Laboring on about Israel…writes Emily Gian

February 17, 2016 by Emily Gian
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The NSW Labor Party held its annual party conference last weekend.

In a year when a federal election is due to take place, no doubt there would have been a plethora of matters up for discussion on a wide range of issues affecting the residents of our most populous State. One would think that matters of foreign policy would have its place among the wide range of issues given the major convulsions happening across the planet.

The ongoing threat of terrorist violence across the face of the earth, mainly from groups such as ISIS, al Qaeda and Boko Haram, the ongoing slaughter in Syria which latest figures suggest has resulted in close to half a million deaths, many more wounded and countless refugees fleeing the country and causing chaos in Europe, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the fighting in Libya and Yemen – are all areas of major concern involving human tragedy and the dislocation of lives.

Yet somehow, when it came to foreign policy motions submitted to the NSW Labor conference, 28 were about condemning Israel (without a single condemnation of Palestinian incitement and violence against Israeli citizens) and 17 about every other country on the planet.

Of course, we read about various atrocities committed in many different parts of the Middle East and the rest of the world by terror groups but the disproportionality of focus at the ALP conference would seem bizarre if we did not know that it was the handiwork of a faction within the party of Labor Friends of Palestine involving former NSW State Premier and Federal Foreign Minister Bob Carr who, like most of those who advocate against the only true democracy in the Middle East, tend to go for the overkill and rarely pay too much attention to detail or to arriving at peaceful outcomes.

The motion that drew the most attention was one relating to Labor members travelling to Israel on subsidised or sponsored trips. The Labor Friends of Palestine faction wanted them banned until the conflict is resolved. There were also suggestions that equal time should be spent in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Thankfully, many voices of reason spoke up before the conference.

Federal Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten stated, “I trust Labor representatives. I don’t see the need to start giving them travel instructions.” Federal Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek also did not support the motion and described the whole thing as “a bit of a storm in a teacup”. She continued, “I support people travelling to inform themselves and I think on most of these trips most people spend a significant amount of time both in Israel and particularly in visiting Ramallah”.

Former ALP National president Warren Mundine said the proposal was “verging on anti-Semitic” and “sickening to watch”. Former Queensland premier Peter Beattie said, “It smacks of single-minded obsession with Israel… I would have thought there were a lot of other places in the world which deserved a lot more consideration than Israel”. On the issue specifically of subsidised trips to Israel he said, “to suggest there’s some sort of bribery involved from a sponsored trip, what it basically says is that Labor people who accept this are so feeble-minded that they’re going to accept everything they’re told”.

In the end, common sense ruled on the day with the following: –

“NSW Labor endorses the resolution on Israel-Palestine carried at the 2015 National Conference on 25 July 2015.
Condemns the Abbott/Turnbull Government for failing to provide clear leadership on Australia’s contribution to progressing peace between Israel and Palestine.
Believes, as a strong supporter of a two state solution that it is important to understand the perspectives of Israelis and Palestinians and that in addition to the travel arrangements in place for NSW State MPs, encourages all Party members visiting the region for the purpose of understanding the conflict to spend substantial time in both Israel and Palestine
.”

President of the ZFA Dr. Danny Lamm commended the party for “encouraging members to further their understanding of both Israelis and Palestinians… the final draft of the resolution shows that common sense has prevailed and is a repudiation of the hard-line anti-Israel sentiment”.

The Palestinian lobby groups will undoubtedly try again and again but the experience made me wonder, not for the first time, what is the obsession with Israel?

Why did the discussion before the conference centre around Jewish lobby groups sending politicians to Israel to see both sides of the conflict rather than on the Palestinian lobby groups?

What is it exactly that these groups don’t want Labor people to see and why do they have such a distrust of their ability to discern the truth with a firsthand look at the facts on the ground? Will they learn more by staying at home for example listening to Carr’s delusional rantings such as the one where he accused Israel of “Juda­ising and eliminating the Arab character” of Jerusalem through seduction and bribery “with paid overseas trips to Israel?”

Perhaps Carr’s lobby could organise some tours of their own. To Gaza to witness the terror tunnels being constructed once again at the expense of foreign aid designated to the rebuilding of Gazan homes. Or the terrorist bunkers under hospitals and schools. They would not visit the neighbourhoods where the rich Palestinian leaders get richer while their people fester in refugee camps. To the mosques where incitement to stab octogenarian ladies walking in the streets is preached?

It must pain this lobby to no end that sponsored tours of Israel, which include visits to the Palestinian territories and discussions with the people, showcases all of the amazing things that Israel has to offer. This includes learning about ways in which Palestinians are cooperating with Israelis every day to give them the resources that would allow reconciliation, peace and freedom rather than what we are seeing from the Palestinian leadership which is currently refusing to sit down and discuss peace with Israel and which at the same insists that the current spate of violence is justified because of the “occupation”. Which means that the complex range of issues that cry out for resolution will not be solved in either the short and medium term.

It is time, if we are going to obsess over Israel anyway, that it is done in an effective way that focuses on actually finding a solution. The demonization has to stop, and thankfully in this instance in NSW, the resolutions condemning Israel in their original form did not see the light of day.

Emily Gian is the Media and Advocacy Director at the Zionist Federation of Australia

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