Features Australia

Sophie’s bad choices

The ABC’s Jerusalem correspondent seems to have odd priorities

15 April 2017

9:00 AM

15 April 2017

9:00 AM

Australian Ambassador to Israel, David Sharma, has stepped up to repudiate claims that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), his department, cleared World Vision in Gaza of funding the terrorist organisation Hamas. Originally ABC correspondent Sophie McNeill had suggested that DFAT conducted an internal review that found no evidence that Australian aid funds given to World Vision were diverted to Hamas. It is true DFAT answered questions put by McNeill when she inquired whether authorities in Canberra had probed into the grave charges relating to Hamas’s involvement in the World Vision charity. There is a case currently before the Israeli courts against World Vision’s Gaza employee, Mohammad El-Halabi, who is accused of channelling millions of dollars to Hamas. DFAT is only a spectator in that case, not the prosecuting authority. The Beer Sheva District Court will reach its own conclusion. Yet that didn’t stop McNeill tweeting on 20 March: DFAT has reviewed the management of its funding to World Vision in the Palestinian Territories. The review uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds. She followed that up with an online report on the ABC in which she wrote: [DFAT] says an internal review into World Vision funding in Gaza has uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government aid funding to Hamas.

Worse was the ABC’s utterly irresponsible, indeed fraudulent, heading: ‘No evidence of diversion of World Vision funds to Hamas, DFAT says’. This appalling and uncorrected headline suggested that DFAT had conducted its own review of the matter and had concluded no government funds had been diverted to Hamas. These misleading reports by McNeill were picked up around the world, including by Putin’s propaganda outlet, Russia Today and on the Ayatollahs’ international TV outlet, Press TV. Strangely, other ABC reports are not normally recounted by these controversial media outlets, which in both cases are almost always anti-Israeli. It was this slanted international misreporting that may have prompted Ambassador Sharma to issue a repudiation on behalf of DFAT on 29 March: The Israeli court case will determine World Vision employee Mr El-Halabi’s innocence or guilt. While DFAT conducted a review of its aid management and found nothing to indicate any awareness on our part of Mr El-Halabi’s alleged wrongdoing, World Vision International and World Vision Australia have also commissioned independent reviews which are ongoing, and the Israeli court case continues. Australian aid funding to World Vision will remain suspended until we consider the outcomes of these processes.

In other words, all DFAT is saying is that it has nothing in its records to indicate that its staff were aware of alleged wrongdoing by Mr El-Halabi. DFAT is not suggesting that it has investigated the allegations and examined evidence and interviewed relevant witnesses. What McNeill reported was just an internal review examining what documents and financial records the Department was aware of. Importantly, according to Sharma, DFAT acknowledges that it will be the Israeli court case that determines El-Halabi’s innocence or guilt. One doesn’t need to be a journalist or lawyer to know that such an internal review by DFAT could not exonerate World Vision or its employee in relation to the allegations.

Not a word was reported of an hour long press conference I did last year, in response to these allegations, by the ABC. This is despite the fact McNeill had her ABC camera man film the entire event. Perhaps she was hoping she might catch me out with a few phrases out of place.

McNeill still hasn’t reported the FBI’s indictment last week of the Jordan based terrorist who murdered Malki Roth, daughter of Arnold and Frimet Roth, along with 15 others in Sbarro pizza shop in 2002. The Roth’s lived in a suburb close to McNeill; the Hamas terrorist lives openly in Amman. How has the ABC’s Jerusalem correspondent, McNeill, reported the DFAT-World Vision case yet not reported the FBI going after the murderer in Jordan? Her report suggested DFAT’s findings cleared World Vision of involvement with Hamas. Bad journalism, or something else? You decide.

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