Bob Carr: Israel lobby’s overreach far exceeded any other diaspora community

Oct 9, 2021
jerusalem israel
(Image: Unsplash)

For casting light on the savage lobbying the Australian media — and politicians — receive from the Israel lobby, John Lyons should be congratulated.

The former editor of The Sydney Morning Herald John Lyons has done democracy a service by publishing a small book exposing the most concerted and best funded foreign influence operation in Australia: the Israel lobby and in particular its dogged attempts to shape media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

He provides a strong evidentiary base. His example of a full court lobbying exercise against the use of the noun Palestine in a Sydney Morning Herald crossword is the case study reductio ad absurdum. He recounts Israeli diplomats visiting The Australian’s editor to complain about 23-year-old Jennine Khalik, a journalist on his staff with a Palestinian-Australian background — as if it were remotely their business. He recounts a fiercely pro-Israel journalist on his paper who took it upon himself to excise critical articles about Israel.

Lyons is able to quote Chris Mitchell his former editor-in-chief to confirm the “interference” — Mitchell’s word — happening without his knowledge. Still Mitchell also confirms the lobby’s Colin Rubinstein was so ever-present policing Israel-related coverage that, “You don’t even need to say, ‘Colin who?’”

Mitchell, a hard nosed Murdoch editor, told Lyons that when neo cons captured the George W Bush administration “… you had a real radicalisation of the Israeli lobby here, almost hand in hand.”

My experience as premier and foreign minister confirms that the lobbying exceeded that marshalled by any other diaspora community. As foreign minister on my first visit to the UN I released a very routine statement noting the latest burst of Israeli settlement activity, stating that it was not helpful to the peace process. From Australia arrived a request I make myself available for a telephone conference with “the community”.

How the Australian public is short-changed on Israel and Gaza

This expression had only one meaning: that as foreign minister I should justify myself to Mark Leibler and Rubenstein who would patiently explain to me that Australia was not entitled to criticise settlements even though a clear breach of international law happens when an occupying power settles its own people on territory captured in war and, in this case, on land intended as the future Palestinian state planned by the Oslo Accords.

But, then, the Israel lobby also argues that no Australian politician or newspaper was even entitled to use the term “occupation” or “occupied territory”. I declined the invitation to justify myself for
stating Australian policy.

No organisation representing Arab, Chinese, Armenian, Greek, or Turkish communities has sought to litigate every comma and police every statement from the foreign minister of their adopted homeland concerning the country they left behind.

At a state Australian Labor Party conference, it was put to me that on settlements I should drop the term “illegal under international law” and use the softer language, “not in line with international law”. At the state ALP conference which was about to unanimously endorse my motion supporting recognition of Palestine a small diehard pro-Israel group lobbied that while my motion would proceed I should agree to no debate — presumably because the state of Israel was at once too special and too fragile to be subject to loss of dignity from public criticism.

This overreach had been exceeded only in 2003 when I as premier accepted an invitation from Sydney University to present its Sydney Peace Prize to a famous Palestinian advocate Hanan Ashrawi, a secular (Christian, as it happens) moderate. Ironically I accepted because I thought it was a favour to Israel. I was then the president of Labor Friends of Israel which I had launched with Bob Hawke in 1977 and thought that to reward a Palestinian who supported the peace process was a happy thing for Israel’s security.

Crossword clues and bullying: the almighty power of the Australian pro-Israel lobby

The savage lobbying campaign orchestrated by the same lobby Lyons anatomises drove Lucy Turnbull as deputy lord mayor and Kathryn Greiner to withdraw their attendances. It threatened Sydney University with loss of donor support. I stood firm and was gratified by public support for not giving in to raw bullying. Some in the Jewish community, I’m told, thought the lobbying had hurt their cause.

When in 2012 as foreign minister I persuaded the Gillard government we should not vote in the UN to block a motion lifting the status of the Palestinian delegation I was pushing a half-open door. Despite the frantic lobbying I found colleagues thought the chauvinism, apartheid laws and settlement expansion deserved a rebuke. In this sense some in the Jewish community are right. The lobby doesn’t win every time.

But because democracy dies in darkness Lyons deserves congratulations for exposing the phone calls, the visits to editors, the frantic emails, the subsidised trips. But in the end evidence speaks for itself, like the 600,000 Israeli settlers or the 2018 Nation State Law which entrenches Jewish superiority over Israel’s Arab population.

Enough to make this author in 2014 become patron of Labor Friends of Palestine.



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