Anti-Israel Tirade in Sydney Parliament Shows Strained Ties Between Australia and Israel

On heels of the Prisoner X scandal, an Australian MP accuses Israel of running torture camps and compares the Jewish state to Nazi Germany.

It was a firebrand speech that could have been delivered in the Lebanese parliament although the acrimonious debate that erupted in its wake would have been more at home in the Knesset.

But neither Middle East venue hosted the spectacle. Rather, the allegations that the creation of Israel was a “corruption of justice,” that Gaza is “the world's largest open-air prison camp,” and that Israel ran “torture camps” in southern Lebanon were made in the New South Wales parliament in Sydney last week.

In scenes rarely witnessed on these usually serene shores, Labor councilor Shaoquett Moselmane, who was born in a village in southern Lebanon, unleashed the vituperative tirade during a debate earlier this month about a motion on a parliamentary visit to Israel in January hosted by the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies.

One senior Jewish official, who declined to be named, said the outburst in NSW parliament was the latest episode in a tense chapter in Australia-Israel relations that comes in the wake of the recent “Prisoner X” scandal, involving Australian-Israeli Ben Zygier, the alleged Mossad operative who committed suicide while imprisoned in Israel.

In his missive, Moselmane also accused Israel of “massive violations of human rights,” saying: “If there was ever a group in need of protection from war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, it is the Palestinians.”

The first Muslim ever elected to the NSW parliament added this: “I salute the [Lebanese] resistance. Imagine what the response would have been in 1941 or 1942 if we had condemned resistance against Nazi Germany. Guns would have been blazing at us for not resisting Nazi Germany. In Lebanon the resistance was able to force the Israelis out.”

His Labor Party colleague, NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel deputy chair Walt Secord, interjected on several occasions during the heated exchange, calling an unprecedented three points of order against his own party member.

“This speech is simply an anti-Israel rant,” Secord told the chamber.

But Lynda Voltz, also from Labor, fumed at Secord for “trying to stop democratic debate in the chamber.”

Greens MP David Shoebridge also blasted the Jewish Board of Deputies trip. “How could members, who wanted to get a balanced understanding of the issues facing Israel, Palestine and the Middle East, go to the other side of the planet and fail to visit Gaza, the world’s largest outdoor prison,” Shoebridge asked. The MP charged the organizers of the trip with "editing out" Palestinian and pro-peace Israeli views – this, despite the fact that the parliamentary delegation met with Bethlehem's Palestinian governor and heard a presentation by the left-wing Peace Now group.

“It was very disappointing to hear such outrageous slurs and baseless comments made against Israel in an Australian parliament," said NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive officer Vic Alhadeff, who was in the gallery for the three-hour debate. “Fortunately, they came from a handful of marginal MPs and were quickly and appropriately condemned by Labor and Liberal MPs.”

He described Moselmane’s comparison with Nazi Germany as “outrageous” and “beyond belief,” adding: “I would describe it as a one-off rant but a one-off rant that showed the depth of animosity from a marginal group within the parliament.”

Alhadeff, who was editor of the Sydney edition of the Australian Jewish News when Secord was a journalist, said he was in the gallery during some of the debates about the Israel boycott in 2011.

“While there were hostile critics of Israel no one ever made a comparison to the Nazis,” he told Haaretz.

Secord, who grew up on a native Indian reserve in Canada as the son of a full-blooded Mohawk-Ojibway tribalist, was previously chief spin doctor for then NSW Premier Bob Carr and political strategist for Kevin Rudd in the run-up to his 2007 federal election victory.

“Everyone knows that I am a life-long supporter of Israel and the Jewish community," Secord said after the debate. "And I completely disagree with the statements. I took the unusual step of doing so publicly in the NSW Parliament. I make no apologies for taking a stand.”

The senior Jewish official, who declined to be named, said that the rant in NSW parliament had come on the heels of several other incidents, such as the "Prisoner X" scandal, that have strained Australia-Israel relations. “Prime Minister Julia Gillard is still hugely supportive [of Israel]," he noted, but cited other signs of tense ties, namely Canberra’s harsher tone towards Jerusalem and what he termed the federal government’s abandoning of Israel at the UN in an apparent exchange for votes to secure its UN Security Council seat. “The question has to be asked what promises did Foreign Minister Bob Carr make to win us the UN Security Council seat?”

Bloomberg