At the heart of Australian Jewish community's schism: the 'Israel lobby' debate
Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr slams 'extreme right-wing' pro-Israel lobbyists in Melbourne who had an 'unhealthy' influence on Australia’s policy on Israel and the Palestinians.
Amid the rubble of former Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s explosive allegations about the “extraordinary influence” of the Melbourne-based pro-Israel lobby lies a fault-line that differentiates Jewish leaders in Sydney and Melbourne.
In his soon-to-be-released book, “Diary of a Foreign Minister,” Australia’s chief diplomat from March 2012 to September 2013 accuses then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard of “subcontracting our foreign policy to party donors” and slams “extreme right-wing” pro-Israel lobbyists in Melbourne who had an “unhealthy” influence on Australia’s policy on Israel and the Palestinians.
In particular, Carr takes aim at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), run by national chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein in Melbourne.
“Why can’t he (Leibler) and the lobby understand that their take-no-prisoners approach does their cause immense harm,” Carr fumes in one diary entry. He also fires a volley at the self-described “falafel faction” inside the Labor Party, including Jewish MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus, also from Melbourne.
Danby, Rubenstein and Leibler all had rebuttals published last week in the mainstream Australian press, slamming Carr’s claims as bizarre, inaccurate, reckless, laughable and disingenuous.
Danby also claimed Carr’s allegations “empowered” white supremacists. “If the day comes when I read that one of the radicals have put a bullet in your head, I will say good riddance to that piece of un-Australian shit,” one email to Danby reads. Another is headlined: “You are scum,” and a third: “Jew-loving asshole."
But Carr, who was president of Labor Friends of Israel in the 1970s, stood by his position on Monday night during a live panel debate broadcast on ABC in which he continued to blast the “Likud-aligned” Israel lobby in Melbourne.
“I simply disagree with the hardline case they’re pressing, and I don’t believe it’s in Australia’s interest to adopt it," he said, adding, "and I don’t believe it’s in Israel’s interest."
Fellow panelist Brendan O’Neill, editor of Britain’s online-only current affairs magazine “Spiked,” slammed Carr’s suggestion that Australia’s foreign policy could be “outsourced."
“What that echoes in my mind is this old, quite ugly prejudice about Zionist groups or Jewish groups being the puppet masters of politics,” he said.
“It’s always the Jewish lobby or Israel lobby that is depicted as being particularly sinister, blackmailing politicians, controlling politicians, making politicians fall at their feet. I think that’s a real double standard on Israel at the moment."
But the chorus of condemnation against Carr did not reference the 2003 “Ashrawi affair,” when Carr, who was then premier of New South Wales, agreed to present the Sydney Peace Prize to Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian scholar and political leader.
It triggered a concerted campaign by Jewish leaders who accused Ashrawi of being “an apologist for terror.” According to a senior Jewish leader involved at the time, Jewish leaders from Melbourne and Sydney met to discuss tactics.
“We deliberately decided that to confront him publicly would be to force him into a corner and he could then be seen to be bending to our position,” he told Haaretz this week.
“The better approach was to inform him quietly of the problem, thereby giving him the option of being unavailable [to present the prize]. We agreed that was the right tactic. Then Colin Rubenstein went on the attack."
“Carr was incandescent about it,” the source recalled.
Allegations of the Israel lobby using their “formidable financial power” to engage in a campaign of “deceit, bullying, and intimidation” soon emerged.
The fallout between the Jewish leadership in Melbourne and Sydney was laid bare, with Danby accusing AIJAC of waging a “counter-productive” campaign, while Rubenstein said at the time: “The debate was also sadly sidetracked by some Jewish leaders, who, when confronted by claims that the community was bringing anti-Semitism on itself by speaking out, engaged in scapegoating other Jewish organizations rather than repudiating this canard."
Danby told Haaretz this week: “I rightly criticized them (AIJAC) then and rightly criticize Carr’s elitist and racist nonsense now."
But Philip Mendes, a political analyst and author of the forthcoming book “Jews & The Left,” said: “It is possible some of the other Jewish leaders – in Sydney or elsewhere – might take a less aggressive tone than the Leiblers, but at the end of the day no Jewish leader has demurred from the general attack on Carr, or expressed a different public view to AIJAC on the settlements issue."
He added: “What is black and white is that Carr is tagging key Melbourne pro-Israel activists as ‘Likudniks’ whose alleged support for two states is disingenuous because their defense of West Bank settlements will preclude two states. Carr is of course correct on that issue."
AIJAC, which is privately run, is probably correct in saying it represents the consensus of the Jewish leadership, Mendes said. “The problem is that consensus is more akin to the views of the current Israeli government than the views of most Australian Jews."
Another Jewish leader told Haaretz that the difference between the leadership in Sydney and Melbourne has narrowed now that the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which is elected, “has been actively and substantially resourced largely by the same pool of donors [as AIJAC]."
He concluded: “That raises the question – where is there a forum for honest debate in the community? Where can the ‘donor paradigm’ be questioned? Even at Limmud Oz there is no acceptance of basic ground rules."
But Dr Danny Lamm, immediate past president of the ECAJ, said the council has a "radically different" donor base to AIJAC and gets almost half of its funds from its state-based affiliates.
ADDITION: The final paragraph of this story was added on 30/04/14.