SYDNEY, Australia — Jewish leaders are fuming over explosive allegations by Australia’s former foreign minister that the “hard-line” pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne wielded “extraordinary influence” on Middle East policy during Julia Gillard’s tenure as prime minister.
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In his new book, “Diary of a Foreign Minister,” Bob Carr accuses Gillard of “subcontracting our foreign policy to party donors” and slams “extreme right-wing” pro-Israel lobbyists who had an “unhealthy” influence on Australia’s policy on Israel and Palestine.
In particular, he refers to his showdown with Gillard over the November 2012 United Nations vote on upgrading the status of Palestine. Gillard wanted to oppose the motion; Carr galvanized the party room and, together with Labor members of Parliament, forced the prime minister to back down despite lobbying from Jewish and Zionist groups.
“I had to resist it, and my book tells the story of that resistance, coming to a climax when there was a dispute on the floor of caucus about my recommendation that we don’t block the Palestinian bid for increased non-state status at the United Nations,” Carr told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation this week.
“[It] was being inappropriately and bullyingly exercised in the government,” he said. “It needed to be resisted so I resisted and I am proud to have done that.”
Carr was foreign minister from March 2012 to October 2013, at the tail end of a period of turbulent relations between the Australian Labor Party and the Jewish community. These relations soured soon after Kevin Rudd won office in 2007.
Australia expelled Israel’s Mossad chief in Canberra in 2010 after fraudulent Australian passports were used in the assassination of senior Hamas commander Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai. Carr continued Australia’s shift away from automatic support of Israel at the UN and incensed Jewish leaders by making several statements branding all Israeli settlements “illegal.”
“Bob Carr’s suggestion that there has been anything untoward in the way Jewish community organizations have conducted their advocacy, as we do openly in a democracy like many other organizations including Palestinian advocacy groups, is as bizarre as it is misconceived,” said Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, adding, “It is ludicrous and insulting to [former PM Julia Gillard and other politicians] to suggest that they can be manipulated or bought.”
Albert Dadon, who took both Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd on trips to Israel before they became Labor prime ministers, also criticized Carr’s claims.
“The reality can be closely scrutinized for everyone to see: There’s not much money provided,” said Dadon, who hosted high-profile Labor gatherings before Australia’s 2007 and 2010 elections.” Australian politicians are influenced by the strength of the argument, which is to their credit. “When it comes to the Jewish people and Israel, [Carr] made up his mind a long time ago,” Dadon said, adding, “Mr. Carr has a huge self-worth about his own opinion and he seems upset that the Melbourne Jewish leadership don’t agree on what constitutes the best interest of Australia.”
Dr. Danny Lamm, the new president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, also had harsh words for the former foreign minister. “His willingness to publicly slur supporters of Israel with the age-old canard of undue Jewish influence in political affairs and to breach cabinet and personal confidences is not only wrong in principle but is sadly indicative of his true nature,” Lamm said.
In his book, Carr turns the blowtorch on Mark Leibler, a high-profile power broker who chairs the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. He recalls a meeting with Leibler before Carr was to address some 40 high-profile Jewish leaders at a breakfast Leibler hosted in April 2013. Carr claimed Leibler vented on him in a “‘how dare you’ tone” about abstaining on the Palestine vote at the UN and his handling of the “Prisoner X” affair.
“Why can’t he and the lobby understand that their take-no-prisoners approach does their cause immense harm,” Carr writes.
“I think the great mistake of the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne is to express an extreme right-wing Israeli view rather than a more tolerant liberal Israeli view,” Carr said this week.
But Leibler branded Carr’s claims of an “unhealthy influence” as “a figment of his imagination.”
“How does the Jewish lobby control the prime minister? Through donations to the ALP and sending people to Israel. I mean, give me a break. Would anyone seriously accept that?’’ Leibler told ABC TV on Wednesday night. “Julia Gillard is an independent-thinking woman. She can come to her own conclusions without being influenced by the Jewish lobby,” he added.
