Australia/Israel Review, Featured
A Concerning Climate
May 4, 2022 | Jamie Hyams
One relatively unusual feature of the upcoming Federal election is the large number of candidates that are receiving funding from the group Climate 200, headed by Simon Holmes à Court, son of 1980s corporate raiding billionaire Robert and his wife Janet. According to the Daily Telegraph, as of April 21, Climate 200 had received $9 million to disburse to these 22 candidates, some of whom had already received hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Most recipients are challenging sitting coalition members, and they include several “Voices of” or so-called “teal” candidates, although there are also two challengers for a Canberra Senate seat, and four current independent MPs. And several of these candidates have past activities or links that may well be of concern to Jewish voters.
This is perhaps unsurprising, given that on Oct. 25, 2017 and again on ANZAC Day in 2018, Holmes à Court himself repeated, in honour of Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s controversial ANZAC Day 2017 tweet, “lest we forget (manus, nauru, syria, palestine),” and then, on ANZAC Day 2019, tweeted, “remember when a bright young australian woman was remorselessly bullied for writing ‘LEST. WE. FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine…)’? can’t believe that medieval episode in Australian history was only two years ago.”
Holmes à Court also took a keen interest in the legal challenge mounted by Michael Staindl against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s eligibility to serve in Parliament on the basis of alleged dual citizenship, which was dismissed in 2020. The case caused disquiet among many, as it was seen as seeking to take advantage of the circumstances under which Frydenberg’s mother’s family fled Hungary at a time of anti-Jewish violence in the aftermath of the Second World War, leaving her stateless. Yet Holmes à Court was regularly seen in the gallery, and explained he was giving “moral support” to Staindl.
His mother, Janet Holmes à Court, has a history of anti-Israel activism, including being one of 23 signatories to a 2011 letter prepared by the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) urging Australia to vote at the UN for a Palestinian state, and also signing a 2017 letter opposing the visit of then-Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Australia.
There are also links between Climate 200 and the GetUp! organisation, which promoted anti-Israel videos and activities last year. Three Climate 200 candidates, Sophie Scamps in Mackellar, Allegra Spender in Wentworth and Kylea Tink in North Sydney, are using the GetUp!-affiliated communication firm, the Populares Agency.
Perhaps the most contentious action by a Climate 200 candidate was the decision by Zoe Daniel, who is standing against Liberal Tim Wilson in the Victorian seat of Goldstein and has received $460,000 from Climate 200, to sign the “Do Better On Palestine” letter in May 2021. That letter completely misrepresents the cause of the May 2021 Gaza conflict, blaming Israel when it was started by Hamas rocket barrages against Israeli civilians; refers to Israel’s very founding as the Nakba – “catastrophe” in Arabic; echoes baseless and malicious accusations that Israel practises apartheid; and essentially urges the media to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a one-sided and unbalanced way that gives priority to the Palestinian perspective.
Daniel has since, in media interviews and in her “Jewish Community” policy on her website, stated that she will “always be a strong supporter of the state of Israel as a Jewish State, existing within safe and secure borders.” She states that her signing of the letter was “narrowly framed” to express her concern for the safety of journalists, and that she didn’t write it.
Given how diametrically opposed the contents of the letter are to her stated position on Israel, it’s fair to ask if she actually read it. She defends her refusal to remove her name from the letter by saying that seems to her to be “insincere, or a cheat’s way out.” Again, it could alternatively be suggested that her stated position on Israel itself looks insincere if she insists on remaining a signatory.
Daniel also claimed, in an article she wrote as an ABC journalist in December 2017, that by announcing he would move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, then-US President Donald Trump had sabotaged efforts to bring peace to the Middle East and was “satisfying his wealthy Jewish donors.”
Potential concerns Jewish voters might have regarding Daniel extend to her campaign staff. As revealed by Sharri Markson in the Australian, her campaign manager, Sue Barrett, compared Scott Morrison to Adolf Hitler, writing on social media in 2020, “@StrayMutts shared insights from a book he’s reading about Hitler and his boys…Hitler altered reality with drugs and Morrison uses religion.” Barrett’s husband, Jobst Schmalenbach, the campaign operations manager, said on social media in response to Jewish criticism of former ALP politician Melissa Parke, “The Jewish right-wing lobby group should simply shut up. Palestine is an open-air prison.”
