During an interview with Radio National’s Fran Kelly on April 10, former Foreign Minister Bob Carr raised a previously unreported story involving a vote in the UN General Assembly involving Israel. Carr used the story in an attempt to bolster his claim that then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been influenced by Australia’s pro-Israel lobbyists to stymie any criticism of Israel.
A fairer interpretation of the evidence and facts of the case, however, creates a different picture – one of a rogue foreign minister being reined in for attempting to unilaterally downgrade Australia’s relationship with Israel, without any policyconsultation, justification or coordination with his prime minister.
In his interview with Kelly, Carr discussed the vote in question:
Bob Carr: I wanted to cast a vote with Lebanon instead of Israel in a dispute over an oil spill. On all the advice from my department, Lebanon was in the right and only five nations in the General Assembly had been persuaded to stick with Israel. It was a commitment I had given to the Lebanese Foreign Minister on the strength of the case. And I was told that couldn’t happen and I detailed that in the book.
Fran Kelly: And you argued it and you printed the prime minister’s text messages.
Bob Carr: Yeah, that’s right. Because I think the public interest demands it.
Lets take a look at those text messages, as reported by Fairfax journalist Jonathan Swan:
“Julia – motion on Lebanon oil spill raises no Palestinian or Israel security issues. In that context I gave my commitment to Lebanon,” Mr Carr writes in a text message.
“No reason has been given to me to change,” Ms Gillard reportedly replies.
“Julia – not so simple,” Mr Carr responds. “I as Foreign Minister gave my word. I was entitled to because it had nothing to do with Palestinian status or security of Israel.”
Ms Gillard shuts him down in a final terse message: “Bob… my jurisdiction on UN resolutions isn’t confined to ones on Palestine and Israel.”
Now, lets look closer at that resolution on the oil spill in its proper context. The origin of the resolution was the Second Lebanon War, which was started by Hezbollah when it attacked and kidnapped Israeli soldiers from inside Israel and retreated with its captives back into Southern Lebanon.
During that war, the Israeli Air Force bombed Lebanon’s El-Jiyeh power plant, and as a result, oil from the plant’s storage tanks leaked into the Mediterranean Sea.
Here’s the UN resolution itself, as Carr would have seen it.
It demands Israel to financially compensate Lebanon and Syria for environmental damage caused by the Second Lebanon War, an unprecedented demand from a country that had entered a war as a result of being attacked. (What’s the word for Chutzpah in Arabic?)
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the watchdog organisation UN Watch, explained to AIJAC via email that the resolution is notoriously biased against Israel for a number of reasons:
[First of all] it completely ignores Hezbollah’s role in launching hostilities, and the damage caused in northern Israel caused by the firing of 4,000 rockets (including the burning of 500,000 trees). [Secondly] it ignores Lebanon’s non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions on dismantling Hezbollah. [Finally] it singles out Israel as only country in the world to be censured under the UN’s Sustainable Development agenda item.
Australia has long understood the unfairness of the resolution, which is why the Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott governments all directed Australia’s UN delegation to join the US, Canada and a few other countries to take a principled stand against the resolution every single year it has come up.
This has been Australia’s voting record:
Australia voted against this resolution in December 2013. (PM Abbott, FM Bishop) Vote 169-6-4
“Oil slick on Lebanese Shores” – 169 in favour to 6 against (Australia, Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Palau, United States), with 4 abstentions (Cameroon, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Tonga)
Australia voted against it in December 2012 (PM Gillard, FM Carr. This, of course, had to be the vote Carr was referring to, as it was the only one which came up while he was in office). Vote 172-9-5
The Assembly adopted the text by a recorded vote of 172 in favour to 9 against (Australia, Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, South Sudan, United States), with 5 abstentions (Cameroon, Colombia, Panama, Tonga, Vanuatu)
Australia voted against it in December 2011 (PM Gillard, FM Rudd) Vote 165-8-6
The Assembly adopted the draft resolution on the oil slick on Lebanese shores by 165 votes in favour to 8 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 6 abstentions (Cameroon, Central African Republic, Colombia, Gabon, Panama, Tonga)
Australia voted against it in December 2010 (PM Gillard, FM Rudd) Vote 163-6-5
The Assembly adopted the measures by a recorded vote of 163 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 5 abstentions (Cameroon, Colombia, Niger, Panama, Tonga)
Australia voted against it in December 2009 (PM Rudd, FM Smith) Vote 164-8-7
The Assembly adopted that text by a recorded vote of164 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Canada, Federated States of Micronesia, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 7 abstentions (Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, Fiji, Liberia, Panama, Tonga).
Australia voted against it in December 2008 (PM Rudd, FM Smith) Vote 165-7-2
The Assembly adopted that text by a recorded vote of 165 in favour to 7 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 2 abstentions (Cameroon, Colombia).
Australia voted against it in December 2007 (PM Rudd, FM Smith) Vote 169-8-3
The Assembly approved that text by a recorded vote of 169 in favour to 8 against (Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, Israel, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau, United States), with 3 abstentions (Cameroon, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire).
Australia voted against it in December 2006 (PM Howard, FM Downer) Vote 170-6-0
The Assembly adopted the resolution by a recorded vote of 170 in favour to 6 against (Australia, Canada, Israel, Marshall Islands, Palau, United States).
After reviewing the history of this resolution, the real question that journalists should be putting to Mr. Carr, is why after years of voting with Israel on this resolution, he had somehow unilaterally decided on his own to promise the Lebanese Foreign Minister that he would reverse Australia’s position on it (yes, reverse – not just abstain).
In Bob Carr’s own words, “the public interest demands it”.
Author’s postscript: My concluding assertion that Carr had intended to fully reverse Australia’s vote on the resolution in question was based upon the abdridged quotes that had been published in Jonathan Swan’s report.
Carr’s unabridged published diary leaves open the question whether Carr intended for Australia to abstain or vote “yes”.
Carr’s text message to Gillard on November 20, 2012 shows that, after being instructed to vote “no”, he had implored Gillard to consider at least an abstention instead.
However, on November 22, Carr wrote that he had called Australia’s UN envoy Gary Quinlan with the implied intention of instructing him to “vote ‘yes’ or abstain” if he had not received explicit instructions to the contrary from Gillard herself (which Quinlan had).
So, let the record show that Carr’s diary leaves unresolved whether he would have instructed Quinlan to vote “yes” or abstain in his November 22 phone call, had Gillard’s office not directly intervened.