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Labouring in Vain? The ALP, The Jewish Community, and Israel

May 22, 2014 – 12:13 pm22 Comments

By Dashiel Lawrence:

laborSomewhere in Israel stands a small JNF forest named in recognition of former ally and friend of the Jewish state, Bob Carr. The forest was bestowed in Carr’s honour back in 1996; that seems like an eternity ago. His recent comments about the influence of Australia’s pro-Israel lobby make it hard to believe the former NSW Premier and foreign affairs minister was once deeply sympathetic to Zionism and Israel.

Carr’s distancing from Israel and Australian Jewish communal leadership speaks to the ALP’s increasingly vexed relationship with Israel and the Jewish community itself.

In November 2012, then Prime Minister Julia Gillard was forced to withdraw Australia’s support for Israel in a United Nations vote after being opposed by the majority of her cabinet. At the time Gillard was warned she would be rolled by caucus if she did not back down.

Upon departing the Prime Minister’s office in 2010, Kevin Rudd left a mixed record on Israel. The expulsion of an Israeli diplomat following the Mossad Passport fiasco surprised many.

30 years ago Australians Muslims constituted only a very small proportion of the population. Today the country is home to over half a million Australians who identify with Islam. Most are concentrated in Labor’s heartland – the Sydney’s western electorates of Blaxland, Watson, Fowler and Parramatta.

At the 2010 Federal Election, Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan warned the ALP not to take their vote for granted. No doubt many are now heading his call.

Australian Muslims, like Australian Jews, are not a homogenous entity. Some were born in Lebanon, Turkey and Pakistan. Most were born in Australia. They maintain diverse social, religious and political identities.

However it’s likely they would be more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause than not. Israel has been at war with most of the Muslim majority states that surround it. It is likely this has and will continue to colour the way Muslims in Australia view the Jewish state and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In years to come, will they press Labor for a more sympathetic stand towards the Palestinian cause? It’s almost inevitable.

For their part, the Australian Jewish community has long identified with Israel. In comparative terms they now stand as a well-established, resourced and socially mobile community.

There is little doubt these factors, together with the effective work of the pro-Israel lobby, contributed to the friendly relations Australia has historically maintained with Israel.

In recent time Michael Danby has been a fierce advocate for Jewish communal interests and those of the State of Israel with the Labor Party. He has acted as a key mediator between the ALP and the Jewish community. However he cannot represent Melbourne Ports forever. And when he departs it is unlikely the Jewish community will find a similar advocate within Labor’s ranks.

Of the ten richest Australians that featured on the 2012 BRW rich list, five were Jews. One of the richest is Frank Lowy. A prominent supporter of Israeli and Jewish diaspora causes, he has a well-established friendship with former Prime Minister John Howard and connections to both major parties.

However times are changing.

Australian Jewry is hardly an electoral force. It accounts for a very small proportion of the country’s population. Only the electorates of Melbourne Ports and Wentworth carry something that could approximate a ‘Jewish vote’.

In 30 years the electoral influence of Muslim Australians will have significantly increased. There is likely to be one if not more Australian Muslims sitting atop the BRW rich list. They may not necessarily identify with the Palestinian cause – but they will not be friends of Israel either. Frank Lowy will be gone. Michael Danby will have retired.

Australia’s demographics and electorates are evolving. The ALP’s relationship with Israel and the Jewish community is only set to become more complicated.

The JNF’s Bob Carr Forest will soon be an obscure reminder of a very distant time.

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  • TheSadducee says:

    And I guess the next question is – ‘And?’

    It would have been nice for the author to have made a suggestion/s of what can happen next i.e.

    i. the Jewish community shifts in alignment with that changing perspective in Labor and the growing Muslim community and becomes increasingly cooler towards Israel?

    ii. the Jewish community abandons Labor and moves towards a more sympathetic perspective (if that exists)?

    iii. the Jewish community resists the changing demographic and perspective situation through a variety of campaigns?

    iv. something else?

  • Henry Herzog says:

    This is cherry picking of what Labor is perceived, by the Right, to have done something wrong in regard to support for Israel, obviously aimed at criticising Labor. Have a look in your own back yard Dasheil Lawarence at the times the coalition wronged Israel, like Tim Fisher’s critiques and Susan Lay, not to mention your former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. But closer to home, your Liberals are planning to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, to the delight of Fredrick Toben and other Right wing anti-Semitic extremists, so they can lawfully vilify us.

  • Henry says:

    Dear Ed, have you banned me for life?

    [Editor: No Henry. All comments are under moderation and do not get through until I approve them. I am unable to be on call 24 hours a day to approve comments so there may be lag time between submission and the comments appearing.]

  • TheSadducee says:


    Actually the article is an assessment of the growing divide between Labor and its relationship with Israel/Zionism/Jews.

