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ALP ‘needs progressive correction’, say former Labor ministers

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22 December 2023, The Australian, by Rhiannon Down

Two former Labor ministers are leading a new push to counter misguided attitudes towards ­Israel “from people who claim to be progressive” – including blaming the nation for collective punishment of Palestinians – and are vowing to support pro-Israel ALP candidates running for ­parliament.

The newly minted Labor Friends of Israel, led by one-time federal minister Michael Kelly and former NSW treasurer Eric Roozendaal, aims to provide ­“salient facts” about the conflict, counter misinformation and combat support for Hamas among “progressives”.

The group shares a name with its UK counterpart, Labour Friends of Israel, which has fought to counterbalance pro-Palestinian support within the party after it was plagued by ­accusations of anti-Semitism ­during former leader Jeremy ­Corbyn’s tenure.

Labor Friends of Israel’s ­objectives include supporting pro-Israel Labor candidates, building links between the ALP and the ­Israeli Labor Party and encouraging “friendship and understanding with the Jewish community and the Australian Labor Party”.

With Labor ministers Ed Husic and Anne Aly accusing Israel of collectively punishing Palestinians in the conflict with Hamas, Dr Kelly said the group wanted Labor members to be “properly informed”.

“Some of the terminology that’s bandied around like collective punishment, genocide … those things are certainly just completely not accurate legally,” Dr Kelly told The Australian.|

A former army colonel and defence industry minister under Julia Gillard, Dr Kelly said the group supported a two-state ­solution and a free and democratic Palestine.

He condemned Hamas as a “savage terrorist regime” that was responsible for “horrendous sexual violence and the mutilation, torture and murder of everyone from the elderly to infants”.

“We do support a two-state ­solution, but I think one of the things that’s been alarming to us has been a lack of understanding of the nature of Hamas,” he said.

“And it’s particularly frightening when people who claim to be progressive seem to be supporting a regime that’s medieval and ­really a dictatorship and has ­oppressed the Gazan people for the last 70 years, including routine executions of LGBTQI people, the repression of women, the failure to implement any democratic frameworks.”

The group has emerged as ­Defence Minister Richard Marles announced the government would not be sending a warship to a US mission to the Red Sea, a ­decision condemned by Peter Dutton as one that “could only be welcomed by Hamas”. Mr Marles said Australia would provide just six ADF personnel to the mission, while pledging a further five Australian personnel to a wider maritime ­security operation in the Middle East.

The Labor Friends of Israel website went live days before a group of 50 well-known Labor ­figures, including former NSW premier and foreign minister Bob Carr, signed an open letter declaring the human rights of Palestinians had been violated.

The website takes a strong pro-Israel line, including saying the Gaza Strip was not under occupation by the Jewish state, rejecting claims that Gaza is the most densely populated place on earth and arguing Hamas was responsible for the conflict in the region.

“Under the Hamas regime, there have been no elections since 2006, no trade unions are permitted, and LGBTIQA+ persons are frequently executed when discovered,” the website says.

“The Gaza Strip is not under occupation by Israel; under international law, the territory must be under the ‘effective control’ of an occupier. There has been no ­Israeli administration in place or any IDF presence in the Gaza Strip since 2005. The latest attack by Hamas underlines that there is no effective control by Israel.”

The number of members the group has attracted is not known at this stage, though Dr Kelly said a lot of supporters who wanted to see a “civilised and informed ­debate on Middle East issues” were joining.

Dr Kelly said Labor could learn a lot from the anti-Semitism scandal that plagued UK Labour, which saw Mr Corbyn disendorsed by the party he once led.

“That risk is there for every party,” he said. “If we fall into the trap of lining up with groups that are extreme in any part of the spectrum, or sit back and don’t take action when misinformation or bad behaviour is occurring, then our standards as a society and as a democracy will slide.

“So I think all parties need to be on notice about maintaining the standard.”

Mr Roozendaal said the split within Labor on the issue ­reflected the liveliness of debate within the party but said those who “don’t recognise Israel’s right to exist are not offering any solutions”.

“There’s no doubt that there have been some voices in this ­debate that have been pro-Hamas, which is a prescribed terrorist organisation in Australia,” he said.

“I think people that can’t ­differentiate between a terrorist group and peaceful groups need to really think about what they’re saying.

“We don’t believe Hamas is a partner of peace.”

The Labor Friends of Israel website includes an opinion piece by John Curtin Research Centre executive director Nick Dyrenfurth, who wrote that anti-Semitism was “increasingly cloaked in so-called anti-Zionism”. Dr Dyrenfurth pointed to the hypocrisy of the support those on the side of “progressive politics” provided to Hamas, including Mr Carr.

“When is the last time you heard the likes of Bob Carr support Palestinian self-determination – and rightly so – by lamenting the genocidal charter and terrorism of the rulers of Gaza, Hamas?,” Dr Dyrenfurth wrote on the website.

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Article source: The Australian/ Rhiannon Down 22.12.2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000