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Departing ALP member tells of deep Zionist influence in party

The departing Labor member for Fowler, Julia Irwin, has revealed the deep influence of the Zionist lobby on the ALP and the inner workings of her party towards the Middle East in an exclusive interview with Crikey.

Irwin says Israel must engage with Hamas, argues that the two-state solution may be a lost cause, remains open to backing a cultural and academic boycott of Israel and provides unprecedented details about the Zionist lobby’s capture of newly minted Labor MPs.

Irwin claims that her statements on the Israel/Palestine conflict over the years “have been broadly in line” with party policy and urges “an active role for the United Nations in the peace process”. Such a view “upset Israel supporters in Caucus” from 2002 onwards. Irwin comments that the UN is generally backed by the ALP — note the party’s opposition to the Iraq war due to a lack of UN support — but the Middle East crisis is seemingly different.

When I put the question of UN involvement to [current Israeli Defence Minister] Ehud Barak when he visited Australia, he almost exploded,” she says.

Irwin stands firm on her belief that the UN is central to solving the conflict.

When asked to explain why virtually every Labor MP backs Israel uncritically, Irwin responds that Zionist lobby free trips to Israel are central to cementing views. “Many members and senators from right-wing unions have had close links with the Israeli union movement over the years and have maintained entrenched views.”

AWU boss and Labor aspirant Paul Howes is constantly backing Israeli unions in the public sphere, despite the call by Palestinian civil society to boycott such groups due to their connection to maintenance of the West Bank occupation.

Irwin tells me that her critical stance — best revealed in two recent speeches in parliament, one calling for a full investigation of the massacre on the Mavi Marmara and the other condemning increased Israeli colonisation in Palestine — has cost her some friends in the ALP. “I should add that many of my colleagues these days begin a conversation with the remark, ‘I know we don’t see eye to eye on the Middle East but’ …”

She repeated her claim in a recent Sydney Morning Herald article that Labor power-broker Mark Arbib [alongside ALP officials and NSW Jewish treasurer Eric Roozendaal] have demanded her speeches be vetted before presentation. But she reveals to Crikey that it went further:

[I was told I should] visit the Holocaust Museum, visit Israel and meet with members of various Jewish organisations [but] these requests have not been followed up.  After one speech on Palestine, the ALP chief whip tore up my application for leave from the House when I was to attend an Inter Parliamentary Union meeting in Geneva. This was later approved but not before some emotional displays on both sides.”

Significantly, Irwin says that she “enjoyed strong support from many rank-and-file members of the ALP” after a speech or statement on Israel/Palestine and would receive mountains of positive letters and emails. “There is obviously a strong groundswell of support within the ALP for a more independent position when it comes to the Israel/Palestine conflict.”

There is no evidence that Prime Minister Julia Gillard is even willing to entertain this issue, placing blind backing for Israel as one of her key foreign policy objectives. Opposition leader Tony Abbott is no different.

Irwin says that former leader Simon Crean called her many years ago to briefly discuss the Middle East but until recently neither Kevin Rudd nor Julia Gillard had approached her:

Then, strangely, at the Caucus meeting on the Tuesday before he was deposed as Prime Minister, I had gone up to Kevin to ask him to sign a hardback edition of The True Believers which had been signed by all Party leaders from Gough Whitlam.  Kevin was surprisingly friendly and inquired about the reaction of supporters of the Palestinian cause to the government’s handling of the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over the theft of Australian passports and his statement calling for an inquiry into the Mavi Marmara incident.  His remarks led me to believe that there had been some change in the government’s position with regard to Israel even if it was only a small step from being totally uncritical.”

Irwin laments the lack of MPs speaking out on Palestine (except Victorian MP Maria Vamvakinou and West Australian MP Melissa Parke) and blames enormous pressure from ALP officials. Furthermore, “most members regard Foreign Affairs as a specialist policy area and rarely make public statements on these matters. Tibet, Burma and Zimbabwe would be exceptions”. But Irwin continually spoke out over Palestine.

Irwin’s departure from parliament will leave virtually nobody from the major parties to speak critically about the Middle East.

She tells Crikey, without revealing the name, that “at least one ALP member receives big donations from Palestinian interests but is silent on the issue.” Irwin says she has never received donations from groups with “direct links to Palestinian interests”.

