When criticism is off limits

April 16, 2014

Rick Kuhn, a Jewish campaigner for Palestinian rights and contributor to the Australian newspaper Red Flag, reports on a controversy over opposition to Israel’s policies.

IF YOU criticized South African apartheid, then you were an anti-white racist. That's the logic of equating any criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

In his soon-to-be-released memoir, former Australian Labor Party Foreign Minister Bob Carr remarks on the considerable influence the Israel lobby in Australia had on Julia Gillard when she was prime minister. For this, he has been labeled a "bigot" by the most hard-line Zionist in the Labor Party, federal MP Michael Danby.

Danby has a history of manipulating sympathy for Jewish people, particularly because of the Holocaust, into bigotry, justifying the repression of Palestinians. This comment is now typical of Israel's most ardent supporters around the world. Apologizing for the existence of the Israeli apartheid state, but also for any particular Israeli government policy, they employ a cheap trick: pretending that Zionism and the Jewish religion are the same thing.

Zionism--the idea that Jews need to have a state, Israel, in which they have a privileged status--is a 19th century invention. That's very recent compared with the history of the Jewish people.

Australian Labor Party MP Michael Danby
Australian Labor Party MP Michael Danby (RedFlag.org.au)

Carr referred, very carefully, to the "Israel lobby." He makes the important distinction between people who are Jewish and the state of Israel. The president of Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC, modeled on the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), Mark Leibler, in attacking Carr, referred to the "Jewish lobby." It is the same sleight of hand.

Carr is actually a liberal Zionist. He supports the continued existence of the Israeli state. He is a former president of Labor Friends of Israel. He thinks that the Israeli policy of annexing more and more Palestinian land on the West Bank is an obstacle to Israel's security, and that it's okay for the Palestinian Authority, which rules the West Bank (to the extent allowed by Israel's armed forces), to be recognized by United Nations bodies.

Carr writes that Julia Gillard opposed him on these issues and was very sensitive to the views of AIJAC, whose main activity is to promote in Australia the interests of Israel's rulers. For that presumably honest reflection, even one of Israel's friends is now charged with "bigotry."

THE CONSERVATIVE Australian government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is also keen to label as anti-Semitic campaigns against Israel's expansionist policies. But AIJAC is not the main reason the Labor and Liberal parties support Israel.

The U.S. alliance is the backbone of the foreign policy of both parties, because it gives Australia's rulers greater clout in the world. That's especially true in Australia's "backyards" (it's a lucky country with two): the Southwest Pacific and Southeast Asia. The greater the global power of the United States, the more useful the alliance is to the Australian state and corporations. In return for the alliance, governments have sent relatively small Australian military contingents to fight in U.S. wars and generally support U.S. foreign policy.

As its most reliable ally in the Middle East, Israel plays a pivotal role in U.S. efforts to maintain and expand its power. That's the main reason both the conservative Australian Liberal Party and the Australian Labor Party support Israel.

AIJAC, the Australian Union of Jewish Students and similar organizations spend an inordinate amount of time slandering critics of the apartheid Israeli state. The charges, now escalating into absurdity, say more about those leveling them than about their targets. But they make the job of selling the government's support for Israel easier.

First published in Red Flag.

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