Features Australia

Labor must not turn its back on Israel

The ALP has a long history of support for Israel. As it should.

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

16 August 2014

9:00 AM

Like many supporters of Israel across the Australian community, I am stunned by the erosion of sympathy and advocacy within the Labor Party in defence of the only democratic nation in the Middle East.

Shrugging one’s shoulders and writing off Labor as a lost cause would be a mistake for three reasons. First, there are plenty of advocates of Israel within the ALP, probably a majority of the Right outside NSW. Second, notwithstanding recent setbacks such as the loosely worded Bob Carr motion carried at July’s NSW Conference, social democrats still have more in common with Israel than against. Third, giving up the ghost with one side of politics is to make support for Israel, or the Palestinians, partisan causes – a dangerous position in the longer term.

What is needed is re-engagement with emerging, future generations of Labor. New strategies are also required to restore balance to the debate.


As a student in 1977, I joined Labor Friends of Israel, an organisation formed by Carr with plenty of backing across the centre and right of NSW Labor. It was morally right then and now to resist thinly disguised anti-Semitism from the far-Left on campuses and elsewhere.

There was then a lot of deep attachment from many NSW Labor figures like Lionel Bowen (1922-2012), Deputy Prime Minister under Hawke and Joe Riordan (1930-2012), anti-communist union leader, MP for Phillip and briefly a Whitlam Minister. Riordan admired the Leon Uris book Trinity as one of the best accounts of the Irish experience. He also loved Uris’s Exodus which told the story of Zionist immigration to existing Jewish communities in Palestine by refugees and others from around the world. Riordan believed the Jewish struggle for statehood was akin to Irish battles for independence.

The support for Israel from Australian Workers’ Union leader, President of the NSW ALP from 1960-1970, Charlie Oliver (1901-1990) was so ardent that his Will stipulated that the President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies read the Old Testament at his funeral – which ALP member Leslie Caplan duly did. In this era, Bob Hawke’s passionate defence of Israel against the truly mad Labor official Bill Hartley (1930-2006) and others in the Victorian ALP inspired generations of Labor moderates. In NSW, Jewish Labor luminaries like Premier Wran’s Ministers Syd Einfeld (1909-1995) and potential successor as Premier Paul Landa (1941-1984) enjoyed wide respect.

All this changed for six main reasons. First, events moved on. There is fatigue and confusion on why a peace deal has not been done. Israel’s case is often not pitched effectively. Second, Israel is both Goliath and David, the little guy and the giant. This is a difficult public image. Third, Israel changed. In the last 37 years Labor held office for 8 years, Kadima 4. The old social-democratic Labor-Zionist coalition is frail and far from a majority. Fourth, the revisionist Zionism of “greater Israel” inspired by Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940) at times inspired self-defeating utopian dreaming in parts of the Israeli Right. Every time Yitzak Shamir, Prime Minister 1983-84 and 1986-1992, spoke of Judea and Samaria, this was a dog whistle. Fifth, settlements on disputed land much beyond Israel’s 1967 borders causes bewilderment even amongst those in Israel’s corner. Sixth, complacency developed in debating opponents about Israel’s moral worth and right to exist. In politics there are no permanent victories.

Here are six perspectives to appeal to a new generation of Labor moderates. First, the single greatest reason for continuing Israel-Palestine conflict remains Jew-hatred within Palestinian society. Until Palestinians find their Mandela moment, this long, tragic conflict will continue. In slogans on every public wall in Gaza and in much of the West Bank, in Arabic-language television shows, in Palestinian school classes, there is incitement to kill Jews as Jews not just as Israelis. How can there be real peace in that atmosphere? Second, Hamas is pledged to destroy Israel, not negotiate any form of two-State solution. Its Charter is a combination of demonic bloodlust and the weird; blaming Zionists for such “evils” as Freemasonry, Rotary and Lions clubs, and for the drug trade and alcoholism. Nutty stuff. How can there be peace with opponents who do not believe you should exist nationally, collectively or individually? Third, Hamas is playing deadly games with human targets – its own. By firing rockets from amongst the Gaza populace, it provokes counter-attack. Hamas’ lust for Jewish blood is matched by its apparent religious zeal in sacrificing those Palestinians under its forcible control. Seemingly, the more women and children killed, the better for undermining Israel’s legitimacy. Israel, of course, makes mistakes. In defending its communities from indiscriminately-targeted rocket fire, tunnel-raiding and abductions, Israel faces complex moral and practical dilemmas. These should be better understood by the democratic Left. Fourth, within Palestinian society the battle is between those seeking peace and the Arab world’s first secular democratic state versus those seeking to impose an Islamist one bent on perpetual religious war. Israel remains the best hope for the former. Fifth, most Israelis and most people around the world back Israel doing what it has offered before – land swaps for peaceful co-existence. If only the PLO had accepted the peace offer mediated by Clinton in 2000. Sixth, a majority of Israelis crave peace but must have security of life. Even most of the Israeli right, including Netanyahu, would agree to a comprehensive peace settlement, if it could be guaranteed by a Palestinian partner serious about and capable of delivering one.

