ANALYSIS: The toppling of internal NSW Labor Party criticism squarely at Israel is delaying the inevitable, writes Michael Brull.
For the last few weeks, the major Jewish organisations seemed to be getting worried. The NSW Labor State Conference was coming up, and various elements in the ALP put forward various proposals that would distance the party from its traditionally slavish position towards the Israeli government.
First, there was the issue of propaganda tours of Israel. Labor Friends of Palestine drafted a proposal on the subject. In the rendering of Sean Nicholls, while the Israeli government “continues settlements, refuses a Palestinian state [and]brutally mistreats Arab residents of the West Bank”, no ALP officer, MP or Young Labor member was to “accept a paid trip from the Israel Lobby”.
NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley has previously directed state MPs to spend “equal time” in the occupied territories when visiting Israel.
Suggesting that politicians shouldn’t go on propaganda tours of Israel – paid for and organised by lobbyists for the Israeli government – seems reasonable enough.
The Jewish News gamely tried to express some outrage: “What next? All trips to anywhere in the world must first be approved by Bob Carr?”
It also expressed its approval of Warren Mundine, the ALP’s former national president. More shameless than even the Jewish News in his loyalty to the Israeli government and its lobbyists, Mundine characterised this proposal as “crazy”, “disgusting”, and “anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli”.
Mundine complained that Labor hasn’t “banned people from going to other countries”, and so he wondered why they’re now “picking on Israel”. Perhaps no-one told him the supposedly anti-Semitic motion wouldn’t ban anyone from visiting Israel – it would simply ban people from going on propaganda tours paid for and organised by Israel lobby groups.
Mundine went on at some length – the “only difference” he can see in banning trips to Israel, as opposed to other countries is “that it’s a Jewish state”. This was “verging on an anti-Semitic stand”.
Mundine went on to explain how wonderful Israel is: “a liberal democracy”, “Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians sitting in the Knesset… gender equality” – it sounds like quite a paradise.
When asked about making Labor delegates spend half of their time on the trips in Palestinian Authority controlled areas, Mundine said that that was also an “immature approach to the whole situation”. He later explained that he is in favour of “sensible, mature and open debate”.
Readers might not be surprised to learn that Mundine says he has been on “sponsored trips from the Jewish community to Israel”. The Jewish News reported that the private lobby group and Zionist think-tank Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council organises “fact finding missions to the region for politicians and journalists”.
Readers can guess what type of facts these journalists and politicians tend to find. Mundine was clearly a wise investment for AIJAC, chosen to go on these tours for his unbiased, sensible and mature approach to learning about the conflict.
Another organiser of these trips is Vic Alhadeff, CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. Readers may remember that during the war on Gaza in 2014, Alhadeff found time as chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission to rally to Israel’s defence.
The JBD proceeded to produce a graphic by the Israeli army justifying the bombing of hospitals, schools and mosques as part of Hamas’s “terrorist infrastructure”. Surely only the deeply cynical could doubt Alhadeff’s claim that the “tours give participants an opportunity to assess the situation in the region for themselves”.
Aaron Patrick, deputy editor of the Australian Financial Review, wrote about one of his tours last year, paid for by the JBD and AIJAC. He gives some sense of the lavishness of the experience: “The trips have attained almost legendary status in media circles… We flew business class and graced the VIP lane at Ben Gurion Airport. We had an armed driver and a full-time guide. Experts were paid to brief us.”
This representative passage shows the insights he gained from the trip: “The main danger is internal, from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where 1.8 million resentful Palestinians wait for their own nation. Most Israeli Jews, Knesset voting indicates, support a two-state solution.”
For those wondering, there are about 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza alone. The CIA estimates there are about 2.8 million Palestinians in the West Bank. As for what Knesset voting indicates, the current Prime Minister won the last election by promising not to allow the creation of a Palestinian state.
The leader of the Zionist Union, supposedly the leading opposition party, also isn’t in favour of creating a Palestinian state in the current circumstances – though he hasn’t ruled it out some time in the future. I suppose it depends on whether the circumstances ever suit him.
Patrick and his colleagues didn’t visit Gaza: “It was too dangerous for the group to cross into Gaza”. Note that this intrepid and independent journalist didn’t report that that’s what he was told by the people who guided him. He simply reports that as fact. I suppose the tour guides weren’t confident enough that their customers like Patrick would believe their explanations of all the destruction and misery in Gaza.
Returning to the state ALP conference, the Jewish News reportedly had an exclusive last week. There were 28 motions being proposed about Israel at the upcoming state conference, out of 45 foreign policy motions in total. Evan Zlatkis reported:
Among the proposals are some calling for immediate recognition of a Palestinian state, some calling for a boycott of settlement products and some calling for a ban on trips to Israel sponsored by Jewish organisations.
