IN THE MEDIA
Labor MPs ‘acting with prejudice’ over war crimes claims, says US adviser
Oct 23, 2023 | Cameron Stewart
The Weekend Australian – October 21 2023
A foreign policy adviser to three US presidents has accused Labor cabinet ministers Ed Husic and Anne Aly of acting on the basis of “prejudice” rather than “evidence” in accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza.
Elliott Abrams, who worked as a foreign policy adviser to Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump, described their claims as wrong and “unacceptable”. He said such comments do no favours for the people of Gaza because they only help Hamas.
Mr Husic, a Muslim, said he believed the residents of Gaza were being “collectively punished” for the crimes of Hamas. Collective punishment is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions.
Ms Aly, who is also Muslim, agreed with her cabinet colleague saying “it’s difficult to argue that those children are Hamas and it’s difficult that what is currently occurring is not a form of collective punishment”.
Many Labor colleagues have defended their comments, which came amid heated debate in Canberra about Israel’s bomb strikes in Gaza that have killed more than 2000 people.
But Mr Abrams, who is a Jewish conservative, said Mr Husic and Ms Aly were wrong.
“It is impossible to make that charge on the basis of evidence,” he said during a visit to Melbourne. “You can only make that choice on the basis of prejudice. These are knee-jerk reactions against Israel. I would doubt whether either of them has consulted with international lawyers.”
Mr Abrams said that Israel’s warning to citizens in northern Gaza to move to the south for their own safety was “in fact a duty under the law of war. And Hamas’s effort to prevent those people moving is a war crime”.
He said Israel’s siege of Gaza was not against the law and that it was, rather, a matter of how that siege was conducted.
“When you consider what happened on October 7, to put that away just over a week later and simply forget about it is really unacceptable,” Mr Abrams said about the MPs.
“The people of Gaza never voted for Hamas, they never chose Hamas and public opinion polls suggest they don’t want Hamas but they have no way of getting rid of it,” he said. “So let’s show some concerns for the lives of the people of Gaza and one of the ways to do this is to get rid of Hamas.”
The conflict has caused division in Canberra, with the Coalition squarely backing Israel and the Greens backing Palestinians in Gaza. Labour has strongly condemned Hamas but although Mr Albanese has backed Israel’s right to defend itself, the death toll in Gaza has caused splits in it Labor ranks with Mr Husic and Ms Aly being the most senior.
A host of union leaders have claimed that the terrorist attack that killed more than 1400 Israelis was a “direct result” of Israel’s “illegal occupation of Palestinian land” and policies of “apartheid and ethnic cleansing”.
Mr Abrams, who is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at New York’s Council on Foreign Relations, was deputy national security adviser for Mr Bush, an assistant secretary of state under Reagan and US special representative for Iran for Mr Trump.
He said he believed there was no choice for Israel but to conduct a full ground offensive against Hamas in Gaza. “They need to eliminate that threat completely so that Gaza is no longer a threat to Israeli citizens,” he said. “There is no alternative to this and I don’t think the Israeli people would settle for anything less. Anything less would also diminish the impression of Israel’s power in the Middle East, which is a region where if you are not viewed as tough and powerful, you are in big danger.”
Mr Abrams said the greatest risk to Israel now was a “two-front war” also involving the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.
It was impossible to destroy Hamas in Gaza without incurring civilian casualties in that densely populated enclave. “Hamas is saying to people ‘don’t get out of the way, don’t move south to safety’,” he said.
“Hamas has a complete lack of concern about the people of Gaza and about civilian casualties. They use them for public relations purposes.”