SYDNEY - The opposition Labor Party has been plunged into another battle with Australia’s Jewish leaders following a proposal by pro-Palestinian lawmakers to ban its members from participating in sponsored trips to Israel.
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The motion by Labor Friends of Palestine, which will be moved at a state conference in Sydney beginning February 13, has triggered a bitter backlash, with one Jewish leader blasting it as “intellectually offensive and discriminatory” and an Aboriginal leader describing it as “verging on anti-Semitic.”
If passed, it would preclude state MPs from New South Wales, party officials and Young Labor members from joining paid trips to Israel.
The motion says the ban should be enforced while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “continues settlements, refuses a Palestinian state [and] brutally mistreats Arab residents of the West Bank.” Taking part in paid-for trips “in the circumstances is an insult to the Australian community who support our party,” the resolution says.
But Aboriginal leader Warren Mundine, a former national president of the Labor Party who has been on a sponsored trip to Israel, slammed the motion.
“It is an illogical, verging on anti-Semitic approach,” The Australian newspaper quoted him as saying.
“Name another country that the Labor Party bans people from going to? There are none. What is the difference with this country? The only difference is that they are Jewish, and I just find that quite sickening that a party that I was president of would move down that road.”
One of the proponents of the ban is Shaoquett Moselmane, the first Muslim MP elected to the state parliament in Sydney, who in 2013 accused supporters of Israel of being “cancerous” and “malicious.”
The motion highlights an ongoing push within Labor towards the Palestinian narrative, bolstered by Bob Carr, a former foreign minister who was a founder of the Labor Friends of Israel in 1977 and has recently become a patron of the Labor Friends of Palestine.
Colin Rubenstein, who runs the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council told Haaretz that the motion, if passed, would be a “damning indictment” of the Labor Party.
“This resolution is part of a bullying campaign to try to stop members of the Australian Labor Party from learning about the genuine complexities of the Middle East, by people who prefer ignorance and simplistic slogans to informed debate.”
The proposal is “intellectually offensive and discriminatory,” he added.
AIJAC is one of several Jewish organizations to offer sponsored trips for politicians, alongside the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and The Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum. All these trips take Australian politicians to Israel and the West Bank. The majority of the time is spent in Israel, although participants do go briefly to Ramallah and Bethlehem to meet Palestinian officials.
Albert Dadon, who runs the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum, said he “totally agrees” with Mundine.
“The direction Labor is taking is the same route being taken by their counterparts in England,” he said, referring to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the UK Labour Party.
Dadon said he was saddened by the reluctance of Israel’s friends inside the Australian party to speak out against this motion.
“Where is Bill Shorten?” he asked, adding that the Labor leader was scheduled to join his group's Israel trip last December but cancelled without giving any explanation.
Shorten has said he supports MPs “exercising their own common sense” and did not see the need “to start giving them travel instructions.”
Vic Alhadeff, the chief executive of the Jewish Board of Deputies, said it was a small faction inside Labor that was pushing the motion.
“Clearly, a few Labor members are put out that an increasing number of their colleagues want to understand the reality on the ground for themselves,” he said.
Michael Danby, one of two Jewish federal Labor MPs, told Haaretz: “Bob Carr and his extremist offsider Shaoquett Moselmane are exhibiting their bad faith, double-standards and hypocrisy."
“They have nothing to say about the mass rape of Yazidi women, the persecution of Christians by Islamists or the summary executions of gay people by Hamas and Iran,” he added.
A scathing editorial in The Australian on Wednesday, titled “Labor’s anti-Israel obsession,” argued that the factors behind the motion are “Green-Left-style activism and base pandering to the Muslim vote in western Sydney.”
There are some 500,000 Muslims living in Australia, and just over 100,000 Jews, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Relations between the Jewish community and the Labor Party hit rock bottom in the 1970s under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, but improved dramatically in the next decade under Bob Hawke.
Relations soured again in 2002 and 2003 when Labor MPs unleashed tirades against Israel and the Jewish lobby in federal parliament, leading Barry Cohen, a former Labor minister, to claim in 2004 that “anti-Semitism is now rampant in the Labor Party.”
“They were prophetic words,” Dadon told Haaretz this week. “It is rampant.”