An edited version of this article was published in the West Australian (April 24, 2019).
Is the ALP heading down the road of its British counterpart, where the party has been rocked by scandal after scandal related to amply documented claims of antisemitism since Jeremy Corbyn took the leadership in 2015?
On the evidence of Bill Shorten’s and Chris Bowen’s swift condemnations of inflammatory statements from former MP for Fremantle and short-lived Curtin hopeful Melissa Parke — the answer, happily, is “no”. But that does not mean the danger has passed.
In a speech delivered to the WA Labor Friends of Palestine last month, Parke repeated inflammatory anti-Israel statements — including a claim Israeli soldiers forced a pregnant Palestinian to drink bleach — echoing the language and claims of inhuman behaviour directed at Israelis for many years and Jews for centuries.
It should not be necessary to state the obvious fact that criticism of Israel as you would criticise any other nation is not anti-Semitic.
However, Parke also complained that Israel’s “influence in our political system and foreign policy is substantial” and compared that influence to that of communist China.
Yet 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.
As the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism states, it is Antisemitic to make “mendacious, dehumanising, demonising, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as a collective — such as … Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
Sadly, Senator Sue Lines has also arguably created the impression she was invoking this trope in defending Parke, saying, “the Israeli lobby is so powerful within the party and outside the party and it really does impact on the sort of movement we’ve been able to make in our party.” And the problem extends beyond WA.
A chapter in former foreign minister and NSW Premier Bob Carr’s 2018 memoir Run for Your Life features some similar inflammatory language.
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 incontestable rights to the land God gave them” and asserts “through its political clout”, the Jewish community will always crush you.”
The danger is that the words of Parke, Carr and the others are arguably the products of a dangerous trend within left-wing politics globally — the same trend afflicting the British Labour party to a much greater degree.
Soviet propaganda during the Cold War and pro-third world activism in the 70s and 80s has long predisposed some on the left to go way beyond supporting the Palestinian right to self-determination and paint Israel as the second most important bastion of international “imperialism,” after the US.
A tendency to view everything about Israel as indefensible and evil has been exacerbated by the recent trend within the left for “intersectionality”, a belief that all forms of oppression are intricately linked, and that none can be addressed without fighting all the structures of oppression. Under this theory it became essential, in attempting to address sexism or indigenous disadvantage or worker rights, to also denounce Israel as an alleged “oppressor” of Palestinians.
Intersectionality is heavily focussed on confronting supposed power inequalities between groups and claiming supporters of Israel are overly and illegitimately powerful – and the vast majority of Jews are supporters of Israel – has become a key anti-Israel talking point for the intersectional left.
Once Jews are, collectively, labelled as powerful supporters of oppression, this licenses considerable and open antisemitism that was once anathema in most Western societies, as the British Labor party experience shows. There, party members have reportedly made numerous comments about the Jewish Rothschild banking family controlling Britain, blamed Jews for the slave trade, capitalism, the 9/11 attacks and “all the wars in the world”, and several have even praised Hitler for what he did to the Jews.
The Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, which Parke has publicly backed, is a major vector for this sort of open antisemitism which increasingly accompanies extreme anti-Israel claims. This is unsurprising given that BDS is inherently discriminatory, demanding that Israel and its largely Jewish supporters, alone of all the world’s nations, be punished through complete economic, academic, and cultural isolation, while BDS leaders openly admit their goal is ultimately Israel’s destruction.
The ALP has a long history of constructive, sensible and honourable support for Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, going back to the key role played by Labor leader Herbert “Doc” Evatt in Israel’s birth at the UN — as well as for a just two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The principled response of the ALP leadership to Parke’s extreme remarks was welcome but, given the wider trend which can be interpreted as underlying her claims, the party will need continued vigilance to avoid the fate of British Labour.