Within Australian Labor it is clear that there are many good people who want to support Israel, but lack arguments and debating experience. In the United Kingdom, there is a partisan, well-organised Labour Friends of Israel. This model could be an example here. So too is the example of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue which encourages political contact across political and geographical boundaries. Israel’s cause is strong. Patient argument is needed. Avoiding battle is not an option. The resistance begins.

Michael Easson is a founding member of the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue.

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Show comments
  • harry freedman

    what a well written, articulate and intelligent article; well stated Michael Easson

  • Geoff Sirmai

    Bravo. Succinct. Accurate. Moderate. Everything we would like to live by in ‘live and let live’ Australia. The reference to my late cousin Lesley Caplan (a great Australian) brought a tear to my eye too.

  • Marcus L’Estrange

    In understanding the conflict in today’s Palestine a good starting point is David Ben-Gurion’s statement in 1937: “We must expel Arabs and take their place “…If we are compelled to use force….Our force will enable us to do so”.

    We move onto the 1947 UN partition plan which gave two thirds of Palestine to 500,000 Jews but only one third of Palestine to 1.5 million Palestinians. Hardly equitable, even allowing for the Negev Desert being part of a proposed Israel. Later Ben-Gurion admitted that had he been an Arab he would have fought Jewish settlers to the death. The UN plan was a result of the need to expiate western guilt over doing nothing to stop The Holocaust.

    Ben Gurion: “The Jewish state now being offered to us is not the Zionist objective. […] But it can serve as a decisive stage along the path to greater Zionist implementation. It will consolidate in Palestine, within the shortest possible time, the real Jewish force, which will lead us to our historic goal”. In a discussion in the Jewish Agency he said that he wanted a Jewish-Arab agreement “on the assumption that after we become a strong force, as a result of the creation of the state, we shall abolish partition and expand to the whole of Palestine.”

    And so the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, began. Zionism’s founding fathers had selective blindness, unable or unwilling to see what was in front of their eyes: the presence of another people in the Land of Israel. Israel is built on layer upon layer of denial. Its most obvious form is physical. The Nakba is the disaster of the Palestinian people: the destruction of the villages and cities, the killing, the expulsion, the erasure of Palestinian culture. it is also the story of the Jews who live in Israel, who enjoy the privileges of being the ‘winners’.

    Israeli villages built on the remains of places that 70 years ago were Palestinian, their names erased. Lydda has become Lod. Ashud becomes Ashdod. Aqir becomes Ekron. Bashit becomes Aseret, Hadita becomes Hadid and so on. If Zionism was to be, Lydda could not be. If Lydda was to be, Zionism could not be. If it had not been for the “damned” of Lydda, the state of Israel would not have been born.

    In 1956 Moshe Dayan said: “We have turned their lands and villages where they and their forefathers previously dwelled, into our home”.

    In 1967 the younger Israeli generals elbowed out the older generals and convinced the then and reluctant Cabinet to start the Six-Day War because they saw the Egyptian army as not being ready for any military action for at least 18 months. They thought they would get in first. As soon as the war was over they started on colonizing the West Bank and The Golan Heights. In 1967 there were 20,000 Jews living in The West Bank. Now there are 400,000 and plans to make it 600,000 by 2020. Hardly a plan to excite the Palestinians and bring about serious negotiations. David Ben-Gurion, in the immediate aftermath of the 1967 war, suggested Israel unilaterally return the territories it had just conquered (except Jerusalem).

    To me the leadership class of the Zionist movement, particularly since the old European Zionists faded from history, have had no intention of negotiating since 1947. They have a Messianic claim that sees Israel from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Nothing more, nothing less. Eretz Israel was a religious concept which was turned by Zionists into a political doctrine in order to emphasize an exclusive Jewish right of possession regardless of the Arab presence. The Zionist movement has not given up on an expansive definition of the territory, including Jordan and more, even though political pragmatism has engendered a focus on the region west of the Jordan River.

    The Israeli leadership class have engaged in ethnic cleansing (e.g. Lydda, Shantila) and like the Japanese, rewriting history and de-Arabising Palestine since World War II. Until Israel faces up to that nothing will happen. Gaza is a blockaded refugee camp without the basic needs of regular electricity, food and medical supplies. A hellhole resulting from the Israeli blockade with the tunnels reminding me of the tunnels dug by the brave Jewish prisoners during the Warsaw Ghetto.

    The fight-back from the Palestinians is a result of despair of being under the occupying boot of the Israeli army, which grew out of the terrorist Haganah, Stern and Irgun gangs. Palestine, for the last 2000 years, has been primarily an Arab/Muslim land and in many ways the Peel Commission plan of the 1930’s was a better way to go. As noted in the right wing UK magazine “The Spectator”: “No matter how hard those who smear those who demand fairness for Palestine, they will not be able to shut out the cries of the innocent who are suffering under the settlers’ boot. Long after the likes of me (author) are gone, Israel’s brutal occupation of an innocent people will help anti-Semitism in a way Mein Kampf never imagined.

