John Howard yesterday pooh-poohed any link to Pastor Danny Nalliah’s Holocaust-denying pals. The PM did acknowledge that the League of Rights had been “a bit anti-semitic” but he told reporters: “As for what people I meet do – any more than you can be responsible for what the people you meet do – I can’t be responsible either.”

No, John, you can’t. But then, you didn’t just bump into Pastor Nalliah in the street, did you? Readers will recall that, earlier this year, Howard taped the following message for Nalliah’s organisation:

 

Hello there.

I am delighted to send my good wishes to everyone attending the 2007 United Prayer meeting. Today is, of course, Australia Day.

It’s a time when we celebrate the freedom and privileges we enjoy as citizens of a great, prosperous and peaceful nation – so blessed with an abundance of natural beauty.

It’s also a time to reaffirm our commitment to shared values and our abiding loyalty to our nation, Australia. Christianity has been an enormous force for good and has done more than anything else to shape the lives, not only of millions of Australians, but the character of our nation.

I congratulate Catch the Fire Ministries for bringing Christians from many denominations together for this celebration and I wish you all at very happy Australia Day.

Your prayers for our nation are deeply appreciated.”

By making that recording, the PM knew that he was lending support to a group that had described Muslims as drug-dealing demons training to make Australia an Islamic state.

Obviously, John Howard must have weighed the political pros and cons of associating himself with such a hateful bunch. It beggars belief that he knew nothing of Nalliah’s League of Rights links, given that a simple Google search turns up a picture of Nalliah under the heading “Albury Meeting of Australian League of Rights”.

Likewise Peter Costello, whose spokesman told the Herald Sun that: “The Treasurer has met with Danny Nalliah on a number of occasions and has publicly supported his successful appeal against prosecution under Victoria’s religious vilification laws.”

Why didn’t Nalliah’s unsavoury connections bother the Prime Minister, the Treasurer, Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaille and former deputy PM John Anderson – all of whom have addressed Catch the Fire events?

Simply, there were votes involved. In return for all this patronage, Nalliah told his constituency about a message he’d received from God anointing John Howard’s re-election, and then circulated an attack upon the ALP as soft on abortion and homosexuals.

“I have attached a letter from Mr Rudd to one of his constituencies, where he declares Labor’s full support for homosexuality, including the amending of current laws if elected, to support homosexuals,” he explained.

A classic Faustian pact, in other words: the Liberals pandered to bigotry (anti-Muslim, anti-gay and anti-Semitic) in return for the votes of Nalliah’s flock.

Late yesterday, Colin Rubenstein from the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council issued a press release condemning Nalliah.

“The real message from our community and from me is that we’re quite strong of the view that no one should be giving any sort of credibility or respectability to the League of Rights,” he said.

Quite right. Unfortunately, Rubenstein pointedly declined to comment on the relationship between Nalliah and John Howard. Why can’t it say that there is something terribly wrong with the association between the most powerful political figures in the country and a man who attends gatherings of Holocaust deniers?

One hopes that AIJAC is not pulling its punches on the basis that Catch the Fire supports Israel.

As retired Churches of Christ Minister Alan Matheson notes, in early October, Nalliah’s crew circulated “a major statement declaring that John Howard was a champion for Israel.”

You can still find that document – a piece of blustering right-wing demagoguery by Isi Liebler – on the Catch the Fire site, with a note explaining that it has been “prepared” by someone using the email address [email protected].

Of course, in fundamentalist circles, support for Israel and support for anti-Semitism often go hand in hand.

As Matheson points out, “for the religious right the events in the Middle East need to be monitored carefully, for such events will herald the return of the Messiah and eternal damnation for those who do not believe, including those Jews who do reject the Messiah.”

In other words, it’s quite possible for the Christian right to wax enthusiastically about Israel even if they don’t actually like Jews very much: after all, they’ll all burn in fire at the end.

It shouldn’t be difficult. Catch the Fire is a bigoted group, and it is shameful that mainstream politicians associate with it. AIJAC should say so.