The defection of seven British Labour MPs on Feb. 18, accusing their own party under leader Jeremy Corbyn of becoming “institutionally antisemitic”, and the ructions in the US over accusations made against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar saw much coverage of debates about the use of common antisemitic tropes.
The Nine newspapers’ Nick Miller (Feb. 24) noted that Labour defector Luciana Berger said she was “accused of being a traitor to her country and even an agent of Mossad ‘based purely on my Jewish background.’”
On ABC TV “The Drum” (Feb. 19), ABC Radio “Religion & Ethics” host Andrew West said there are “a handful of MPs” and “a larger number of members of the Labour Party” who have crossed a line from criticism of Israel into antisemitism.
Former Australian Labor Party foreign minister Bob Carr on that program said, “How in God’s name he allowed the monstrous phenomenon of antisemitism to get any acknowledgement from any small corner of British Labour Party membership, I simply do not understand. It would have taken basic political skills… to have made it clear from the very start of these controversies that it is possible to oppose the occupation of the West Bank… to oppose the spread of settlements on the West Bank designed to strangle the possibility of a Palestinian state… without entertaining anything that smacks remotely of systemic criticism of Jewish people.”
Yet a chapter on Israel and Australian Jewry in Carr’s 2018 epistle Run for Your Life features inflammatory rhetoric some would say was not that different from that which UK Labour figures and Omar have been condemned for using.
The book talks of the “Jewish lobby” and the “bullying Jewish leadership”, and claims that “No other community, in my experience, treats politicians as their poodles.” Carr accuses “Jews [of] enjoying a view of themselves as the ‘Chosen People’ and therefore entitled to uncontestable rights to the land God gave them” and asserts “through its political clout… ‘the lobby’, ‘the community’ will always crush you.”
Yet all the publically available material didn’t convince academic Damien Kingsbury, who questioned the existence of antisemitism in Labour, saying, “I’m not sure I buy that. I think I think it’s a bit too simplistic to describe genuine expressions of concern about Palestine or indeed with Zionism as antisemitism… look I think we all know plenty of Jewish people who are not Zionist… there might be antisemitism but I would find it very unusual if that was genuinely a problem as such,” ABC Local Radio 774 (Feb. 19).
Nine’s newspapers ran Matthew Knott’s analysis (Mar. 9) summarising the incidents involving Congresswoman Omar, including tweeting that pro-Israel lobby groups buy influence – which he said is an “old anti-Semitic trope of Jews using money to manipulate political outcomes.” Knott also attacked Omar’s equating support for Israel to “allegiance to a foreign country” as “perpetuat[ing] the stereotype that Jewish people have ‘dual loyalty’”.
Meanwhile, despite all the solid coverage of this issue by the ABC, the spectre of alleged improper Jewish political power was raised by a dubious report on the ABC itself.
ABC Radio “AM” (March 15) probed why AIJAC – focused upon almost singly out of all ethnic community organisations in Australia – had not signed the registry for acting as a foreign agent under the new Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme.
Host Sabra Lane said the law is intended to provide a “list of foreign lobbyists operating in Australia… to help keep track of those who seek to sway political debate.” Reporter Tom Iggulden said registration is required if organisations have an “arrangement” with a “foreign entity”.
AIJAC National Chairman Mark Leibler explained AIJAC is an Australian organisation and does not “act on behalf of or in association with, a foreign government.” He added that AIJAC funding is sourced from “private donors” and it does not “have a link” or “association” with the Israeli Government “at all”. He explained that “90%” of AIJAC’s “work is information… education”.
The report also featured comments from academic Clinton Fernandes who absurdly implied AIJAC’s activities should be covered by the new law because “they take people to occupied Palestine as well. And they have to be coordinating their activities with foreign states, otherwise they simply couldn’t get in… They wouldn’t organise briefing packs: nothing of the sort.”
Israel is a liberal democracy, not a totalitarian state and organising meetings, briefing material and travelling there or to the Palestinian Authority does not require special “coordination” or permits issued by a Big Brother regime, as Fernandes implied.