Johnny Baker, a veteran Zionist leader, was present at Leibler’s breakfast when Carr delivered his speech.
“His claims about the disproportionate power of the Jewish lobby are akin to the notorious Walt and Mearsheimer book [“The Israel Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy”], which many view as anti-Semitic,” he said.
Carr seems to be deliberately misconstruing the consensus view of the Jewish community, said Baker. He is president of Ameinu, the umbrella organization of Labor Zionists in Australia.
“Like many others in our community and in Israel, I am critical of the settlement enterprise and believe it to be counterproductive to Israel’s interests. I publicly voiced those sentiments at the meeting. Yet the singular and unbalanced focus on the settlements without reference to the many other obstacles to peace is where the disagreement with Carr lies.”
Colin Rubenstein, the executive director of Leibler’s the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, said he was “puzzled and disappointed” by Carr’s claims of influence.
“The fact that some of [Gillard’s] conclusions on promoting Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation were different from Carr’s is no more evidence that she was under the influence of ‘unhealthy’ pro-Israeli lobbying than Carr’s views are evidence that he is under the ‘sway’ of Australia’s several pro-Palestinian lobby groups,” Rubenstein said. He said Carr’s allegation that AIJAC is an “extreme right-wing” organization was “bizarre,” given that both AIJAC and Carr support a two-state solution. AIJAC makes “no apologies” for making its case on the Israel-Palestine conflict, he added.
Michael Danby, a junior minister in the Labor government when Carr was foreign minister, accused Carr of being a bigot.
“No lobby in Australia, I understand, has that kind of influence. It’s laughable,’’ Danby told ABC Radio.
But Carr retorted today, emphasizing his track record of support for Israel. “I was president of Labor Friends of Israel for a long time,” he said. “As a young politician I stood on the back of a truck outside the entertainment center as part of a Jewish community protest at the Russian Ballet because of the treatment of Soviet Jews. I have spoken at Holocaust memorials.”
On November 10, 2012, just weeks before the controversial UN vote on the status of Palestine, Carr wrote in his diary: “Our stance on the Middle East is shameful, in lockstep with Likud, designed to feed the worst instincts of Israel and encourage it to self-destruct.”
He recalls he wanted to issue a statement saying he “condemns” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of new construction in settlements, but his advisor told him he’d received advice that “any statement on settlements — even that we express ‘concern’ — is vetoed by the prime minister.”
“Subcontracting our foreign policy to party donors is what this involves, or appears to involve,” he writes.
After the prime minister backed down, Carr called U.S. Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich to advise him Australia would not be siding with Israel and America. “I told him it confirmed a shift in thinking in my party — tired of Netanyahu and the bellicose right wing and sick of the spread of settlements.”
Carr wrote that his victory sent a widespread message — “to the settlers and fanatics in Israel, a message to the noble Israeli liberals and moderates, a message to a suffering West Bank population, battered and trapped, a message to the UN membership about Australia, the country they just elected to the Security Council.”
The furor is unlikely to have lasting impact on relations between the Labor Party and Jewish leaders, since neither Carr nor Gillard are in the party, or even in parliament. Moreover, Labor leader Bill Shorten wooed Jewish leaders last week when he addressed the Zionist Federation of Australia.
And it is unlikely to affect bilateral relations between Canberra and Jerusalem since Prime Minister Tony Abbott is an unashamed and unapologetic supporter of Israel. His Liberal Party has realigned Australia’s support for Israel at the UN.
But it has the potential to stoke anti-Israel and anti-Jewish sentiment, reaffirming stereotypes of Jewish money and influence inside the corridors of power.
Carr clashed with Jewish leaders back in 2003 when as the Premier of New South Wales he agreed to present the Sydney Peace Prize to Hanan Ashrawi, a prominent Palestinian scholar and political leader, despite a campaign to urge him to withdraw. He refused.