Irwin cites the belief within the party that “support for Palestine will swiftly end any prospect of a front bench position. Even a hint of offence can result in an immediate unconditional apology.” She continues:

For all MPs there is the desire to ‘play it safe’.  Why make enemies over an issue which does not directly affect your local community? And I have to add that many Labor members have an intense dislike of Arabic people. That’s something that comes across in their less-guarded moments.  They will talk about human rights abuse in every corner of the world, but not Palestine.”

One of the least understood realities of modern politics is the insidious influence of unelected lobbyists on the political process. Irwin is remarkably forthcoming in detailing how the Zionist lobby operates within the ALP:

On the Labor side (and as far as I know the same applies to the Liberals), a newly selected member for a winnable seat is hosted to a private fund raising dinner.  A table full of Jewish businessmen are happy to hand over $10,000 for the candidate’s first campaign.  That’s a big bonus for a new member and many never forget the generosity. I was never afforded such an honour but I can say that I would have been suspicious of the motive.”

Irwin also cites the never-ending free trips to Israel — “a visit to Israel is almost a rite of passage for new MPs and Senators” and display by hosts of “backward Arabs threatening such an enlightened society” — and acknowledges that the lobby needs backing across the political aisle. “It cannot afford to snub Labor even if most Jewish voters live in blue ribbon Liberal seats.” Labor’s closeness to the lobby is well documented.

She tells Crikey that although she survived four terms in parliament, “I have no doubt that senior ALP figures have promised to end my career on more than one occasion.  At the grass roots level, in the branches and the wider electorate, the lobby has no influence.  Only at the highest levels can a member be threatened. But a party which allows that to happen is not worthy of public support.”

Once a strong believer in the two-state solution, today Irwin wonders if Israel has “passed the point of no return” with ongoing colonisation across the West Bank and isolation of Gaza. “There can be no ethnic cleansing of the occupied territories,” she warns and urges “unconditional engagement” with Hamas to facilitate a peace treaty. She remains pessimistic of future prospects. “Despite the belief of the Israeli leadership, time is not on their side.”

Irwin raises the possibility of backing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, a growing global movement to non-violently pressure Israel to embrace true democracy in Israel and Palestine or face increasing isolation.

The departing MP says that she grew up greatly admiring Jews and was shamed “at our complicity of abuse and discrimination against Jewish people” but “now I ask, what has changed? How could such a people condone the oppression of others?”

Irwin believes Israel can survive economic isolation but, like apartheid South Africa, the Jewish state “cannot survive a cultural and academic boycott … While politically Israel lurches further to the right, Israelis must come to realise that they are all judged by the actions of their leaders.”

While both major political parties continue pandering to Israel’s pro-settler fringe, the BDS movement is exploding everywhere, including Australia.

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  • 1
    yossi.goldfarb
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    How can such a people condone the oppression of others?”, asks Julia Irwin. Nothing like a little bit of collective blame hey Julia?

    I’m Jewish and question Israel’s actions often. I don’t however think that destroying Israel by wondering if the two-state solution has “passed the point of no return” is helpful. Ironically, immediate engagement with Hamas to the extent Irwin suggests would hastily result in the oppression of the 5-6 million Jewish residents of Israel. Hamas’ record on human rights and anti-semitism is far from exemplary.

    As for Irwin’s private dinner accusations, I’m surprised Antony Lowenstein didn’t include a quote from Irwin stating that some of her best friends are Jewish.

  • 2
    Stephen Wong
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    Thank you, Julia. Shame on the Labor Party.

  • 3
    Bela
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    The reason there is bipartisan support for Israel in Australian politics is painfully obvious - it is a democratic state, which allows Palestinians resident there to have more freedom and participation in that democracy than they would get in Gaza or the West Bank under Hamas, which as Julia Irwin undoubtedly knows, is a terrorist organisation proscribed by the United Nations.

    To compare Israel today with apartheid South Africa is about as disingenuous as you can get. I mean, does she know that Palestinians have the right to vote in Israel and some are actually members of the Knesset?

    Israel is far from perfect, but Hamas is simply appalling on every measure of social inclusion. Negotiating with them would be like negotiating with the Taliban - impossible since they are absolutist (and unapologetic) in their desire to destroy Israel and replace it with a male dominated theocratic state.

    Until there is a credible leadership in the Palestinian community with whom to negotiate a settlement, the Israelis will not trade their security for approval from the likes of Julia Irwin.

