FRESH AIR

As Parke doubles down on “Israel Lobby” accusations, ALP needs to be wary

Jun 7, 2019 | Naomi Levin

Former Labor minister Melissa Parke speaking at a WA Labor Friends of Palestine event in Perth in May 2019.
Former Labor minister Melissa Parke speaking at a WA Labor Friends of Palestine event in Perth in May 2019.

This week, video emerged of former ALP minister Melissa Parke doubling down in defence of an anti-Israel speech she made on the eve of the federal election campaign.

Parke, who resigned as a candidate for the May federal election following reports of a controversial speech she had given at a WA Labor Friends of Palestine event, delivered a fiery rebuke to the “Israel lobby, assisted by powerful media operators”.

While her political career appears to be over, Parke remains a leading member of WA Labor Friends of Palestine. Her influence, limited though it may be, should not be allowed to degrade her party’s long-time support for strong ties between Australia and Israel.

Writing after Parke’s resignation, AIJAC executive director Colin Rubenstein warned of mainstream politicians blaming the “Israel lobby” for their woes.

Regrettably, attacking the “Israel lobby” and the media has spread through WA Labor. Sue Lines, an ALP senator for Western Australia and Deputy President of the Senate in the last Parliament, backed Parke’s claim that the media were behind the furore over Parke’s earlier speech and has previously hit out at the “Israel lobby”.

In the West Australian on April 24, Rubenstein wrote: “Israel has almost no influence in Australia – and the danger is that what she was referring to might be taken as a comment on the role of Australian citizens, primarily the Australian Jewish community, in advocating for good Australia-Israel ties.”

“For Jews, accusations of being ‘powerful’, and having our alleged influence questioned and treated as illegitimate, sounds warning bells.’

“Antisemitic tropes are often threaded throughout anti-Israel propaganda — and one of the most common and dangerous is the insistence that Israel would never get away with its supposedly egregious sins if not for the illegitimate power of the Jewish lobby, Jewish money, or Jewish media dominance.”

It is incumbent on Labor leadership to ensure this attitude does not gain any more traction in the ALP, or it may risk following the dangerous precedent set by Jeremy Corbyn, whose failure to address antisemitism within the British Labour Party is now being investigated by the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission.

In responding to the end of her candidacy in the safe Liberal seat of Curtin, Parke really misses the point in blaming the “Israel lobby”.

In actual fact, she should consider her attitudes and the extremist views she articulates to a small, but passionate, audience that, as well as Senator Lines, seems to include Labor Member for Fremantle Josh Wilson and WA Greens MP Alison Xamon.

Parke told the Friends of Palestine WA demonstrators gathered in Yagan Square on May 25 that it is hard to discuss Palestinian issues “openly and honestly” and to do so is to “invite a storm of vitriol and condemnation; an attempted shredding of the reputation of whoever is speaking”.

Not so. There are plenty of opinion makers who reasonably discuss Palestinian issues and receive no widespread community condemnation (see Dr Jamal Rifi’s statements on his involvement in a charity that helps Palestinian children across many media outlets in recent days).

The condemnation of Parke arises because the statements she makes are not just offensive, they are lies.

Among her fabrications, she tells the Perth demonstration that in Israel, “93% of Israeli land is off limits to non-Jews”. This is completely inaccurate.

According to data released in May, there are nearly two million Christian, Muslim and Druze Arab Israelis and a further 5% of the population is neither Jew nor Arab. These non-Jewish Israelis live, work and travel throughout Israel. They ride public buses, shop in the famous fresh food markets, are treated in state-funded hospitals by both Jewish and Arab medical staff and attend state-funded schools. And they can live or own property in any municipal area, even if many choose to remain in particular neighbourhoods for cultural reasons.

Parke’s claim, therefore, that Israel is an “apartheid state” is absurd. In fact just this week, Israel’s Jewish President hosted an Iftar dinner at his official residence telling Israeli-Muslim guests “your home is my home”.

Rather than blaming others, Parke should consider whether her contributions are both factual and helpful toward advancing the two-state peace she now claims she wants to see eventuate.

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