The Grand Mufti of Australia’s Islamic community has been embroiled in a political scandal after threatening to withdraw his community’s support for the Labor Party over a candidate who has a “blind bias for Israel.”
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In a leaked email published last week by Fairfax Media, Dr. Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, who lauded Gaza as “the land of Jihad” during a visit in December 2012, said if Paul Howes’s bid for Australia’s upper house was successful he would encourage withdrawing support for Labor in the Islamic strongholds in western Sydney.
Howes, the national secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union, has been a vocal opponent of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign against Israel, branding it as “an attempt to demonize Israel.”
He withdrew from the contest last week amid contested claims it was linked to the leaked email. Howes was tipped to replace Bob Carr, who as foreign minister in the previous Labor government rankled Jewish leaders by repeatedly labeling all Israeli settlements “illegal.”
Mohammed’s September 9 email, written on his behalf by an advisor and sent to several Labor MPs with large Islamic constituencies, described Howes’s candidacy as “saddening and alarming.”
“Paul has had a repeated pattern of blind bias toward Israel,” it said. “His appointment would not at all help the engagement effort between the Labor Party and the wider Muslim community.
“As you know we have worked very hard to marshal our community to support and successfully retain the majority of Labor Party seats in western Sydney against all odds, and the choice of Paul will threaten our efforts to maintain this momentum, especially if new elections are called in the next year.”
The article in the Australian Financial Review also quoted Jewish MP Michael Danby, who said the Labor Party does not decide its candidates based on instructions from the Grand Mufti.
In a letter to the newspaper this week, Danby wrote: “Engagement with the Islamic community means making a strong distinction between an important monotheistic religion – Islam – and Islamism.
“Islamism can and must be understood at the same time as a political ideology which is misused as a cover for extremism. It is a difference I have always made in every speech, in every statement, and every utterance. Confusing Islam and Islamism is like confusing Germans with Nazis, or Russians with Soviet Communists.
”The front-page article prompted Mohammed, who met Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh during his 2012 visit to Gaza, to issue a clarifying statement saying he was apolitical.
“Palestine and Jerusalem have a special place in the hearts and minds of all Muslims,” he added.
His comments came as former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard was this week named as the recipient of the 2013 Jerusalem Prize, given by the Zionist Council of Victoria, the Zionist Federation of Australia and the World Zionist Federation to “an outstanding individual who supports Israel, Jerusalem and the Zionist movement.”
“Julia Gillard is an outstanding friend to the Jewish people and State of Israel,” Sam Tatarka, president of the Zionist Council of Victoria, said in a statement. “She is an … unstinting supporter of the Jewish and Zionist cause.”
Gillard, who will deliver the keynote speech at the ceremony in November, said she was pleased to accept the prize “in tribute to the unshakeable commitment of Australia to Israel.”
During her three-year term Australia’s first female PM signed the London Declaration Against Anti-Semitism and a petition demanding a minute’s silence for the victims of the Munich massacre at the London Olympics. She also made Raoul Wallenberg Australia’s first honorary citizen and was an ardent supporter of Israel, although her preference to oppose the upgrade of the status of Palestine at the UN was overturned in a party revolt.
She was ousted on the eve of the September 7 election by Kevin Rudd in an attempt by Labor MPs to defy devastating polls and make a last-ditch attempt to remain in office. But Labor’s defeat was widely welcomed inside the Jewish community, which had endured a turbulent relationship with the government.
Conversely, the victory of the Liberal Party is being touted as bad news for the nation’s estimated 450,000-plus Muslim community, because of Tony Abbott’s hardline stance on asylum-seekers as well as his unapologetic support for Israel.
Born in Egypt Mohamed was appointed Grand Mufti by the Australian National Imams Council in 2011.