The controversy over Labor Senator Sam Dastyari’s acceptance of money from people with links to the Chinese Communist party (and allegations that this may have influenced his stance on China) saw the issue of federal Australian MPs taking study tours to Israel become a topic of debate.
Much of the discussion was focused on the incorrect assertion that the Israeli Government funds study tours for federal MPs to Israel. These study tours for federal MPs are not funded by the Israeli government or Israeli companies, but solely by Australian donors.
Former ALP federal minister Graham Richardson said, “I don’t know much money the Israelis have spent in taking delegations to Israel but it would leave China for dead. They’ve been doing this for many years. The Taiwanese are the same… my point is, there’s too much of this foreign stuff,” Sky News “Paul Murray Live” (Sept. 5).
Federal Labor MP Anthony Albanese seemed to be under the same misapprehension, telling Paul Kelly, “Well I would suggest, from my, just anecdotally it appears to me Taiwan and Israel are the two places that sponsor more travel for parliamentarians, just anecdotally than other countries,” Sky News “Australian Agenda” (Sept. 4).
Former Australian ambassador to China, Geoff Raby, wrote that “Governments from countries such as the US and Israel are very active with such programs of influence, as is the EU, funding visits by parliamentarians, party officials, staffers and the Australian media. No one argues these are threats to Australia’s national security,” Australian Financial Review (Sept. 13).
Veteran Israel-basher Greg Barns in the Hobart Mercury (Sept. 12) attacked the media for “ignor[ing]” that “many federal politicians are influenced directly or indirectly by other nations such as the US and Israel.”
Barns claimed, “Israel is the number one foreign power influence buyer in the Australian political scene,” called Israel an “apartheid state” led by a “war criminal” and said because MPs take trips to Israel they are “silent” on Israel’s “human rights abuses” against “the stateless Palestinians”.
Perhaps they are “silent” because they have gone to Israel and the Palestinian territories and seen for themselves that Barns and other anti-Israel ideologues are wrong about the causes of Palestinian statelessness.
ABC radio host Rafael Epstein took a call from “James in Reservoir” who said, “I really don’t see what the big deal is now. For years and years, Israelis, the Israeli lobby, the American lobby, businessmen have been making donations to the Labor and the Liberal parties for decades to influence Australia’s foreign policy.”
Epstein responded, correctly that, “there are significant Jewish interests in Australia that help provide and sponsor trips to Israel but they are Jewish Australians… they say they want to present the facts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That’s why they fly people to Israel and the territories… so they can see the reality on the ground,” ABC Radio 774 Melbourne “Drive with Rafael Epstein” (Sept. 7).
On the Spectator Australia website (Sept. 12), former senior Labor staffer Luke Walladge lambasted former Labor foreign affairs minister Bob Carr as a hypocrite for heading the Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology in Sydney, which has been accused of being a Chinese government-funded propaganda outlet.
“In his ‘Diary of a Foreign Minister’, Carr was scathing of what he perceived as the ‘Israel lobby’ and its influence on Australian foreign policy. ‘It’s an appalling position,’ Carr thundered, ‘if Australia allows a group of businessmen in Melbourne to veto policy on the Middle East’…he linked fundraising from Jewish community organisations and individuals to Australia’s diplomacy at the United Nations, volunteering ‘subcontracting our foreign policy to party donors is what this involves…’ Yet strangely, Carr has had no qualms about raking in the yuan while continuing to emit policy motions in ALP fora and lobbying NSW Right MPs.”
Sydney Institute Director Gerard Henderson wondered what the reaction in the media would have been if the country involved had been Israel.
“Just imagine the reaction of the Canberra Press Gallery if, say, the Israel Defence Force, part of the democratic State of Israel, had agreed to pay, say, Tony Abbott’s legal expenses or a debt he owed to the Australian Department of Finance. Just imagine. All hell would break loose as journalists in the ABC and Fairfax Media rushed to condemn improper influence by Israel in Australian internal affairs. Of course, no such event ever occurred – or is ever likely to occur,” Australian online “Media Watch Dog” (Sept. 2).