    I don’t think the piece is particularly controversial in that it is reflecting on a fairly obvious development – that there is a growing estrangement between Labor, the Left and Israel/Zionism/Jews.

    I think it is more constructive to examine what comes next and/or what Jews should do next rather than indulging in ‘whataboutery’.

    Assuming that you agree that there is an issue developing here what do you suggest can/should be done? If you don’t think there is an issue, why not?

    I’m up for the conversation and hope that others are too.

  • Dashiel Lawrence says:


    All fair questions and ones the communal leadership needs to be working through and planning for.

    i. While I do not accept the premise that Australian Jews are set to disengage on mass from Israel, I do believe we are seeing a more critical and realistic identification with the state than several decades ago. People are no longer willing to support Israel unconditionally. Nor will they be mobilised by peak bodies like the ZFA or the JCCV in ways that they once were. The vast majority of the community will continue to identify with Israel but it will be in plural and diverse ways.

    ii. It is very likely (although empirically difficult to prove) that Australian Jews have begun to turn away from Labor. There are a multitude of demographic reasons that account for this and they do not necessarily have to do with Labor’s changing relationship with Israel. Although I suspect it won’t/and it hasn’t helped. The Liberal Party’s position on Israel is unchanged but it remains to be seen whether an unambiguously pro-Israel stance will attract them more votes.

    iii. The pro-Israel lobby has already been highly influential in shifting Labor’s position towards Israel. I don’t think anyone should underestimate what kind of impact the Rambam fellowship program has. Nor the close connections fostered in Canberra by a number of people, particularly Mark Leibler. Those that lobby will need to continue to be innovative in how they engage federal parliamentarians and advisors – particularly Labor’s. They would be wise to look to the future and consider a succession plan to ensure there is a strong Israel advocate within Labor’s ranks beyond Danby.

    More than anything else there needs to be more grassroots engagement in local, state and federal politics from the Jewish community. You only have to look at the action taken by iwJAFA in Marrickville to show that a small, self-organised and funded group can mobilise and make their voice heard. They achieved a tangible political outcome – one that was reflective of the group’s broad identification with Israel.


    Thanks for your comments.

    I am not critiquing the ALP’s position vis-a-vis Israel. I am merely pointing out that Australia’s demographics are changing, and in line with that we should not expect their default position to be pro-Israel.

    You are right to point out that there are coalition members, past and present, who want a more even-handed foreign policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However they are very much in the minority. On the whole the Liberal Party will not face the same electoral pressures that are and will continue to confront Labor.

    I am sorry to disappoint but I am not a member of the Liberal Party.

  • Ian Grinblat says:

    I know nothing of the author, but the ubiquitous Henry Herzog has framed this (and everything else) as a Liberal-Labor issue.
    It is not.
    This is about the changing nature of Australian society and also to some extent about our dreadful insecurity as a community. Since the 1960s when we realized that we did in fact have considerable standing as a community, we have honoured so many politicians from both sides and been disappointed many times although certainly not every time.Perhaps we ought not try so hard – ultimately any politician will act to preserve his/her own seat and then for the good of his/her party.
    While I sympathize with Henry Herzog (I grew up in a staunchly Labor household) I fear he is trying to do the impossible – the grassroots of the Labor party is anti-Israel and ultimately, their point of view will be reflected in the parliamentary party.
    Bob Carr’s shabby actions were in the pursuit of a place on the Security Council (forgivable perhaps) but the publication of his memoirs was nothing but a vainglorious attempt to aggrandize himself and his role in history in the course of which he tipped a bucket of shit all over us. I guess we now know his true colours.
    As a Liberal PM, Malcolm Fraser supported the US and therefore Israel but he also had to fend off those constant and annoying snide attacks from the Left that of course he would support Israel because his mother was Jewish. If that is the standard of political debate in this country (and I fear it is actually widespread even among educated people) then we are right to be insecure but ingratiating ourselves with politicians is certainly not the way to go.

  • Gedalia says:

    The author raises an important topic that needs more discussion and analysis. There is a distinct lack of emerging talent in Australian politics at the moment, matched only by a distinct lack of talent in emerging Jewish community leadership.

    Jewish voters cover the political spectrum. The injection of influence and involvement should also reflect this.

    Jewish professional networks with political affiliations would be a double edged sword, but if such interest groups emerged at least they could (if effective) put forward information and advocacy that contributes towards political manifesto and electoral policies.

    As for the forest dedicated to Bob Carr, I would happily donate funds to the JNF for the purpose of uprooting it and using the branches to pollute the atmosphere. It would be a fitting tribute and metaphor.

  • R B says:

    With Tanya Pilbersek becoming no. 2 in the Labor party and being the shadow foreign minister, it seems that the romance between the Labor and Israel and the Jewish community is in a coma.

