In some quarters of the social democratic Australian Labor Party, there is immense passion surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Amongst the hard-left, a very strong pro-Palestinian position is endemic. Israel is perceived as the root of all evil in the Middle East, and the Palestinians have a free pass for anything they do (or don’t do). Criticism of Israel, pro-BDS, and a sometimes ugly anti-Jewish subtext pervade the foreign policies and speeches of this group. Being pro-Palestinian necessitates being anti-Israel is a common association amongst the politically hard-left around the world. But in Australian Labor, it has taken root in sections of the Party that have historically been supportive of Israel.
Led by Labor’s last Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, the right-wing of the Australian Labor Party’s large New South Wales state branch has increasingly advocated an anti-Israel position. Their surface pitch to Labor supporters is simple: with the growth of the Arab vote in the State in which Sydney is centred, and for sheer numbers sake, the Party needs to switch allegiance towards Palestine — against Israel. While I have debated that the actual demographics of voting patterns in NSW do not support this contention, the argument has taken root as one of those localised political truths.
Bob Carr is an ex-Foreign Minister and an ex-Premier of New South Wales. Once upon a time, Carr was also a founder of Labor Friends of Israel. To many in Labor, he is a true hero of the party. Unfortunately, and for reasons not fully fathomable or discernible, Carr has become obsessed with delegitimising Israel and the Jewish community of Australia. He constantly visits universities and unions around this very large country, speaking a vicious anti-Israel message. Recently he was caught at a forum talking about “the undue influence of the Jewish lobby” in Australian political life. His latest commitment to his polar opposite political swing has to become the national leader of Friends of Palestine.
This is all bad enough, but his latest stunt is his most appalling. And most shameful.
In a move that Stalin would applaud, Carr and his supporters have put forward a motion to the forthcoming February NSW ALP Conference that seeks to ban Labor officials and Members of Parliament visiting Israel because ‘visiting Israel with the current right-wing government oppressing the Palestinians is an affront to every decent Australian.’ Discussions have been going on about removing the Orwellian absurdity of this affront to democracy, but so far Carr and his coterie of Israel haters will have none it.
One colleague of mine discussed the issue with a senior, moderate, union leader during the week, with this normally centrist leader explaining that he would support Carr. My colleague asked if his interlocutor would agree to banning trips to China because of the occupation and destruction of Tibet, or Turkey because of its invasion and illegal occupation of Northern Cyprus. Furthermore, would he support the creation of a Labor Travel Agency that would vet every trip overseas to ensure compliance?
Rational thought suggests that to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict means understanding the context of the conflict and the people who live in its daily struggle. It means to see, firsthand, the ridiculously small distances involved; and feeling the personal fears and worries of both Israelis and Palestinians as they attempt to live together in this tiny space of earth.
The story is complicated and to actually experience the Israeli-Palestinian conflict personally is to gain some real understanding that a media narrative itself cannot possibly provide. Banning trips to Israel isn’t representative of the party. It isn’t democratic. If anything, it is Stalinist and totalitarian. It seems the obsessed Israel-haters want to control what members can and cannot learn for themselves about Israel and Palestine. It’s patronising in the extreme.
More so, this attempt at totalitarian control reveals a fear of someone gaining firsthand knowledge of the situation and of seeing the real Israel. We are certain these haters fear people becoming less susceptible to their anti-Israel worldview once they see Start Up Nation — the innovation capitol of the world; or have a beer in a Tel Aviv beach bar; or meet Israelis and Palestinians who work well together — and those that don’t — and get a picture of the real Israel. The real picture of Israel is simply not how it’s reported or propagandised.
When the Australia Israel Labor Dialogue hosts study missions of Israel, participants return with an understanding of Israel that they simply cannot get from the media, with its sole emphasis on the aggressor-victim narrative. Our people come back actually liking Israel — not all of it and they, and I, don’t agree with everything we see and hear. But what they do see goes beyond the newspaper headlines towards the hearts of the people who make up the lives of this heavily conflicted zone. Our participants gain a new appreciation and understanding of this Dreamtime of the Jews. And that is precisely why the trip banners want to stop visits to Israel. They cannot fathom that people go and see Israel for themselves and mostly like what they see.
Banning visits is like banning books. You remove from sight and mind that which might challenge your thinking, and only allow others to shape your thoughts. That says loud and clear that the people who want to stop others from going to Israel are more than just totalitarian — they bring a frightening fascist tendency into the great Australian Labor Party that has never before existed.
Labor must rise above this, and maintain open dialogue in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. There are many good people in Labor who see this assault for what it is and the danger is represents. We must, and we will advocate continued open dialogue as we always have in this great social democratic party.
“[Comrade Napolean] would be only too happy to let you make your decisions for yourselves. But sometimes, you might make the wrong decisions, comrades, and then where would we be?” — Animal Farm.