A version of this piece originally appeared in Plus61J.
Nothing Left on Melbourne’s Jewish community radio station J-AIR has a niche firmly in the right. The show’s hosts, Alan Freedman and Michael Burd, say they are there to fill a gap created by what they see as the left-wing media and the political left. Are they Australia’s answer to Breitbart News?
“I suppose that’s how you could pigeon-hole us,” says Burd. “I agree with a lot of what Breitbart would write and say. We fit in with them on issues like multiculturalism, Islam and immigration.
We don’t pretend to be balanced.”
Would they be classified as Australia’s alt-right? It’s pretty much the same answer again. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we were pigeon-holed with that,” says Burd. “But they say that of anyone who has those views, including supporting Donald Trump.”
Nothing Left has been running on J-AIR for three years. Its programs, pure right-wing advocacy, might infuriate the left but they are always fascinating in a provocative sort of way. A recent episode interviewed “experts” attacking the US Jewish dovish group J Street, comparing them to kapos. Freedman and Burd have interviewed Jewish community leaders, conservative media types like Andrew Bolt and Rita Panahi, Alan Dershowitz, and politicians ranging from Michael Danby to the One Nation Party’s Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts. They talk about issues such as immigration, the “warped Palestinian mind” and describe Waleed Aly as “Australia’s favourite Muslim son.” They have ripped into the “left wing media” and attacked Jewish community leaders for opposing changes to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Section 18C is wrong, they say, because it fails to tackle Muslim antisemitism. They say that that Muslims in Australia have hurled invective at Jews but that 18C did nothing to protect Jews.
As they tell listeners, “this is a no spin and no political correctness zone.”
“The way that people get information in our community is largely left wing dominated,” Freedman says. “We’re considered outrageous by the leftist media, the political elite, but in actual fact I can’t tell you how often I get stopped and get congratulated by people who say ‘I’m a big fan and I think what you guys are doing is fantastic.’”
There is a big silent majority. They read the mainstream media and realise they are getting a slanted view. They like what we do, they listen to what we do and we think we fill a gap that people are looking for.”
The pair upload their podcasts every week, mail them out to their contacts and post them on Facebook. They also advertise in the Australian Jewish News, paying for it out of their own pockets.
The Nothing Left team doesn’t have any figures for how many follow them on radio or listen to their podcasts. But Burd says they have a mailing list, “in the hundreds”, which goes out to Jewish community leaders. He says their Facebook page, which is followed by 223 people, gets many hits.
“I’m opposed to the government’s immigration policies because I don’t think they’re tough enough,” Burd says.
“I am not ashamed of saying there should be a ban on countries that are consumed with Islamic extremism, with Jew hatred, with intolerance to gays and LGBT. I agree with Donald Trump’s travel ban 100%. The only thing is it doesn’t go far enough. He should include Gaza.”
Significantly, the Nothing Left team has made some connections politically.
They recruited Senator Eric Abetz, who has appeared on Nothing Left, in the battle to save the radio station. J-AIR has a narrow cast licence at 87.8 FM which allows it to broadcast only into the area around Caulfield. It has been trying to get a better licence that would extend its reach across Melbourne. But the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) has knocked it back several times. Abetz took up the cause.
ACMA’s acting chairman Richard Bean was questioned closely by Abetz when he appeared before the Senate’s environment and communications legislation committee in October 2016. Abetz described J-AIR as “pretty dynamic.” Why, he asked Bean, has the organisation “continually been frustrated in its request for a licence?”
Bean said he was “happy to take that (question) on notice.” He has still not come back with an answer.
Nothing Left’s line-up from Canberra has also featured One Nation’s Hanson and Roberts, despite many Jews feeling uncomfortable with them. So why have them on the show? And why host people like Israeli rightist Moshe Feiglin, the former Likud MK who wants to annul the Oslo accords, who wants full Israeli sovereignty to be applied throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territories and who was sentenced to six months jail for sedition with the sentence later commuted to community service?
“We got our heads kicked in very badly when we invited Moshe Feiglin, a controversial Israeli politician, and we got a lot of flak for Pauline Hanson,” Burd says.
“The reason we invited Pauline Hanson was we wanted to ask her face to face what do you think of Jews, what do you think of the Jewish community, what do you think of Israel, because she had the reputation of being an antisemite, just like Trump is wrongly accused of being an antisemite. The best thing you can do is ask them face to face.
She (Hanson) said she admired the Jewish community and their contribution and she’s a strong supporter of Israel. She’s obviously a critic of Islam.”
“Malcolm Roberts had expressed great support for Israel,” explains Freedman. “The latest time was after that UN resolution 2334 and he was one of the few politicians that came out and made a strong statement.”
What about Roberts’ comments about international bankers – for that read Jews – peddling climate change theory for money? “We asked him specifically about the accusation of Jewish bankers and he denied absolutely straight out that he made an antisemitic remark,’’ Freedman says.
“We don’t stand up for One Nation, we’re not endorsing them. We’re saying if they have a view that’s related to Israel, we’re quite happy to hear what they have to say. Just like with Moshe Feiglin, we’re not saying we’re going to vote for him but he advocates for Israel and we thought he was entitled to be heard in the Jewish community. Most of the Jewish communal organisations said no, they wouldn’t touch him.”
But isn’t that inflammatory?
“When you say it’s inflammatory, I’d say so what?” says Freedman. “I’m inflammatory, secondly I would say there are a lot of left-wing Jews and Israelis who I find inflammatory, especially those who don’t believe Israel is the nation state for Jews, Jewish academics at Monash who want to get rid of the Israeli flag or the national anthem because it offends the Israeli Arabs. I find that inflammatory. And I find it inflammatory that the Jewish community is promoting Islamic immigration. “
Most Jewish communal leaders, they say, are “either centre left or far left and they certainly don’t represent our views.”
“On multiculturalism we have completely opposite views to Jeremy Jones who is a fanatical interfaith guru,” says Burd.
“We had him on the program and we had a fantastic discussion which I won’t say got heated but we agreed to disagree.”
Jeremy Jones, director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) says he did not find Burd and Freedman hostile.
Asked if he is a “fanatical interfaith guru,” Jones replies: “I am a fanatical South Sydney rugby league supporter. I am not a guru of any sort. I am not a fanatic of any sort. Do I believe that there is a great benefit of people from one faith or background getting to know people of other faiths? Definitely.”
Jones says many in the community claim to represent the silent majority. He also disagrees with the claims from Freedman and Burd that the Jewish communal leaders are from the left.
“The last member of the Board of Deputies executive to be elected to Parliament was Julian Leeser, who is a conservative Liberal from New South Wales,” Jones says.
“Ken Weiner was high up in the New South Wales Liberal Party while he was treasurer of the New South Wales Board of Deputies. Yaron Finkelstein, who was a staffer for Brendan Nelson, is now vice president of the Board of Deputies.
Unless you’re going to put the Liberal Party as part of a left-wing cabal you’ve got a lot of problems.”
Associate Professor Philip Mendes, author of Jews and the Left, also questioned Nothing Left’s claims about the “silent majority.”
“We have very little qualitative evidence about views in the community,” he said.
He said the evidence suggested that the majority of the community opposed changes to 18C and this was reflected by the Jewish community leadership.
He said Burd and Freedman do not influence the agenda of the Jewish community leadership which does not want to be associated with them.