Would Victorian Premier John Brumby refuse to meet a senior Chinese government official if the Tibet lobby asked him not to? Of course not. So how come when members of the Jewish lobby once again play bully boy and demand that Mr Brumby not meet with the only Iranian leader to defend Jews, Sayed Khatami, does Mr Brumby meekly accede to their request?

Mr Brumby looks a fool — a puppet of a powerful lobby group and someone not capable of standing up to their incessant demands that only those people they approve of be allowed to meet with political leaders.

Mind you, if Mr Brumby thinks he’s making some sort of international statement by his refusal to meet former President Khatami he’s deluded. “John who?” and “where’s Victoria?” would be the response in Tehran and Washington, one imagines.

Mr Brumby is made to look even more foolish when one considers that Khatami will be the guest speaker at a lunch next Friday organized by the Australian Institute of International Affairs, an old venerable and mainstream organisation not given to hosting people whose views are beyond the bounds of civilised dialogue. Khatami will also be going to Canberra for a day to meet with political figures, although one can imagine that Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and his Shadow Julie Bishop will be subjected to relentless arm twisting by the Jewish lobby not to meet with Khatami.

Perhaps Mr Brumby is not aware that the world changed after George W Bush left office. Talking to Iranian political figures, particularly figures like Khatami who battled against hardliners during his eight years as President from 1997 to 2005, is now okay. A quick scan through back copies of The Economist, one of the most reliable reporters on Iran over many years, gives one a sense of just how brave Khatami was in taking on the mullahs who blocked his every move. It should also be remembered that Khatami was instrumental in back channel discussions with Israel and in a celebrated remark, reported by the BBC on 14 June 1999, Khatami spoke of Jews being safe in Iran.

The Jewish lobby in Australia has every right to campaign for its issues. But it is guilty of curtailing freedom of speech on this and many other occasions — behaving in exactly the same way that the apartheid era regimes of South Africa did when it came to demonising and blackening the name of persons with views that challenged their own narrow view of the world.

Why does the organised Jewish lobby in Australia have such a disproportionate influence on politicians like John Brumby? The cause for which it fights — Israel — is a controversial one, given that nation’s serial abuse of the human rights of its Palestinian neighbours. Yet no other ethnic or nationalist based movement in Australia comes near the Jewish establishment when it comes to being able to seduce political leaders. It is time to question whether this is a healthy state of affairs in a democracy like ours.