticism by the billion dollar behemoth of the ABC, five articles in Fairfax, three in The Guardian, Crikey etc,” Danby told The AJN.

“Like any Member or Senator I apportioned this small part of my communications budget to reflect issues in my electorate.”

Drawing a contrast with McNeill’s coverage of the eviction of a Palestinian family, one ad noted that when terrorists murdered the Salomon family earlier this year, the network did not name them and didn’t show pictures of the family, unlike other international networks such as the BBC and CNN.

“Referring to them just as ‘settlers in occupied territories’ dehumanises them,” Danby said. “This kind of coverage will, over time, give Australians a dark image of Israel which isn’t true.”

Danby added that since his attack on the ABC, he has been the brunt of considerable bigotry, particularly on social media.

“Accusations of ‘dual loyalty’ normally associated with the far right have been raised by Greens staffer Tim Beshara, Fairfax loyalist Mike Carlton, and the discredited writers of the Crikey online newsletter.”

Carlton tweeted that “Danby carries on like the agent of a foreign power”, while Beshara asked on Twitter, “Are these actions by Danby a pattern of behaviour consistent with someone who has an allegiance to a foreign power?”

“I don’t criticise the ABC Middle East correspondent Matt Brown,” said the MP. “I’m not blind to his existence, but while he has been critical of Israel, and others, he seems to be fair over time.”

Defending McNeill, the ABC rejected Danby’s allegations, stating “Contrary to Mr Danby’s assertion, Ms McNeill gave due prominence to the fatal stabbing attack of the three Israelis with stories on television, radio, News Digital and Twitter.

“The coverage included graphic accounts of the attack from witnesses and first responders. This advertisement is part of a pattern of inaccurate and highly inappropriate personal attacks on Ms McNeill by Mr Danby.

“The ABC has complete confidence in the professionalism of Ms McNeill. Despite unprecedented scrutiny and obvious pre-judgement by Mr Danby and others, her work has been demonstrably accurate and impartial.”

However, key communal leaders rallied to Danby’s side, including Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Anton Block.

“Michael Danby was correct in saying that Ms McNeill gave more coverage to the fact that the Palestinian Shamasneh family had been evicted from their home in East Jerusalem than it did to the fact that three members of the Jewish Salomon family were murdered by Islamists during a family meal in the West Bank,” Block said.

“Those who have criticised Michael Danby’s use of his parliamentary allowance to pay for the advertisements made no criticism whatsoever of Senator Lee Rhiannon in 2016 when she used her parliamentary allowance to pay for leaflets and posters for a group calling for the boycott of Israel.

“Michael Danby has been targeted in parts of the media because he has been a strong supporter of Israel, and because he has had the temerity to call out anti-Israel bias by certain journalists over the years.”

Block’s comments were echoed by Zionist Federation of Australia president Danny Lamm, who said there is widespread grassroots support for Danby. “Recent media criticism of Michael Danby’s campaign to hold ABC Jerusalem Bureau Chief Sophie McNeill to account for her dishonest reporting has painted him as something of a loner when it comes to the concerns he has expressed. Nothing could be further from the truth.”

Noting the decision to appoint McNeill as the head of the ABC’s Jerusalem bureau in 2015 was highly controversial, he added, “McNeill’s reportage consistently demonstrates a lack of balance in the way in which she chooses and frames her subject matter and accordingly the ZFA’s initial concerns have been amplified rather than allayed.

“Examples abound but whether it has been the muted coverage of brutal murders carried out by Palestinian terrorists or the wilful blindness demonstrated by ignoring the facts when it comes to Israel, we have noted a number of instances of McNeill’s reporting that have been selective at best and irresponsible at worst.”

Meanwhile, Anti-Defamation Commission chairman Dvir Abramovich said that the tweets in response to Danby’s adverts, by Carlton and Beshara, crossed the line.

“While legitimate and reasoned criticisms can be made about the conduct of our elected officials, impugning anyone’s loyalty is an ugly, divisive and hurtful slur that must be roundly rejected.”

JOSHUA LEVI