At lunch with Anne and Gerard Henderson

February 24, 2012 by Henry Benjamin
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Sydney Morning Herald columnist Gerard Henderson and his wife Anne, who together run the Sydney Institute, recently visited Israel. They told an Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council lunch meeting about their trip…

Gerard Henderson pic: Henry Benjamin

Gerard Henderson began by saying there is a tendency for some people who visit a country for a few days to “become an expert” and said that he did not claim to be an expert on Israel.

The Hendersons have visited Israel three times…in 1988, 1995 and in November last year. In 1988 they went into Gaza during the Intifada and also in 1995. Last year, the Hendersons visited Ramallah as well as Israeli locations and said that the PA visit had been organised by the Australian embassy. Gerard Henderson said: “What struck on this visit how much more normal Israel had become. Security is always very important He said that  on previous visits security and Israel’s right to exist within secure boundaries had dominated conversations but now the focus had switched to the economy and Israel’s place in the Middle East and in the world.

Anne Henderson

According to Gerard Henderson, economic reform and a strong economy seemed to be paralleled between Israel and Australia…”two small nations whose economies mattered”. He went on to say that “because of the Arab Spring it is now apparent that all the problems in the Middle are not caused by or related to Israel. That has helped the public debate. There was always a tendency for commentators in the West to say all the problems began with Israel….the kind of Robert Fisk view. These days, given the Arab Spring, it is manifestly evident that this is not the case.”

I wrote about my visit in my column in the Sydney Morning Herald and I got an email from a reader who demanded to know who paid for the trip. Henderson said that “it didn’t matter who paid for the trip because I had held these views since the mid-60s and  they hadn’t changed . I  didn’t think journalists changed their positions because someone paid them…and that applies to me and others. As I expected he came back so I was quite delighted in the end to tell him that I paid for the trip myself…and Anne paid for her trip herself, too.”

Henderson commented on former executive producer of Four Corners Peter Manning’s piece  in the Sydney Morning Herald last week on opinion polls dictating that Australia should have a different position in the Middle East. He said: “I don’t recall Peter Manning saying that because a majority of Australians believe we should have capital punishment we should have capital punishment.”

The journalist went on to say that Andrew Fowler had been very hostile to Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Four Corners last week citing Australia’s vote on Palestine  becoming a member of UNESCO. He went on: “My friends in the Labor party say this is not an issue…it is an obsession of Andrew Fowler because he is a member of the ABC Left and he is concerned about these issues.” Henderson said that the idea that  this is an issue for Gillard or Rudd’s followers is “just a delusion”.

He said that Michael Kroger’s analysis on Sky News that Julia Gillard is anti-American and anti-Israel is “not a fair analysis at all.” Gillard was a member of the Socialist Left when it was hostile to America and Israel’s right to live within secure borders but “she’s changed”. I think she has now more appropriate views on Israel than Kevin Rudd.

In late 2005 she visited Israel for the first time shortly followed by her first trip to the United States. Her attitudes began to change from the realities of what she saw in each country. Those trips were “crucial”.

Henderson said that couple of years ago he was quizzed by a group of visiting Arab journalists on Australia’s attitude to Israel towards the end of the Howard era. They insisted that Australia was influenced by the American line but I could not accept that. Australia has been offering bipartisan support to Israel since the days of Bert Evatt and the Chifley Government.

He said that he was very pleased to visit to Beersheba and visit the park dedicated to those Australians who lost their lives there in the First World War. It helps “bind the relationship  between the two nations.”

He said that when he appeared on ABC-TV’s “Q&A” last year he received a very hostile reception from the audience when he said that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East with the possible exception of Iraq which is all the more reason why it should be said.”

Anne Henderson said she and her husband have always been interested in the history of the area. She agreed with her husband in stating that “Israel has got  a huge story to tell about being a normal, successful modern economic story”. She spoke of her feelings at Beersheba and the modern development and said ” you look at all this and jus across the way the rockets come”. She talked of their visit to Sdrot and witnessing the damage done by rockets. She said: “Israel is incredibly vital – I could go every year.” She said Julia Gillard would not have had an understanding of the country had she not visited it.

“I am going back as soon as I can”.

Questioned about his visit to Ramallah: “When we were there in 1995, there was a prospect for a meeting in Gaza with Arafat but it didn’t happen. This time we met with three senior Palestinian Authority ministers in Ramallah. Mustapha Barghouti, the Foreign Affairs Minister and a senior figure from the Justice Ministry. There was a feeling they wanted to be closer to Australia. Some were concerned that Australia’s position was supportive of Israel. I made the point that this was not new and is historically the case. I told them the PA had to convince Australia of its position.”

He said that the discussions were good. He repeated he is not an expert adding: “A meaningful peace between the PA and Israel was not going to happen in a hurry. It seems a fair way off.”





2 Responses to “At lunch with Anne and Gerard Henderson”
  1. Tomas says:

    Hendo. You will turn 68 soon and you still don’t understand the Middle East!

  2. Andrew fowler says:

    Gerard do try to get it right. The point about Palestine in the 4 Corners report was simply to identify a matter where Rudd disagreed with Gillard. Nothing more than that. Neither a position of the Left or the Right. Just a fact.

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