SYDNEY – Australian Jewish leaders were seething this week after a former foreign minister who founded the Labor Friends of Israel in the 1970s announced that he will become patron of the Labor Friends of Palestine.
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Bob Carr, who was foreign minister from 2012-2013, cited the “takeover of Zionism by the fanatics” and its lurch toward an “apartheid” state as a trigger for his backflip.
During a speech to the Australian Friends of Palestine Association last weekend, he pointed to the scale of new Israeli settlements, as well as the posture of Israeli government ministers.
“Up to 60 percent of the Israeli cabinet is on record as opposing a two-state solution,” he said. “[Israel] has gone from cosmopolitan to chauvinist, with some ministers espousing a brand of radical nationalism like that of France’s Le Pen or Austria’s Jörg Haider,” he added.
While Carr’s revelation stunned some Jewish leaders, it came as little surprise to others.
“Mr. Carr’s decision to publicly align himself with the Palestinian cause comes as no surprise, given his abysmal track record on Israel in his thankfully limited tenure as Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs,” said Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia.
“His willingness to misrepresent historical fact while currying favor with his new friends does him no credit, nor does it aid the cause of peace which he claims as his motivation,” said Lamm.
Since 2003, when Carr controversially agreed to present Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi with the Sydney Peace Prize despite trenchant opposition from Jewish groups, he has incensed Jewish leaders on numerous occasions.
As foreign minister under the previous Labor government, he led a revolt inside the party to overturn then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s intention to oppose Palestine’s bid to upgrade its status at the United Nations. Instead, Australia abstained in what was a humiliating defeat for the PM.
In his memoirs “Diary of a Foreign Minister,” released last April, Carr attacked the “extraordinary influence” of the pro-Israel lobby based in Melbourne, led by Jewish power broker Mark Leibler.
Michael Danby, one of two Jewish MPs inside the federal Labor Party, accused Carr of singling out Israel. “We will not resolve the conflict, nor impose a solution on the Israelis or the Palestinians, with pious words from Australia. Bob Carr seems to have appointed himself the ‘pope of social democracy,’ where he can announce doctrine ex cathedra.”
Carr used his speech to compare Israel with apartheid-era South Africa. “So, an indefinite occupation morphs into the extremists’ goal of a Greater Israel,” he said. “With one catch – it will have two classes of citizen. ‘A term used about another country on another continent,’ Ehud Barak told me when I, as foreign minister, discussed this very dilemma. The word is apartheid, of course.”
‘Elephant in the room’
Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), said Carr’s apartheid analogy was “tendentious.”
“The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is an international one, whereas the conflict between the races in South Africa was intranational,” he said.
The former foreign minister’s rationale for his decision to become patron of the Labor Friends of Palestine was notable for a “glaring omission,” Wertheim added: “The elephant in the room – the Muslim vote in western Sydney.”
Dr. Dvir Abramovich, chairman of Australia’s B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, blasted Carr’s allegations of apartheid as an “inflammatory lie,” adding, “It has been continuously employed by Israel’s detractors and enemies to delegitimize and demonize the Jewish state.”
Josh Frydenberg, the only Jewish MP in the governing Liberal Party, accused Carr of suffering from “relevance deprivation” syndrome. “This grandstanding by Bob Carr is all about him,” Frydenberg said, in an interview on Sky News. “He’s been silent as we’ve seen ISIL or ISIS [Islamic State] go ahead and engage in beheadings in Iraq and Syria, and butchery and genocide, but he’s just obsessed with the Israel-Palestinian issue. I just think it’s because he’s got relevance deprivation syndrome.”
Even Jewish liberals rounded on Carr. Irving Wallach, president of the local branch of the New Israel Fund, told Haaretz this week, “Accusing Israel of apartheid is false and destructive. This wild language provides an excuse for those in Israel who claim there is no Palestinian partner for peace. By all means be a friend of Palestine, but you also need to be a friend of Israel.
“Supporting statehood for the Palestinians is not a threat to Israel and should not be a pretext to shut down dialogue,” Wallach added.
In his speech, Carr – who colaunched the Labor Friends of Israel in 1977 – said he still considered himself a friend of Israeli liberals, but his new post as patron of the Friends of Palestine served the cause of a “just peace.”
The blowback from Carr’s decision will likely further strain relations between Jews and the Labor Party. While tensions have eased since former PM Kevin Rudd’s departure after he lost the general election in September 2013, the left flank of the party continues to push for recognition of a Palestinian state while the right flank maintains its support for a two-state solution.
A showdown on recognizing Palestinian statehood looms at next year’s national conference, given that state conferences in New South Wales and Queensland have already passed pro-Palestinian resolutions.
Carr’s bombshell comes as the ECAJ released its annual report into anti-Semitic incidents in Australia, revealing a spike of more than 35 percent in the last year.
The report’s author, Julie Nathan, claimed that parts of Carr’s controversial autobiography “played in all sections of the media for many days, and were cited as an endorsement of its views by a neo-Nazi group, in anti-Semitic flyers that were letterboxed in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.”
A total of 312 incidents were logged, with the ECAJ attributing much of the spike in incidents to the summer war in Gaza between Israel and Palestinian militant groups.