Why this NSW Labor Conference was different.

Two years ago, 28 resolutions overwhelmingly critical of Israel were prepared for the 2014 NSW Labor Party conference. Not one came close to supporting Israel.

The lead agent on the issue was former foreign minister and NSW premier Bob Carr – who served as founding chair of NSW Labor Friends of Israel for about 27 years.

As foreign minister, Carr took Australia to a new position on Israel, abandoning Canberra’s longstanding policy of opposing United Nations votes that would elevate Palestine’s status and forcing prime minister Julia Gillard to abstain on the issue.

Now he sought to take Labor to a similarly hostile position, using the authority of his former career to convince its left and right factions to support the Palestinian position and throw the book at Israel.

With resolutions declaring East Jerusalem to be occupied and the settlements illegal, Carr carried his highly charged, anti-Israel world view to the 2014 conference, which self-righteously decreed: “NSW Labor recognises a Middle East peace will only be won with the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

In a thoughtful article, NSW Labor Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee former president Michael Easson pointedly wrote:

“No responsible former foreign minister should allow personal emotions and pent-up rage against what he calls ‘the Melbourne Jewish lobby’ to cause him to miss the big picture.”

Whether or not history repeats itself is a debate with no definitive answer. However, in the lead-up to last Sunday’s 2016 NSW Labor conference, 28 anti-Israel motions – the identical number as in 2014 – were trotted out.

Just as bizarrely as two years ago – given that the number was again out of proportion to the impact the issue has on Australian or global politics – the motions were channelled through Labor branches among a total of 45 foreign policy items.

Again Carr played an active role, in an orchestrated attempt to push Labor into an increasingly hostile position against Israel, and to drive a wedge between Labor and the Jewish community.

Resolutions called for recognition of Palestine and a ban on settlement products, and castigated Israel for mistreating Palestinians and failing to achieve peace. Not one condemned Palestinian terrorism, incitement or reluctance to negotiate.

But this time it was different. Unlike in 2014, this time all 28 motions were unceremoniously dumped and 850 delegates passed a resolution which fell far short of what the 28 had sought.

It endorsed the motion passed at last year’s federal Labor conference supporting a two-state solution, plus an amendment which “encourages all party members visiting the region for the purpose of understanding the conflict to spend substantial time in both Israel and Palestine” – reflecting the status quo which has prevailed for many years when MPs and officials undertake subsidised trips to Israel.

It was a resounding rejection of the irrational bias against Israel advocated by Carr and a small but vocal handful of party members.The absurd, but highly publicised, call for a ban on trips subsidised by Jewish organisations was abandoned before the conference began, while a “modified” proposal requiring MPs and officials to spend equal time in Israel and the territories also received short shrift.

Tanya Plibersek and Bill Shorten. credit.ABC

Numerous factors played a role in this outcome. It was made possible by the efforts of the large number of friends of Israel and the Jewish community within federal Labor, beginning with Labor leader Bill Shorten and shadow foreign minister Tanya Plibersek, who made their opposition to the hostile resolutions clear. It was made possible by the many friends in the state Labor machine and caucus, who made their principled position clear that they wanted reasoned debate free of vitriol.

It was made possible by the union leaders who were appalled at the actions of those engaged in the blatant anti-Israel vendetta.

And it was made possible by the exceptional efforts of the Australia-Israel Labor Dialogue (AILD), led by Greg Holland and assisted by former senator Michael Forshaw, Mary Easson, Kevin Mooney, Byron Danby and a cast of too many to enumerate. All resisted intense pressure to change tack.

A cocktail event was addressed by NSW Labor president Mark Lennon and attended by incoming general secretary Kaila Murnain, and MPs Walt Secord and Hugh McDermott. A fringe event on Israeli technology hosted by the AILD featured federal MP Ed Husic – a proudly identifying Muslim – in the chair, with Holland – who is Catholic – delivering the vote of thanks and underscoring the support for Israel across faith lines.

All of this goes to the involvement of the Jewish community – through the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and Executive Council of Australian Jewry – meeting with 40 MPs, officials and union leaders in the lead-up to the conference. All gave us a fair hearing and most were openly supportive of our views. The issue is by no means over and members of the community need to get politically involved. But Sunday’s event was an important reminder of the strong historic ties between the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Jewish community and Israel. It is a bond that endures.

Vic Alhadeff is chief executive officer of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. He attended the NSW Labor conference as an observer. Twitter: @VicAlhadeff

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  1. It is an unpleasant fact that while the ALP has a long tradition of support for Israel it also harbours a small but nasty antisemitic streak that manifests as vicious hostility to Israel.

    At one time it was confined to the hard left of the party, especially in Victoria and Queensland, but that has changed.

    I take some but not a lot of comfort that these resolutions have been voted down
    The haters will be back. For them this is a defining and threshold issue. It is more important to them than all other foreign policy matters combined.

    Carr is a fanatic on the subject. He is absolutely driven. I will leave it to others to define what it is that causes someone to see something sinister in the so called “Jewish Lobby ” but not in any other group exercising democratic rights.

    Whatever it is, Carr has it in spades.

  2. Leon Poddebsky

    But the Arab people who call themselves ‘Balestinians’ do not want a two-state solution.
    Is the ALP going to coerce them into it?

  3. You may call me a cynic, but is this, perchance, an election year?

    Carr: why is there some “admiration” in the talk about his past “achievements”? It can only come from people who have not lived through his Premiership in NSW. He should be crawling into a corner and be ashamed.

    Pilberseck: her “credentials” supporting the “Palesteeeenian cause” are sound and well documented. Her millitantly pro-Palesteeenian stances may be put to sleep for the time being, seeing that she would have to be one of the most ambitious, not to say “opportunistic” politicians on Labor’s front bench.

    Bill Shorten: I do not know his attitude towards the “Palesteeenian Cause”, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Ed Husic: hmmmmm an extremely smooth operator, liked by all sides, affable, increasingly appearing on TV behind the Leader, preparing for being a future PM? A member of parliament who was sworn in on the Koran? Again: hmmmmmmm

    The Left in general? Have a look at their track-record with regards to Israel and consequently “da Jooos”. As I said at the start: call me a cynic, but Jew Hatred is a virus that mutates; this time ’round it’s more often than not disguised as: “I dont mind the Jews, but Israel…Palestine…blabla etc. blabla”.

    No, I am not Jewish but am fully on the side of Israel.

    • I remember Plebersik’s “Israel is a rogue state ” comment even if everyone else has forgotten

      I know she has since renounced it but it was such a vile observation it is impossible to get get out of your mind. It says something about the core of the person. And the ALP.

      • I have not forgotten either:

        From here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanya_Plibersek

        Speaking under parliamentary privilege in the House of Representatives on 17 September 2002, Plibersek said: “I can think of a rogue state which consistently ignores UN resolutions, whose ruler is a war criminal responsible for the massacres of civilians in refugee camps outside its borders. The US supports and funds this country. This year it gave it a blank cheque to continue its repression of its enemies. It uses US military hardware to bulldoze homes and kill civilians. It is called Israel, and the war criminal is Ariel Sharon. Needless to say, the US does not mention the UN resolutions that Israel has ignored for 30 years; it just continues sending the money…”