It looks like
Lebanese Aussies are finally getting themselves organised. Last Thursday’s Fin Review reported on meetings in
Canberra of “a
group of concerned Lebanese and Australian academics, doctors and business
people … to brief MPs about their concerns the government has not backed an
immediate ceasefire.” It’ll take
time before the Lebanon lobby
gains direct access to lawmakers which Israel’s supporters take for
granted.

Until now,
Lebanese lobbies were hampered by the absence of any singular Lebanese interest
crossing all religious divides. Lebanese organisations are ridden with
internecine conflicts often played out publicly. All this
hasn’t been helped by the embarrassing antics of some Lebanese spokespeople
(including the very non-Lebanese Mufti of Australia – Sheik Hilaly is Egyptian –
and his interpreter).

During the
1982 invasion, the Israelis could at least claim that one faction invited them.
But this time round, the Israelis have managed to pull off a miracle, uniting
every Lebanese faction against them. But with
Syrian troops out of Lebanon and with Hezbollah in the
democratic process, even the more rightwing among Maronite groups are angry.
When former Israeli allies like General Michel Aoun stand with Hezbollah, things
don’t auger well for any Israeli “divide-and-conquer” strategy.

With so much
unity inside Lebanon against
Israel, and with public
opinion (including some influential pockets of Jewish communities) in
Australia not completely
Israel-friendly, now is as good a time as any for the Lebanese groups to work
together. Or at least to not get in each other’s way.

Lebanese
Aussies are politically disorganised, but they are well-heeled and well-placed.
Just about every metropolitan marginal seat in Sydney and Melbourne has
substantial Lebanese communities. Add the broader Muslim voters and you have a
formidable block of votes. Now we all
know that ethnic and religious groups rarely vote as blocks. But the prospect of
having your relos blown to bits is enough to make even the most partisan voter
think again.

Howard might
also think again before commenting on “self-appointed leaders”. One such leader,
Dr Abraham Constantin, is a Western Sydney Liberal who almost knocked off Bill
Heffernan in a Senate preselection ballot some years back.

Will Lebanese Aussies exercise the muscle which their wealth
and numbers makes them more than capable of showing? Time will
tell.

Peter Fray

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