  • Ben Derusai says:

    The author makes several valid points, the main one being that the Labor Party is increasingly turning to the Muslim vote and will undoubtedly reduce its support for Israel in the coming years.

    Whilst there are certainly some in the Liberal party who are not supportive of Israel, the Liberals are by and large, much more sympathetic with Israel’s cause. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is a breath of fresh air on the local political scene when it comes to supporting Israel as a friend of Australia.

    Michale Danby has been a shining light in this area, but just watch the Labor Party line up with the Islamic community in the near future!

  • Henry Herzog says:

    No Ian Grinblat, this article is a Labor/Liberal thing (how me being ubiquistous has anything to do with this discussion is puzzling, unless Grinblat wants to discredit me). Labor has a long and strong record of support for Israel. Even as a member of the ALP I have publicly chastised Bob Carr when he was foreign minister and since then. Labor has two Jewish members in cabinet who are both very strong and active advocates for Israel. Labor state opposition leader Daniel Andrews gave a most touching testimony of what a great, democratic, inclusive and progressive country Israel is.

    The only Jewish coalition MP has his photo opportunities supporting Israel has never stuck his neck out for Jewish causes.

    Having communicated with Tanya Plibersek I, for one, am utterly convinced that she is a strong supporter of Israel, it’s right to protect itself and exist in security.

    But as far as I know Israelis know and recognise Australia as a great friend, even though Carr is considered, rightfully, an idiot, irrespective of who is in power, and they know that Australia respects whoever the Israelis decide should form government. This fear mongering of Labor, in the future, becoming hostile to Israel is just fear mongering. When Mark Dreyfus was appointed the Attorney-General by Julia Gillard, the first question asked of him by Julie Bishop, then shadow foreign minister, asked him in question time about what was the government’s position on settlements in the West Bank, when it was a question for the foreign minister, but Bishop asked Dreyfus because he’s Jewish.

    And giving right wing racists licence to vilify us Jews is something that will affect us right here and not Israel. It’s far more important for me, who has made Australia home, that we live in a society where laws aren’t changes to accommodate anti-Semites and bigots.

  • Ben Derusai says:

    Henry Herzog makes a lot of points, but unfortunately most of them are not relevant to this discussion. It is true, Labor has been a good friend of Israel in the past, but the thrust of the article is that this is likely to change; this is a point that I agree with.

    The fact that Julie Bishop asked a question of Dreyfus and not the foreign minister is a red herring and adds nothing to this discussion.

    Neither does Herzog’s thinly veiled reference to the changes to Section 18C which is a topic he beats his drum about at every opportunity, regardless of whether it has anything to do with the topic.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Why is it that those on the right can only use rhetoric and insults to ague their case; no substance what so ever. Like Ben Derusai; because he says it’s irrelevant, it must be so. No rational argument or facts, just conspiracies of what may be. And Derusai’s perception of a “thinly veiled reference to changes to section 18C”, is truly remarkable. Hardly veiled, I came out and say it. But to suggest I have nothing to do with the topic of 18c, is highly ignorant and offencive. My late Parents were Holocaust survivors. My Dad’s entire family was murdered by the Nazis, I am a member of a vulnerable minority group and the school my kids attend need security gaurds, and I don’t want Holocaust deniers the freedom to say what my family went through is a lie. And it’s this which is a thin veil of their rampant hatred of Jews, with more sinister motives in mind. Derusai may find anti-Semitism and racial hatred acceptable, but, even racially adjusted, the majority of Australians don’t. Does Derusai believe that racist taunts have nothing to do with him? What, the consequences of racial vilification hasn’t and can’t affect Jews?

  • Ben Derusai says:

    Without minimising the history of Herzog’s family and the tragedy which was the shoah, this was supposed to be a discussion on the strength of the Labor party’s support for Israel.

    Herzog, as usual, meanders off the topic to give us a tirade on Section 18C.

    So to get back on track, my contention is that Labor is side-stepping the Jewish community’s support for Israel and warming up to the Muslim community because there are votes in it. And one only needs to look around to see that most of today’s antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment is driven by the Arab/Muslim world.

    At least the Liberals have the strength of their convictions and are proving themselves to be staunch life-long friends of Israel and our Jewish community, not the fair-weather friends that Labor is turning out to be.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    I doubt very much whether Israel gives a toss on who is in government in Australia, as it knows we support her. Australia has been and will continue to be a strong supporter of Israel’s right to live in secure borders, free from terrorism and threats of inhalation, irrespective of who is in government. Now I have my own conspiracy theory Mr Derusai: with the Muslim population growing, some, if not many, will prosper and move to the more leafier suburbs where the Liberals hold blue ribbon seats, and as with Sussan Ley, Assistance Minister for Education in the Abbott government, has been highly critical of Israel because of the many Muslims she represents, they too will try to apprise their Muslim constituents in having this “even handed” approach to the conflict. So I predict that in the future the Liberals, for the same reason as Sussan Ley, will be swayed by the anti-Israel sentiments of their Muslim constituents.
    However, Derusai and I differ on this; he is concerned what the future, that he predicts, may be about Australia’s support for Israel under a Labor government, while I am concerned about granting bigots and anti-Semites the right to racial vilify us here and now.

