Peter Don't Preach


Last Saturday, from the pulpit of the nation’s capital, Peter Costello was prepared to pontificate about ‘the concept of proportionality’ justifying violence and how other governments should manage morality.

Why did he not seize the opportunity, during the recent war in Lebanon, to preach this same gospel to his political brethren?



During his address to the National Conference of the Australian Christian Lobby over the weekend, the Treasurer was prepared to throw stones at Muslim leaders for not separating religion from State. But by the same token, maybe Costello should have encouraged our Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, to separate our foreign policies from those of the State of Israel.

Since the war in Lebanon started on 12 July, Alexander Downer has sounded more like a cheer leader, echoing the ‘official’ versions of what was happening that were being peddled by Israeli spin doctors, and in particular the Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Daniel Gillerman. When asked about an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon just after the Israeli air, land and sea bombardment began, Downer’s response was that Israel must do what Israel must do.

Costello was prepared to criticise the lack of proportionality in Muslim reactions to the recent speech by Pope Benedict XVI, regarding the spread of Islam ‘by the sword.’ But Downer never condemned the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) for their disproportionate over-reaction in Lebanon 1200 Lebanese and 157 Israelis lost their lives during the 34-day conflict.

Despite repeated declarations from international human rights authorities that Israel’s actions in Lebanon were ‘indiscriminate and disproportionate,’ and ‘completely immoral,’   Downer dismissed them and declared that a ceasefire would be deferred until ‘the Israelis are satisfied.’ This rendered Australia an accomplice to the IDF actions, keeping the UN at bay for as long as possible.

Costello was prepared to criticise Muslim regimes who ‘love to find an insult’ to justify their violence. But Downer must have been desperate to justify his parrot policies when he resorted to theories from the conspiracy blog site zombietime.   On 28 August, he claimed that the Israeli bombing of a Red Cross ambulance on 23 July was a hoax, ‘beyond serious dispute,’ without citing his sources. Putting aside the fact that such conspiracies have been refuted by the International Committee of the Red Cross and by The Age journalist Sarah Smiles who reported the incident, just imagine the outrage if the Foreign Minister relied on a pro-Hezbollah blog to expose a Zionist conspiracy!

Downer deems himself a moral man, telling Radio 2GB’s Alan Jones on 14 March 2003 that:

I try to make decisions on the basis of the best moral option available how moral would it have been for us to look at the mass slaughter that was taking place in Iraq under Saddam Hussein? how moral is it for us to turn our backs or to use a Christian expression to walk on the other side of the road, and allow those people just to continue to be slaughtered?

The irony for Lebanon is chilling. Downer was prepared to turn his back on his own morality, as he walked on the other side of the border to avoid the screams of the Lebanese civilians. He cites the ‘Parable of the Good Samaritan’ but misses the moral: love your neighbour as yourself.

Thanks to Fiona Katauskas

Downer’s one-eyed partisanship has not only been noticed by Australians of Lebanese descent, but also by diplomats such as former Australian Ambassador to Israel, Ross Burns who criticised Australia’s ‘uncritical defence of Israel’ not only during the recent war, but in general. Burns argues that ‘where we’ve put ourselves now is very much in a corner where we identify with one side.’

In an interview published in the Australian Jewish News on 27 July, Downer proudky declared that ‘Australia has been more supportive of the Israelis than 99 per cent of the world.’ Downer was presented with the coveted Jerusalem Prize by the State Zionist Council of Victoria in 2004 and he makes no secret that ‘being called pro-Israeli (is not) a badge of shame I’ve been to Israel on several occasions.’

The moral challenge for Downer now is for him to visit Lebanon and navigate through the scorched terrain in the south. He would need to avoid over 100,000 unexploded cluster bombs (proudly produced in the USA) that Israel left as a farewell gift to Lebanon. Unfortunately, Israel has yet to fulfil point 8 of UN Security Council Resolution 1701: ‘provision to the United Nations of all remaining maps of land mines in Lebanon in Israel’s possession.’

Downer should learn the names of a few Lebanese children who perished during the war and place a wreath next to their graves, just as he honoured the Australian-Israeli soldier Asaf Namer who also perished there although Namer chose to wage war, while the Lebanese children had no choice but to die. Through this gesture, Downer could demonstrate that he does not subscribe to the extremist view that ‘one million Arabs are not worth a Jewish fingernail.’

The words of the Prophet Peter might carry more weight if he could convert his fellow Cabinet Minister, making him behave with more integrity in his own backyard before ‘lecturing the world,’ as Shadow Treasurer Wayne Swan aptly put it recently.

Rather than trying to remove specks from the eyes of Muslim leaders, perhaps Peter Costello should remove the logs from his own brother’s eyes.

Rather than pontificate about a necessary disconnect between Church and State, he should redress a more hypocritical disconnect between what he practises and what he preaches.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.