30 September 2013

Labor should support Israel

From The Australian Financial Review Editorial 27.9.2013:

The Australian Labor Party has a long history of support for Israel.
An attempt by the head of the Islamic faith in Australia to determine Labor’s choice for a Senate vacancy raises the troubling notion that Australia’s foreign policy has been set by an ethnic and religious vote in a handful of seats in Sydney’s western suburbs.

On Thursday, The Australian Financial Review’s Phillip Coorey revealed that the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad had threatened to withdraw support for federal Labor in Sydney’s west if union leader Paul Howes was parachuted into a vacancy expected to be left by the departure of Senator Bob Carr. The Mufti accused Mr Howes of a “blind bias” for Israel.

Religious groups have every right to put their views on matters affecting their interests. But political parties need to make it clear they won’t change policy to please politically well-placed minority interests – particular when the views being challenged are in step with contemporary Australia.

Mr Howes, the national secretary of the Australian Workers Union, holds views on Israel shared by most across the political spectrum. He supports the continued existence of the only genuine democracy in the Middle East and a two state solution where both Israel and a Palestine state can peacefully co-exist. This newspaper shares those views.

This attempt by the nation’s senior Islamic cleric to influence politics is not an isolated event. Labor attempts to court the Muslim vote have caused friction in the party between those who believed in the traditional bipartisan approach to Israel, China and the US and those pushing for a stronger pro-Palestine position. When former NSW Premier Carr entered the Senate and became foreign minister in March last year he was forthright that Australia should act independently of the US in the fraught politics of the Middle East, in contrast to the preferences of then prime minister Julia Gillard.

In November, Senator Carr, who is expected to resign when the Labor leader is announced next month, led a successful cabinet move to roll Ms Gillard, who wanted to support Israel and the US in the United Nations on the status of Palestine.

Instead of voting to reject a resolution to give Palestine observer status in the UN, Australia abstained. Palestine easily gained its observer status. No doubt the Mufti noted that ­current ALP leadership candidate Bill Shorten voted with Ms Gillard on the issue. In contrast, Mr Shorten’s rival, the Left’s Anthony Albanese backed abstention.

Jewish immigrants and their descendants have made an enormous contribution to Australian society, as more recent Muslim arrivals are bound also to do.
But the Australian Labor Party has a long history of support for Israel. It should not barter this away for ethnic votes in a handful of electorates.

The Australian Financial Review