  • 4
    j.oneill
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    It was obvious the day after Gillard became prime minister that there would be no change in policy toward the rogue state of Israel. One could not claim to be surprised. Australian governments from 1948 onwards have shown a blind adherence to acts of international criminality by Israel. No other country is in defiance of so many UN resolutions as Israel. No other country in the Middle East regularly attacks or threatens to attack its neighbours. No other country is in wilful defiance of the World Court. No other country systematically discriminates against its non-Jewish citizens. No other country has a large nuclear arsenal but refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty thereby permitting inspections.
    Australia’s voting record in the UN on resolutions relating to Israel is a disgrace. Yet I suspect the Australian public is largely unaware of that record because the mainstream media is a willing accomplice in excusing Israeli criminality and providing newspace for Israel’s apologists to repeat ad nauseum Tel Aviv’s talking points.
    There is a mountain of evidence to suggest that ALP and Coalition politicians take early trips to Israel. They call them “fact finding” missions, but the truth is more likely that they receive their orders, backed up by the usual threats from the US for non-compliance.
    One really does wonder who runs this country and on whose behalf.

  • 5
    davidk
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Israel is an apartheid state Bela whether you accept it or not. I am dismayed but unsurprised by the revelations in this piece.

  • 6
    Vincent Matthews
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    If only the Real Julia had the same clean, uncorrupted beliefs of Ms Irwin. A belief in the rights of all people even if they are Palestinians on the extended borders of Israel. The Jewish lobbies here and in the US have different beliefs and they are based on the experience that money can buy any opinion or political party policy. Never do these defenders of the Israeli government ever recognise that the Palestinians are human beings suffering grave injustice. Netanyahu is now deporting hundreds of Arab children from the country they were born in, Israel, because this fanatic wants to ensure Israel is an only-Jewish state. Thankfully there are Jews of the intellectual calibre and honesty of Antony Lowwenstein to give us hope. Members of these Jewish lobbies may one day realise that Israeli’s rulers have fostered a spread of anti-semitism in the world. They may also realise there’s a limit to what money can buy.

  • 7
    Lady White Peace
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    What a pity that Israel with its amazing cultural heritage its people of great genius has not yet understood that
    violence will only reap more violence.

    A wonderful opportunity exists for Israel to be a light unto the world in its handling of this crisis, it could and can use love and care, compassion and understanding, and it could and can win the hearts and minds of Palestinians.

    A missed opportunity for them to do much good to many.

    And yet there is still time for Israel to be that light in the Middle East - all they have to do is to listen to their collective heart.

    As Einstein said: ” WHEN TWO PARTIES DISAGREE- BOTH ARE WRONG ! “

  • 8
    SD
    Posted Tuesday, 10 August 2010 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Julia for having the courage to speak out. Isn’t it sad and pathetic that ALP politicians are willing to sell their principles and so cheaply too.

  • 9
    Caroline Graham
    Posted Wednesday, 11 August 2010 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    I regret the fact that Julia Irwin is leaving the ALP - but not surprised. The current leadership is hopelessly pro-Israel but it was always thus, ever since Dr Evatt played a major part in the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel at the UN (how generous we were in giving away s0meone else’s country - but how short-sighted). A high point for Zionists was Bob Hawke’s elevation to the leadership, aided by generous donations from the Zionist lobby. Hawke went on special missions for them and was duchessed in Israel, with the usual forest named after him. Blanche also had a lengthy stay in Israel when Hawke became PM, putting her out of temptation’s way - her 1986 novel “Winter in Jersualem” was the rather forgettable though not totally biased, result. Dunno who paid. All I can say, from my own years in the ALP, is that some in the left faction are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, though usually very low-key since, as Julia Irwin knows all too well, it has been the kiss of death in the Party. This too will change as Israel’s persecution of the Palestinians worsens inexorably, so it’s a shame that Irwin can’t hang on in there.

  • 10
    Michael Reich
    Posted Wednesday, 11 August 2010 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Since when, as a general principle, has support or condemnation of a country in the highly politicized U.N. have had any relationship to the condemned countries’ criminality or morality?

    I am amazed that there have not been more U.N. resolutions condemning Israel considering that there are 50 member states that have Islamic majorities. The usual suspects supporting motions condemning Israel, come from such stellar supporters of human rights as Iran, Zimbabwe, Russia , China, Sudan, Saudia Arabia etc. etc.. It is almost a badge of honour to be condemned by such an impressive list of serial abusers of human rights.

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