02 July 2015

Is the ALP abandoning Israel?


Jeremy Rapke Q.C.
Jeremy Rapke Q.C.

... of late there has been much discussion on whether one can still be Jewish on the British left. The discussions have been prompted by the left’s increasingly shrill criticism of Israel, which has too frequently morphed into crude anti-Semitism.
Is the situation any different in Australia? Can an Australian Jew for whom the survival of Israel is important and the international isolation of the Jewish state a matter of concern continue to support the Australian Labor Party?
It has long been the policy of the ALP to support an “enduring and just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders internationally recognised and agreed by the parties, and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live in peace and security within their own state”. The ALP’s policy differed little from that of the conservative political parties. 
Indeed, until recently, there had been political bipartisanship on the Israel/Palestine question.
The ALP policy recognised that the solution to the conflict lay in a settlement to be negotiated by the parties – the Israelis and the Palestinians. Appropriately, the Labor Party did not seek to attribute blame for the failure to reach a final settlement of the underlying decades-old dispute. That did not mean, however, that there were not parties to the dispute who were not more blameworthy than others.
If newspaper reports are to be believed, it is now proposed to jettison the “even-handed” approach encapsulated in the Labor Party’s platform and to adopt a partisan position that is founded on historical inaccuracies and irrational discrimination. If adopted, it will forever paint the ALP as a tainted and opportunistic political party. It will increase the discomfort and dismay of supporters for whom the injustice of the new position will be palpable. It will be seen to mock Bill Shorten’s repeated declarations that the party he leads stands for fairness for all.
At the July National Conference of the ALP, Tony Burke, the shadow finance minister and federal member for Watson, will introduce a resolution which states that if no progress is made towards a two-state solution and Israel continues to build and expand settlements a future Labor government will consult like-minded nations towards recognition of the Palestinian state. The resolution will, if carried, mirror that adopted by the NSW branch of the ALP last year, except that it will omit the call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and the tendentious assertion that such a state is the only way to achieve Middle East peace.
Three premises underlie the proposed resolution and attest to its historical inaccuracy and partisanship – first, Israeli expansion and building of settlements is delaying the creation of a Palestinian state; secondly, no blame attaches to the Palestinians for delay in the creation of their state; and thirdly, recognition of a non-existent state by Australia and other countries would advance the cause of peace in the Middle East.
It is beyond the scope of this article to examine whether the so-called “two state solution” will solve anything. There are many who once subscribed to that notion who, following years of unprovoked hostilities by the Palestinians and their allies in surrounding countries, are skeptical whether a Palestinian state bordering Israel will be anything other than another base from which rejectionists will launch deadly attacks on the Jewish homeland. However, for the purpose of analysing the legitimacy of the Labor Party’s proposed change in policy, I will assume that the two-state solution is still regarded as a feasible and just outcome.
Anyone acquainted with the history of the Middle East knows that ever since Jews returned to the land now forming the state of Israel, whether that return was inspired by a belief in     G-d’s promise to Abraham about the land or was compelled by political and social pressures in other countries, the Arabs of the region have been unwilling to accept a Jewish presence in their midst. Antipathy to Jewish settlement in the Middle East pre-dates by many years the United Nations vote on the partition of Palestine in 1947 and the declaration of Israel’s independence a year later.
When Israel was attacked by five Arab countries in May 1948, all of which were intent on destroying the nascent state and slaughtering its residents, it neither occupied the Gaza Strip, the West Bank nor East Jerusalem. It occupied a sliver of land pursuant to a resolution of the U.N. The same resolution had divided the land of Israel into two states – one for the Jews and one for the Arabs. The Arabs, including those who would later call themselves Palestinians, rejected the offer of a state as they had done since 1937 and on numerous occasions after 1948.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation, the forerunner of the Palestinian Authority, was founded in 1964 with the stated purpose of the “liberation of Palestine” through armed struggle. When it was founded, Israel did not occupy any of the land that the Palestinians now seek for their state. What was it that the PLO wanted to liberate? What, according to the PLO, constituted “Palestine” which was to be liberated from the Jews? Haifa? Tel Aviv? West Jerusalem? Beer Sheva?
A dispassionate examination of the history of the Middle East will demonstrate that the core of the conflict lies in the unwillingness of Arabs to accommodate a Jewish presence in that part of the world. The dispute is not about land or borders or autonomy or occupation; it is an existential dispute which can only be solved by the destruction of Israel.
Adoption of a policy that attributes the failure to reach a final settlement of the conflict on Israeli settlements is shockingly misconceived. It ignores history. It ignores Palestinian rejection of offers of a state in 1937, 1939, 1947, 1979, the 1990s, 2000 and 2008. It ignores the failure of the Palestinians to seek their own state between 1948 and 1967 when the West Bank was in the control of Jordan. A policy that fails to recognise years of Arab hostility to Israel and repeated rejection of offers of compromise by Israel as significant factors in the prolongation of the dispute is willfully blind to reality.
It fails to have regard to years of Arab rejectionism and terrorism. It ignores the belligerency of Israel’s neighbours that long preceded the Six Day War but was enshrined in the September 1967 Khartoum Resolution of 8 Arab heads of state – “No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it”. A policy that proceeds on the assumption that imposing a Palestinian state on the combatants will advance peace is naïve. Is it really thought that imposition of other parties’ views on what is feasible and just will settle an intractable conflict which has defied intervention by the world’s most powerful nations?
There is not the slightest recognition in the resolution, as Robert S. Wistrich has written in his excellent book “From Ambivalence to Betrayal”, of the “jingoistic, racist nature of Arab nationalism or the genocidal threat posed by radical Islam”.
One has to assume that all this is known to the ALP and its members. Why, therefore, is the party seemingly intent on adopting a policy that will be seen by many as ill-conceived if not biased and discriminatory? Why seek to change the party’s policy on the Middle East at a time when the world is witnessing a troubling increase in anti-Semitism and the growing isolation of the Jewish state?
The resolution proposing the change in its policy is to be moved, not by the shadow minister for foreign affairs, but an MP whose seat contains the largest Muslim population of any Australian electorate. Might this be the political, rather than the moral, imperative that underlies this move?
Whatever the reason for the policy shift, the Labor Party is increasing the disquiet, isolation and vulnerability of Australian Jewry. It may increase its popularity among Muslim voters, but at what cost? In the absence of progress towards the two state solution, judged by the Labor Party to be sufficient, what then? Would we see the party move to impose boycotts or other sanctions on Israel?  And if that were to occur, could we afford to ignore the warning of the former CIA director, David Petraeus, that the international BDS campaign poses a strategic threat to Israel?
The ALP resolution panders to those who hate Israel. It will embolden those whose antipathy to the Jewish state is founded in racism. Ultimately it is an unprincipled attempt to attract votes and will compel Australian Jews to question the ALP’s commitment to the security and long-term viability of Israel, the only free and democratic country in the region.
The party is proposing to compromise its values and long history of principled support for the tiny state for political expediency. If adopted, it will compel its erstwhile Jewish supporters to question whether they still have a place on the left of Australian politics and whether they can continue to support a political party with so little regard for history and fairness.
Jeremy Rapke Q.C. is a former Victorian Director of Public Prosecutions