Last weekend the Australian’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan interviewed former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and provided a platform for him to defend the 2006 Lebanon war, 2008/09 Gaza war and reveal the “most extensive concessions any Israeli leader has ever brought to the table in the search for a settlement”. The Arab victims of these offensives were ignored.

There was no mention of the fact that Olmert was unlikely to visit certain European countries due to the risk of him being arrested for alleged war crimes or the fact that the Australian Parliament welcomed the man a few weeks before  American students had challenged Olmert’s speeches on multiple university campuses. Dozens were arrested for protesting Olmert’s presence as they attempted to make a citizen’s arrest against a figure facing serious corruption charges back in Israel.

For the Australian political elite, Israel is the sacred cow. There is no other country in the world, except the United States, that receives such uncritical and uninformed adulation. Virtually no politician wants to even acknowledge the reality of the brutal, military occupation on Palestinian lands. Or the fact that this week it was revealed in Haaretz that, “last year set an all-time record for the number of Arab residents of East Jerusalem who were stripped of residency rights by the Interior Ministry”. Ethnic cleansing by stealth.

Yesterday in Sydney the Australia Israel Leadership Forum held an invitation-only lunch at the exclusive Westin Hotel for the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Israeli Vice-Premier Silvan Shalom, recently appointed Opposition leader Tony Abbott and various Israeli politicians.

The Australian Jewish News reports that Shalom, “is in Australia this week for a series of meetings with government officials aimed at building relations between the two countries”.

The lack of transparency about the meetings — which politicians and journalists are attending, how many free trips to Israel they receive and what is expected in return for such hospitable Zionist service — is revealing and shameful. Most corporate journalists are happy to play the game. Crikey recently reported on the latest mainstream journalist to visit Israel.

Abbott led the cheer squad: “I’d like to think that nowhere in the world (does Israel) have more stauncher friends than us.” The 500-strong crowd lapped it up, equally happy to hear Shalom call for global action against Iran and Rudd talk about his government’s unshakeable commitment to “democratic” Israel.

SBS TV World News Australia last night reported on the lunch and noted the Prime Minister’s failure to acknowledge the Palestinians altogether. But the reporter framed the event around the hundreds of protesters outside who demanded the Israelis being feted inside face trials for alleged war crimes. The Jerusalem Post wrote that “hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters” welcomed Shalom to Australia (in Sydney, not Canberra as the article alleged):

“According to Army Radio, the protesters chanted slogans such as ‘Israel is a war criminal’ and ‘Silvan Shalom should not be allowed into Australia’.”

Crikey spoke to one of the key speakers at the rally, Coalition for Justice and Peace in Palestine’s Jennifer Killen, who said, “…as an Australian, I am deeply ashamed that our government is welcoming Shalom”. She went on to argue that Australia’s refusal to back the UN Goldstone report on Gaza was symptomatic of the hold Israeli state violence has on Australia.

A notable source of dissent was the powerful statement released on December 2 by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union that demanded Australia refuse to welcome Israeli leaders with blood on their hands:

“Shalom and Likud’s opposition to the (Goldstone) Report is no surprise given their strong support for the Israeli attack on Gaza in January this year and the ongoing blockade of Gaza by the Israeli Government. This blockade is preventing 100,000 Palestinians with homes destroyed by Israel from rebuilding, through stopping the importation of the necessary building materials from Israel.

“In his other role as Minister for Regional Development, Shalom has overseen the continued expansion of illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (watch his press conference urging Israeli’s to continue this process at:  Shalom even opposes the limited freeze on new West Bank settlements recently announced by his Government.”

Another Israeli visitor to Australia is Avi Dichter, accused by the distinguished US-based Centre for Constitutional Rights of “extrajudicial killing and war crimes” after the murder of Palestinians in Gaza in 2002.

In June Australia’s deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard was heavily lobbied not to visit Israel with the Australia Israel Leadership Forum. It was only six months after the Gaza war and a widely circulated petition (that I signed) read in part: “We consider this trip a dreadful affront to the many Palestinians left maimed, wounded, traumatised and homeless by Israel’s devastating assault on the Gaza Strip in late 08/early 09.”

In a democracy we should demand to know the real purpose of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum, led by influential Zionist and Rudd confidante Albert Dadon.

Crikey wanted to attend the gala lunch yesterday. After being rejected, then accepted, then rejected again (only “accredited” journalists were allowed, I was finally told), it seems such forums are content to ignore stark facts such as Israel’s recent reduction of essential cooking gas being allowed into the Gaza Strip.

Shalom told the Australian’s Greg Sheridan today that, “I really believe there is a friendship between the peoples of Israel and Australia, based on common values of democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law (and) Western culture”.

But increasingly, it seems that the Australian public doesn’t buy the spin.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney-based journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.

Peter Fray

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