Australia on Friday confirmed its status as one of the worst enablers of Israeli human rights abuses by voting against a UN Human Rights Council inquiry into Israel’s killing of over 100 Palestinian protesters in Gaza since the end of March, including over 60 shot dead by Israeli defence forces last week. The Turnbull government joined the Trump administration as the only two nations willing to try to block scrutiny of the murder of unarmed protesters.

Faced with a hostile reaction to its siding with Donald Trump in trying to protect the Netanyahu regime, the government has since tried to claim that it only voted against the inquiry because it didn’t like the wording of it, and that it has “privately” raised concerns with the Israel.

Privately is exactly how Israel likes concerns being raised. As John Lyons pointed out so well, the one thing that genuinely scares Israel is consistent international exposure of its occupation of Palestine, the systematic illegalities that accompany it such as settlements, its mistreatment and killing of Palestinians and the apartheid system that is Israel’s preferred long-term “solution”. That’s why it rails so much against the BDS movement, to the extent of having some of its overseas proxies literally attempt to ban discussion of BDS. That’s why reference to what is uncontestably an apartheid system — even former Israeli Prime Ministers talk of apartheid — enrages Israel and the Israel lobby, because it is a potent public connection to the illegitimate (and long-time Israel ally) white South African regime.

Any process of public scrutiny, and particularly independent scrutiny, of the murders of Palestinian protesters is also, naturally deeply worrying to the Israelis, for its potential to elevate the issue of human rights abuses in western media discussion. Israel, above all, wants the issue kept below the level where western audiences might take notice and begin asking uncomfortable questions.

The rich irony of the Turnbull government’s willingness to enable Israel’s abuses is that it is currently engaged in  legislative effort to curb the capacity of foreign governments to interfere in Australian politics — one directed at the corrupt, human rights-abusing, international law-breaking Chinese regime. The Netanyahu regime is also corrupt, also abuses human rights and breaks international law, though it is at least a democracy (even if a flawed one, in which MPs legitimately elected by Arab citizens can simply be removed from parliament). Israeli influence here over the media, over politicians, over academia, over the way the entire way debate about its actions is framed, is something that Beijing can only dream about (it’s another irony that Bob Carr, one of the chief critics of the Israel Lobby in Australia, is himself one of the leaders of the China Lobby).

So successful is the exercise of influence by Israel and its proxies that it isn’t even seen as “influence”, but as just another legitimate stakeholder in public policy in Australia whose views must be accorded respect. Any criticism of the Israel lobby or questioning of its influence is also branded (almost reflexively) as “anti-Semitic”. Unlike the effort to demonise questioning of the China Lobby as “Sinophobic”, however, the charge of anti-Semitism carries genuine weight in Australia. No one, except far-right goons and some fundamentalist Muslims, likes to be labelled anti-Semitic whether it’s true or not. But it serves the same purpose as the invocation of Sinophobia — to deter scrutiny of how power is wielded by foreign governments.

Should the government’s foreign interference legislation actually impose greater transparency on the efforts of Israel and its proxies to influence politicians, journalists and academics, however, there is far less risk than to the efforts of Beijing. Its influence has been internalised at the highest levels by politicians like Turnbull and Julie Bishop. They’ll continue to prosecute the interests of the Netanyahu government regardless of the cost in Palestinian lives.

Peter Fray

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