  • Ben Derusai says:

    On the contrary Mr Herzog – I would think that Israel pays a lot of attention to who is on government here. With so few friends in the world, the Israelis would know that Labor has been a friend of Israel in the past, but the Libs are now much more supportive.

    You again miss the point; the original article was about Labor’s dwindling support for Israel and not racial discrimination. Is it totally impossible for you to argue a point without changing the subject back to your favourite topic of Section 18C?

    I will try once more – tell me why I shouldn’t be worried about Labor’s alignment with the Islamic community which comes at Israel’s expense. Never mind the truth as long as there are votes in it!

    And I will make it even simpler so you can understand: don’t talk about 18C, just explain to me how the Liberal government is not a better friend of Israel right now, in 2014.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    In all the postings we see in Galus Australis we see comments which sidetrack from the original article, but here we have Mr Derusai insisting that any comments other than, who is better for Israel, is irrelevant. And again Mr Derusai resorts to demeaning remarks to ague his point. I repeat, Israel doesn’t give a toss who is in power here, but by admitting Israel has only a few friends, perhaps Mr Derusai should be more concerned why that is so; surely, all the others can’t be seen as anti-Semites.
    I wish Mr Derusai would say what is his position on section 18c, although he considers it irrelevant in the constrains of this very limited discussion about who is better for Israel. I have another conspiracy theory and that is, this discussion about who is better for Israel, is a thin veil by the paranoid right to malign the Muslim community as they support Palestinian rights and therefore vote for a party who is the less staunched supporter of Israel. Well as Mr Derusai pointed out, most of the world supports Palestinian rights. But their must be another reason for that other than appraising their Muslim constituents. In fact, by supporting a two state solution, although that is not likely with all the pressure from the extremists on both sides, by granting the Palestinians a home land in the West Bank, you can also be seen as a supporter of Palestinian rights. And to detract further, I am very happy and comfortable living and raising my children here, knowing that under what ever government, there is support for Israel, but it makes me very much less comfortable knowing that this government intends to make racial abuse and anti-Semitism lawful, and by definition, acceptable. Have a read of the columns by Dvir Abramovich of the ADC and Sam Lipski in last week’s Jewish Blues (23 May) on the rise of anti-Semitism around the world. Muslims aren’t mentioned but, both writers express their concerns about the right and the extreme right. Remember them? They were responsible for the Holocaust.
    But what is really telling of Mr Derusai’s depth is him asking me, who is the better friend of Israel right now? Is that on a scale of 1to 10?

  • Henry Herzog says:

    [Editor: Henry, I have explained a number of times now that every comment must await moderation before it appears on the site. I do not work for Galus full time, so there is sometimes a lag between a commenter posting and the comment appearing. Please be patient.]

  • letters in the age says:

    Next generation of leaders?

    Josh Frydenberg supports Israel 100%

    Tim Wilson wants to vilify the community but also loves Israel and is like Josh a strong supporter. ( He’s a bit contradictory and confused but he’s getting there….)

    Cmon, , it’s not that bad is it?

    Future generations will have a different perspective and won’t have all the holocaust baggage with them.

    They’re careerists with a Jewish interest but come with a different way of thinking

  • Ben Derusai says:

    It’s impossible!

    No matter what the topic of discussion is, Henry Herzog only wants to talk about Section 18C.

    I can only assume that if he can’t mount a convincing argument to support Labor’s relationship with Israel, then it must be on very shaky ground.

    This is where the author of the original article started, so in the absence of any supportive evidence by Herzog, one can only conclude that the Liberal government is in fact better for Israel.

  • letters in the age says:

    With the utmost respect to the issue discussed on this thread

    Racial vilification is always going to be part of the discussion with the community for obvious reasons.

    I’m sure many children of grandparents are concerned that their children don’t sell out their identity and souls

    Ruthlessness equates to corrupt and toxic behaviour

  • Henry Herzog says:

    OK Ben, allow me to present my assessment of who is better for Israel here in Australia, and dare I mention, Australian Jewry as follows:
    On support for Israel and it’s current policies:
    Liberals 8

    Now, on who supports the Jewish community here:
    Liberals 5
    Labor 10

    But just one more: Who supports peace in Israel:
    Liberals 4
    Labor 8.

    And that’s it from me.

  • Jonny says:

    Within 30 years there will be peace on the Palestinian front… Resolution is inevitable, So the question is really will Jews and Muslims be divided on political grounds in Australia and on domestic issues or matters in Israel? I don’t think so. Positive assumptions!

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