Meanwhile, a number condemn Israeli violence and mistreatment of the Palestinians, while blaming Israel for the failure to achieve peace. But not one condemns Palestinian terror or incitement, or the reluctance of the Palestinian leadership to come to the negotiating table.
Whilst recognising Palestine would be relatively tame and symbolic, others would be more encouraging. Calling for a boycott of settlement products would be a pretty surprising – even impressive – development. It suggests the arrival within the NSW ALP of activists who are increasingly critical of the Israeli government and the occupation.
And what may also be noted – the fact that none condemn the Palestinians suggest that activism within the NSW ALP is coming from one side only. Chair of the NSW ALP international affairs policy committee, Michael Forshaw duly explained how much he regretted all of this.
He also denounced bans on propaganda tours as “totally outrageous”.
Apparently believing that they were onto an effective propaganda response, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry responded by calling this a disproportionate focus on Israel – look at all the other suffering elsewhere, and so on.
The Jewish News also duly issued another outraged editorial, full of cringe-inducing attempts at wit. It expressed horror at those who would dare offer proposals that “not only blame the Jewish State for sabotaging peace talks, but also claim the Jewish State doesn’t even want a two-state solution”.
The editorial sounded one particularly important point. It wrote: “These motions don’t just originate from Western Sydney branches where Labor politicians are falling over each other for votes; they come from all over the state.” The rot is spreading.
The conference ended on Sunday, and the proposals relating to Israel were overwhelmingly defeated. The Australian characterised this as a “compromise”, explaining that, “All [the]motions were headed off by the party’s international relations policy committee”.
I am not privy to what this means, but it sounds like backroom manoeuvring saved the day.
Propaganda tours of Israel weren’t banned. Party members were just encouraged to spend a “substantial amount of time” in Israel and Palestine. This resolution is even weaker than Foley’s position. J Wire has an image of the resolution
Essentially, nothing meaningful. AIJAC and the JBD already arrange trips to Ramallah, presumably so that the customers on tour can speak to collaborationist members of the Palestinian Authority. They can duly explain the evils of Hamas, the propriety of the blockade on Gaza, the benefits of security cooperation with the Israeli army and so on.
And as long as time in the West Bank isn’t defined, who can doubt that this will include trips to Israeli army bases and settlements?
Tanya Plibersek and Bill Shorten expressed their satisfaction at the outcome, with Plibersek expressing her particular satisfaction at visits to Ramallah. The Zionist Federation of Australia’s President thanked them both for their remarks, and was pleased that “common sense has prevailed and [there was]a repudiation of the hardline anti-Israel sentiment”.
ZFA said that in fact there were 39 motions critical of Israel in total. And it seems, all of them overcome. The JBD and Australia Israel Labor Dialogue also expressed their satisfaction at their triumph.
ECAJ explained their win as follows: “What began as a proposal to ban these trips altogether, and was subsequently watered down to a proposal requiring all ALP MPs on such trips to spend ‘equivalent time’ in Israel and the territories, has ended up as a rejection of both of those proposals and an endorsement of the Jewish community’s long-established practice for sponsored trips to the region.”
He is right about the “endorsement” part. Note that propaganda tours are now “visiting the region for the purpose of understanding the conflict”.
The JBD President gave some idea of the lobbying he engaged in: “In the lead up to conference… We met with over 40 union officials and NSW MPs, including Luke Foley, and were greatly assisted by the ECAJ and by Greg Holland and the Australia-Israel Labor Dialogue.”
He thinks this is a “sensible outcome” which “rejects the anti-Israel bias and discrimination” of the proposed motions.
Over at +61J, Mary Easson expressed her joy at the defeat of “fanatical anti-Israel forces”, and the defeat of the “idiotic” idea of making politicians spend equal time in Palestine and Israel during visits.
For those unfamiliar with it, +61J was founded to “broaden discussion” of Israel in the Jewish community. This would leave Israel “best served… by supporters who show they are open-minded, balanced and understanding of people and groups with contrary narratives”.
Easson makes some worthwhile observations. 30 years ago, she writes, “The NSW ALP Right was tough as nails in support; even the Left was different in NSW, almost uninterested in the Palestine-Israel conflict.” Now, the NSW Right is “part of the problem”.
Jason Clare, who moved the resolution which was passed, apparently gave a speech banal enough for Easson to call it reasonable. However, the Left seconder reportedly gave a speech “stridently criticising Israel”. And then, “no debate thereafter at conference”.
Funny that the Israel lobbyists would oppose a ban on propaganda tours because they support “open debate”, and then oppose actual debate at the ALP state conference.
Whilst they have been successful tactically, defeating proposals is not the same as defeating the proposers.
There is clearly change afoot – in NSW at least.
From the left and right of the party, from all over the state, there are voices calling for change. Though the proposals are still mostly mild, they pick sensible battles.
Change hasn’t come to the ALP yet, but it is clearly on the way.
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