    The only hope now is for a huge UN force to force Israel back to the pre-1967 borders as suggested by David Ben-Gurion and UN Resolution 242 and then lock up both negotiation teams into a room, feed them bread and water then only to be released when they come to a permanent settlement on solving the Nakba. After the withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders an alternative is to hand the issue of compensation, land disputes, to The International Court of Justice to adjudicate. Their decisions are to be enforced by the UN. A horrible alternative is to see the PLO moderates elbowed out and the cause is taken over by the barbaric IS.

    • whs1954

      Whether you, or the Palestinians, like it or not, no matter what Ben-Gurion said in the 1930s or Theodor Herzl in the 1900s, right now in 2014 there is a Jewish state in the MIddle East, that takes up a tract of land merely the size of Wales, and it is not going away, and whining and moaning about how it got there is now an irrelevance. It is there, and the Palestinians can work with it if they choose.

      Instead they choose to fire rockets at it; then, as they are incompetent, and Israel actively protects its citizens, they paints themselves as poor ol’ innocent David up against Goliath. And here are the useful idiots of the west to stick up for Islamism.

      You use filthy hyperbole about brutal occupation, yet ignore the fact most Palestinians and Arab Muslims would wipe the Jews and the Jewish state off the face of the earth if they were competent. You write about the Palestinians innocence – cobblers.

      And of course you make the now tired and worn-out cliche; accusing Israel of ethnic cleansing and making the ludicrous and offensive comparison between Gaza and the Jewish ghettos of WWII. The Jews of Warsaw didn’t actively desire to wipe the Germans off the face of the earth. And if Israel wanted to indulge in ethnic cleansing how to you reconcile that with the fact it has the capacity to do so and yet hasn’t.

      Do you realise when you write this stuff there is an Arab Muslim world stretching from Morocco in the west to Pakistan in the east, via Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the Palestinians could just as easily clear off to the hundreds of millions of square miles of the Muslim world and leave the Jews to their Wales-sized slip of land? It is not for Israel to cede land outside the 1967 borders to those who would quite plainly use that land as a bridgehead towards wiping Israel off the map.

      • Marcus L’Estrange

        I notice you didn’t actually reply, point by point. This is not a purely Islamism vs Zionism comment but merely a comment on what happened to the Palestinians.

  • NahumNigel Froumin

    Widen the focus please and see what’s going on in the neighbourhood – i.e. the rest of the world.
    A British soldier in uniform was murdered in a London street by Moslems fired up emotionally by their preacher in the mosque.
    Christians in Mosul, Iraq are given the choice: Convert to Islam! or you must leave or die!
    200 schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria and forcibly converted to Islam and sold as slaves.
    A journalist has his head chopped off by a ISIS terrorist.
    I could go on with more horrid stories.
    Moderate Moslems make themselves irrelevant through their silence and inaction.
    Those in the enlightened western world who have ethics and codes of behaviour which respect democracy and the rights of the individual — politicians, bureaucrats and generals alike — are watching the events of the war between Israel and Hamas very closely. If it ends with a decisive and clear victory for Israel then all will feel some relief.
    But if Hamas is left with anything that it can put on its flag with which it can wave ‘Victory’ — then the Moslem extremists will be greatly encouraged and further inflamed to kill the infidel. and nowadays that means all of us — not just me, my family and countrymen in Israel, but you too in London, Paris, NYC and Bradford.

    Where is the leader of the free world? He’s either on vacation at Martha’s Vinyard MS or fundraising for the congressional elections.
    But listen! The fate of the world for the coming century depends on the events of the next two weeks. Be warned!
    Yours
    Nahum

  • Bobby

    it very simple, a group of people would like to go back
    home now please?

    The first person who sorts this out gets

    Must congratulate the agents of confusion the appeaser’s
    ad apologists, how they spin the link between refugees and extremists, and what has happened in London, Madrid etc is
    hilarious. You could not write this stuff…its like my dog ate my assignment…

    Good try guys.

    The rest of us, silent as we are have been silence by the
    fear that whatever we say well lets bring out the “racist” bat

    Strange how the apologists and appeasers are not racists…..and
    in the event you are clearly unsure of the spin….let’s bring out the “H” word
    that puts people in their place

    Ever wondered why opinion polls, blogs etc seem to be a
    challenge for the appeasers

    ….its the “don’t mention the war moment”……I
    suppose if you hang in there long enough they will all die out or just give up
    migrate to the EU USA etc then it’s all yours…just as Santa Clause…. sorry
    Moses ….sorry … that other made up mythical figure who promised you blah
    blah blah at a time when animals spoke and
    bushes burned…the sad thing is that many of the apologists and appeasers are actually
    well read and bright…….what’s their problem ? The Nuremburg defence?

    One little problem……you may have missed this in your rush
    to the book of lies…the other side is breeding out of control…….and out breeding
    you it seems……I suppose the guys at HQ have a solution to that…..I wonder what
    it could be ? Really… do you have a solution….a final solution perhaps?

    Keep up the spin guys….you may not know it but the emperor
    has no clothes….but please don’t let us spoil the spin…what else could you do
    in life…..

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