The Fictional basis of Carr’s Palestine pivot

Nov 18, 2014 | Gabrielle Debinski and Ahron Shapiro

The Fictional basis of Carr’s Palestine pivot

In a speech to the Australian Friends of Palestine Association, reproduced in part in the Australian, Bob Carr justifies his pivot on the Middle East by referring to “apartheid,” one of many factual and wholly irrational errors in the claims he has made against Israel as part of his push for Australia to support unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state.

It was interesting to note that one of key sources of inspiration Carr cites for his supposed change of views is a quote from the purely fictional TV drama “The West Wing. ” This was appropriate in context, because so much of what he said was similarly fictitious – without being attributable to television fiction.

It is interesting that Carr followed his initial article with a letter claiming that “no critic has disputed the key facts in my article.” While this is also untrue – numerous letter writers and others have publicly disputed many of Carr’s dubious or incorrect factual contentions- here is AIJAC’s detailed analysis of Carr’s many factually problematic claims.


The Shift in Israel

“Up to 60 per cent of the Israeli cabinet is on record as opposing a two-state solution.”

Carr is wrong in his claim that up to 60 per cent of the Israeli cabinet is on record opposing a two-state solution – a claim he emphasised by repeating it in a letter to the Australian on November 12, that read in part: “A majority of the Israeli cabinet is now on record opposing a two-state solution”.

While it may be true that most current Likud members opposed a two-state solution at some point in their long careers, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s 2009 policy declaration at Bar-Ilan University explicitly endorsing a two-state solution was a watershed event for all but a small but vocal minority faction within the Likud.

Today, a majority of Israel’s 22 ministers have indicated they would favour a two-state solution under the right circumstances – namely, if the result would bring genuine peace that would end the conflict – though many have expressed scepticism whether this option is currently available. Only about six are on record opposing the creation of a Palestinian state as a matter of principle. Regardless of these sceptics, there is little doubt the current Israeli government could get majority support for a two-state deal, with the opposition on record as ready to support such an agreement.

It is revealing that in June 2013, when a leader of this hard-right faction, Danny Danon tried to grab headlines by claiming that a majority of the cabinet opposed a two-state solution, a prominent Likud member of the cabinet rejected this depiction as self-serving nonsense:

“International Relations and Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz acknowledged that some members of the government oppose the two-state solution but asserted that “the entire cabinet” backs Netanyahu’s efforts to arrive at a two-state solution.”

“‘Prime Minister Netanyahu made it very clear that he and his cabinet and the entire government are totally committed to his Bar-Ilan speech about [a] two state for two peoples solution,’ Steinitz told reporters in Jerusalem. ‘And even if there are different positions within the coalition or the government, any member of the government is very well aware [of] and therefore committed to the prime minister’s vision, to the prime minister’s approach.'”


“Israel has gone from secular to religious. The ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionists hold 30 of the 120 seats in the Knesset.”

Carr stated in his address that Israel has gone from “secular to religious,” and by implication links this with “radical nationalism” he says is espoused by some Israeli ministers. Indeed, this is a bit of a stretch when considering that this Knesset abolished the military service exemptions for Ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary and Yeshiva students earlier in the year; a move heralded by the secular community within Israel and widely condemned by the Orthodox minority.

The claim is also false on the numbers. Israeli census figures show that 9% of Israeli Jews are “Haredi”, that is ultra-Orthodox, and 10% are “dati”, which usually means nationalist Orthodox, nowhere close to a majority. By contrast, 43% are “secular” and 38% described themselves as “traditional.”

Israeli writer Shmuel Rosner took on the myth that Israel was once a “secular state” or had a “secular majority,” a claim sometimes made by extreme secularists in Israel:

“There once was a secular majority and it no longer exists,” wrote an Israeli novelist (Haaretz again, no English translation at the time of writing). Well – not true. Maybe 60 years ago there was a secular majority for a short period of time, but Israel’s society has been more traditional than Israel’s press for quite a long time. The “secular majority” was fiction. There was no majority – there were religious and secular and many people in between. If one wants to consider traditional Israelis as secular, one has a secular majority – if one counts them as religious, one has a religious majority.”

Furthermore, it is only ignorance or prejudice or both that can lie behind the implication that just because some more Israelis are religious they must therefore be behind “radical nationalism” In fact, a large majority of Haredi Israelis are non-Zionist – that is not nationalist at all and interested mostly in their own religious communities. Thus, of the two major ultra-Orthodox parties in Israel, Shas and United Torah Judaism [neither is in the current government and they have 11 and 7 seats respectively in the 120 seat Knesset] have traditionally focussed politically on securing funding for their supporters and their religious institutions. Moreover, Shas, at least, has at times publicly expressed a willingness to agree to territorial compromise with the Palestinians for the sake of genuine peace.

