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Labor, Greens MPs denounce action on antisemitism in NSW

Mar 30, 2022 | Naomi Levin

Swastikas graffitied in Bondi in 2019 (Photo: courtesy of ECAJ)
Swastikas graffitied in Bondi in 2019 (Photo: courtesy of ECAJ)

“There are many Jewish people who do not support the State of Israel.”

This extraordinary statement was made by a NSW Labor MP during a recent parliamentary debate on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

The NSW Parliament made history on March 23, when the NSW Upper House became the first house of parliament in Australia to adopt the IHRA definition.

The motion was supported by Coalition MPs, Labor MPs and members of the crossbench, including Christian Democrat the Reverend Fred Nile of the Christian Democrats, who introduced it.

Regrettably though, there were some Labor and Greens MPs who continue to spread the false claim that the IHRA definition will silence those who wish to criticise Israel.

The above statement – that “There are many Jewish people who do not support the State of Israel” – was delivered by Anthony D’Adam, a first-term Upper House member from the Labor Left faction.

D’Adam’s statement is fundamentally inaccurate, as credible research shows. The Gen17 survey undertaken at Monash University found that a “high level of personal connectedness with Israel characterises the Jewish communities of Melbourne and Sydney” and a strong majority of the community self-identify as Zionists.

D’Adam said he would vote for the motion as a member of the ALP but expressed unequivocal opposition to the IHRA definition of antisemitism, before making yet another preposterous claim.

He told the Parliament: “I would argue that Israel has made Jewish people more unsafe”.

Perhaps D’Adam should make that claim in front of the thousands of Ukrainian Jews who have recently emigrated to the safe haven that is Israel? Or ask the tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews whose traditions have thrived in Israel after miraculous missions to bring them to safety.

D’Adam added that the way to make Jewish people safer is not via an “agenda to close down debate around Israel.” This is a ridiculous statement given the IHRA definition explicitly alerts users to the fact that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

It was also rejected by his much more senior Labor colleague, NSW Shadow Treasurer Daniel Mookhey, who told Parliament that, “support for the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism does not prevent parliamentarians from expressing concerns about the actions of various Israeli governments when necessary”.

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with current affairs in Australia can see that Mookhey is right and D’Adam is wrong. Since the NSW Premier and Opposition Leader embraced the IHRA definition of antisemitism in December, substantive debate – and yes, criticism – of Israel has been levelled in the public sphere, not least of which during the Sydney Festival. It was publicly contested, but this debate was certainly not shut down.

Regrettably, D’Adam was not the only NSW Labor MP to fundamentally misrepresent the nature and use of the IHRA definition of antisemitism.

Long-time Israel critic, Shaoquett Moselmane told Parliament that the motion to endorse the definition was “not about protecting people of the Jewish faith against antisemitism. The motion is no more than a tool pushed by Israel and its lobbyists around the world to silence criticism of Israel’s human right violations”.

Moselmane then paints a picture of Israel that is entirely false. “Palestinians are made to walk on separate footpaths, drive on separate roads, eat in separate eateries and wait in long lines at checkpoints on their way home or on their way to work and the sole aim is to denigrate and humiliate them into submission”.

A whole article could be written debunking Moselmane’s baseless claims. Suffice to say, Israeli Arabs use the same roads, transport, shops, eateries and hospitals as Jewish Israelis. Within the West Bank, there are security processes, such as checkpoints. However the aim of these is to prevent terrorism, not to humiliate, and Israel has actually been investing considerable funding in making these security checks as quick as possible.

Moselmane and D’Adam were joined by Greens MPs Abigail Boyd and David Shoebridge in seeking to dismiss the Jewish community’s preferred definition of antisemitism. Boyd and Shoebridge’s opposition was unsurprising given the Australian Greens’ own antisemitism policy explicitly rejects the IHRA’s consensus definition.

Boyd told Parliament the definition is “incredibly controversial”, adding: “Criticism of Israel is criticism as a nation-state, not criticism of its people, in the same way that criticism of Australia is criticism of the actions and policies of our government and not criticism of the Australian people.”

Boyd is correct, which, to reiterate, is why the IHRA definition explicitly states that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. She then read a short list of five fringe anti-Zionist organisations who “oppose” the IHRA definition of antisemitism as though their opposition is proof of its ineffectiveness (and she even erroneously included the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations in this list). Boyd could have quoted a much longer list of organisations that support the IHRA definition (at last count more than 450), as well as the more than 30 countries that have endorsed it.

Her party colleague Shoebridge then endorsed the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism as his definition of choice. Yet American antisemitism scholar Cary Nelson noted in a comprehensive critique of the Jerusalem Declaration that “The Declaration offers modest criticism of antisemitism as a cover for endorsing the most antisemitic of all relevant political projects, eliminating the Jewish state.”

Fortunately, NSW Parliament also heard from MPs from across the political spectrum who support the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the motion was carried.

Scott Farlow, Liberal MP and chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel, hit back at critics of the IHRA definition. “This should not be controversial but some members seek to make it controversial,” Farlow said. “We need to stamp out antisemitism. We need to ensure that the Jewish people are protected wherever they may be around the world. The IHRA definition gives us an opportunity to define antisemitism to ensure that we stamp it out.”

Walt Secord, NSW Shadow Minister for Police and Counter-Terrorism, added: “Only a tiny fringe are advocating an alternative definition, and they are being manipulated by a disingenuous group of anti-Israel activists and people on the far left and far right of politics.”

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