Bob Carr, the former foreign minister (2012-2013) and New South Wales premier (1996-2006), has gone from Israel’s No. 1 pin-up politician in Australia to one of the most reviled.
When he co-founded Labor Friends of Israel with Bob Hawke in 1977, Carr was accorded “honourable gentile” status by Israel’s rulers. The Jewish state needed friends on the international stage, and Australia’s moral authority on international affairs loomed large in their calculations.
But Carr has changed his mind. Now he is publicly critical of Israel’s ruthless policies of settlement-building in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank and its attacks on Gaza.
At the NSW Labor conference in July Carr moved the successful resolution deploring the death of innocent civilians in this year’s assault on Gaza and declaring that “NSW Labor recognises a Middle East peace will only be won with the establishment of a Palestinian state”.
It also included the guarantee that “a future Labor government will consult like-minded nations towards recognition of the Palestinian state”.
One of those like-minded nations is the new government of Sweden, which last week officially recognised Palestine as a state. Israel immediately recalled its ambassador from Stockholm.
In moving the resolution underpinning Palestinian rights, Carr widened the critique of Israel’s policies, which he first developed in his memoir, Diary of a Foreign Minister, published last April.
Carr’s identification of the ham-fisted and heavy-handed lobbying of the “the Melbourne Jewish lobby” infuriated the Zionist state’s ardent supporters, and they rounded on him.
One of those to rebuke Carr was Michael Easson, a lifelong friend and former head of the NSW Labor Council who had joined Labor Friends of Israel in 1977 and become an unwavering supporter. Carr’s motion, Easson declared, “lacked balance, was loosely and inappropriately worded, and seems to equate Israel with Hamas”.
Amid all the gnashing of teeth, the fire and the fury, the simple truth is that Israel no longer holds the powerful diplomatic sway that it did 37 years ago, when Carr first took sides.
The Israeli government has swung to the hard Right, and its domestic and foreign policies are identified as more militaristic than pacific. When the United Nations voted to give Palestine diplomatic status in November 2012, Carr scored a victory over prime minister Julia Gillard with Australia’s abstention on the vote (she wanted Australia to join the United States and nine other countries in voting against).
And last month the British House of Commons voted 274 to 12 in support of a future Palestinian state.
These are the global developments to which Carr’s “tinny” ear is tuned. He is not a reckless politician, but a conservative-minded one.
He is moving on the Israeli question because he has developed acute contacts in Washington, the US State Department and the global think tanks. He would not move a millimetre without consulting close friends like Dr Henry Kissinger, the former US secretary of state, Kim Beazley, Australia’s ambassador in Washington, and Dennis Richardson, a former intelligence chief, Australia’s Washington ambassador and currently secretary of the Defence Department in Canberra.
Carr’s is moving with the times while his critics are increasingly sounding like those who rallied to white South Africa in the final decade of apartheid.