Allegra Spender, an independent challenging Liberal MP Dave Sharma in Wentworth in NSW, also courted some controversy with an anti-Israel individual affiliated with her campaign, Blair Palese, who has complained on social media about “Australia’s shocking support of Israel in killing unarmed children and civilians,” and shared articles and tweets supporting the BDS campaign against the Sydney Festival for accepting sponsorship from the Israeli embassy.
Palese was one of the four core members of Wentworth Independents who drafted the group’s platform, but Spender, who personally opposes BDS and says she supports Israel, states Palese has never been a part of her campaign team.
Most egregious in terms of sheer quantity of anti-Israel activity by Climate 200-supported candidates is a current MP, independent Andrew Wilkie, who holds the Tasmanian seat of Clarke. In February 2020, while then-Israeli President Reuven Rivlin was visiting Parliament House in Canberra, Wilkie addressed a “Vigil for Palestinian rights” outside. He accused Israel of “treating its domestic Palestinians” and “Palestinians outside its borders” as “second-rate citizens,” invading and occupying surrounding territories, and denying people in surrounding areas their sovereignty.
Following a June 2013 visit from APAN, he put out a statement claiming then-Opposition Foreign Affairs spokesperson Julie Bishop “appears to be beholden to Israeli interests at the expense of the Palestinian people,” because she had “refused to call the settlements illegal.”
On Nov. 26, 2015, in Parliament, Wilkie stated, “What Australia must do is recognise the need for a Palestinian state and condemn Israel’s illegal acts of settlement and violence. It is alarming that too many of our political leaders appear to be beholden to Israeli interests at the expense of the Palestinian people.”
On May 12 2021, during the Gaza conflict, he told the Parliament that “the context” was “the Nakba, where, in 1948, Jewish militia razed hundreds of villages and an estimated 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes, becoming refugees.” He added that “illegal Israeli settlement of Palestinian territory” was “at the heart of the ongoing conflict” and called on the Government to “formally recognise Palestine.”
On Sept. 14, 2017, Wilkie spoke about the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Battle of Beersheva, concluding, “The best way to commemorate this battle and the part the Australians played is to now recognise Palestine and work decisively towards its independence even if it is 100 years too late.”
Wilkie, together with fellow Climate 200-supported independent MP Rebekha Sharkie, the Member for Mayo in South Australia, signed a petition in Nov. 2016 making various allegations about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children, and calling for “urgent action to end the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system.” Sharkie also spoke on the matter in Parliament that month, and addressed a pointed question to the Foreign Minister about it in September 2017, as well as one in July 2020 asking about the Government’s position on Israel’s “proposed annexation of the Jordan Valley.”
Monique Ryan, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s independent opponent in his seat of Kooyong, was forced to apologise for a social media post she shared in 2017. The post, obtained by the Australian, mocked up Hitler’s book Mein Kampf to show Donald Trump on the cover, with the book renamed “Mein Covfefe” after Trump’s mysterious tweet using that word.
In January 2021, Kylea Tink, now challenging Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney, also compared Trump to Hitler. She retweeted the comment, “When you read about how Hitler failed at his first attempt to overthrow the government on November 8, 1923, being tried for treason and briefly imprisoned, yet within 8 years had succeeded, then you understand how important it is to convict trump and ban him from future federal office.” She added, “History should never be repeated x.”
Jo Dyer, who is standing as an independent in the South Australian seat of Boothby, previously held by retiring Liberal Nicolle Flint, tweeted that an article by Jeff Sparrow was “lucid” and “persuasive”. The article states, “The Israeli state depends on the dispossession of Palestinians, and so, by its nature, will constantly create and recreate violence,” and effectively calls for the destruction of Israel by creating a “single, democratic state for all.”
Former ABC Triple J breakfast show host Alex Dyson is contesting Wannon, held by Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Dan Tehan. In August 2012, he and co-host Tom Ballard played a game on air they called “Six Degrees of Hitleration” based on the linking game “Six Degrees of Separation”. Ballard, a staunch BDS supporter, was forced to apologise after “joking”, “Wind farms, fan-forced ovens, let’s not go there.”
Of course, the Climate 200 candidates are far from alone when it comes to candidates showing hostility to Israel or making inappropriate comments about Adolf Hitler, or having top staff and supporters who have done so. However, given the potential impact of these candidates, it is appropriate for Australian voters to consider all of this baggage and history when deciding whether to vote for them, or to financially support Climate 200.