Moreover, while it is true that religious parties hold 30 seats in the current Knesset, this is hardly anything new or unprecedented. The Knesset elected in 1999, which saw Ehud Barak’s government make several breakthrough peace offers to the Palestiniansm, had 27 seats held by religious parties.

Furthermore, all three of the religious parties were part of Barak’s governing coalition which made those historic peace offers.

Similar, the Knesset elected in 2006 also had 27 representatives of religious parties. That Knesset of course made Ehud Olmert Prime Minister, and he made offers of Palestinian statehood even more generous than Barak’s.


“[Israel] has gone from cosmopolitan to chauvinist…the takeover of Zionism by the fanatics.”

The idea that Israel was more “cosmopolitan” in 1977, when Carr helped found Labor Friends of Israel than today is simply bizarre, as even a routine visit should make obvious. Russians, Ethiopians and other immigrants have vastly increased the ethnic diversity of the country, Arab citizens are today clearly better integrated, and the high-tech boom has brought the country much more into the global cultural mainstream.

This claim is but one facet of Carr’s critique of the Israeli government, which strongly implies that Israel has been moving to the right on peace with the Palestinians in recent years. Nothing could be further from the truth. All of Israel’s major political parties including Likud, whose name Carr seems to like to use as an insult – have in recent years actually situated themselves on Israeli-Palestinian issues to the left of where Yitzhak Rabin, leader of the Centre -Left Labour party was before he was murdered in 1995.

As Yair Rosenberg recently noted in Tablet Magazine, in a speech to the Knesset a few weeks before his death, Rabin not only ruled out any return to the “4 June 1967 lines”, he also said he would only agree to a Palestinian “entity which is less than a state”, and demanded “‘united Jerusalem… as the capital of Israel, under Israeli sovereignty’ and demanded Israeli security control of “the Jordan Valley, in the broadest meaning of that term.”

Rosenberg points out:

“Unlike Rabin, [Netanyahu] froze West Bank settlements for 10 months to jumpstart negotiations, and initiated a ‘silent freeze’ on building in Israel’s contentious capital of Jerusalem. Even Netanyahu, in other words, has governed-both in word and deed-from Rabin’s left.”

Rosenberg also cites Ben Birbaum who summarised the recent peace talks in a lengthy and definitive piece for New Republic (see more analysis on Birnbaum’s article from AIJAC’s Allon Lee) stating, “the untold story of the peace process is the fact that by any objective measure, Benjamin Netanyahu today is to the left of where Yitzhak Rabin was in the 90s.”

Israeli governments have consistently sought to reach peace agreements and made three serious peace offers including a Palestinian state on almost all the land they claimed, and even withdrew from Gaza, dismantling settlements. Yet Carr claims these events led to his “epiphany” on Israel, whereby he realised that “for 25 years Palestinians have been committed to a negotiated solution” (nevermind the violent terrorist Intifada of 2000-2005, nor the rise of Hamas) but Israel is refusing to give them their state.

Yet even the current government is not only verbally committed to doing so, but according to American interlocutors, tried seriously to negotiate such an outcome during the recent ten months of negotiations. Even Martin Indyk, Chief US negotiator at this time and known to have long had a very poor relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, said in an interview with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg in July:

“Netanyahu moved to the zone of possible agreement. I saw him sweating bullets to find a way to reach an agreement.”


Settlements, Settlements, Settlements

“The symbol of Israel used to be the kibbutz,” says a friend in the British Labour Party. “It’s now the settlement…. [Settlements] have doubled in the past 54 months alone.”

Carr’s completely false claims about recent settlement growth are addressed in this recent blog post.

Equally inaccurate are his assertions that settlements are the primary impediment to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, thus ignoring the more obstructive barriers to the peace process.

Firstly, in obsessing over the settlements, Carr disregards continued incitement within the Palestinian camp and the corrosive effects of such anti-Israel and antisemitic propaganda on Israeli-Palestinian relations. This culture of incitement is reflected in comments made by the Palestinian Authority leadership as well as in official Palestinian media.

In September of this year, for example, reports emerged that following a football match between Israeli and Palestinian boys organised by the Peres Centre for Peace, Jibril Rajoub, Deputy Secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee and Head of the Palestinian Supreme Council for Sport and Youth Affairs, took to Facebook to express his dismay. On September 6 the Fatah official condemned the joint activity with “the Zionist enemy” which he called “a crime against humanity.”

More recently on 31 October, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party called for an official “day of rage” in Jerusalem, encouraging Palestinian “fighters” to “protect our holy places.” Such statements appear to show the underlying attitudes of Israel’s diplomatic ‘partner’ in peace.

Carr also stated that Abbas’ Fatah movement is committed to demilitarization. Yet, there is no proof of such intentions or of Abbas encouraging Hamas, his ‘partner’ in a de-facto coalition government formed in April this year, to renounce violence and come to the negotiating table. In an interview on Egyptian TV on 23 August, Abbas stated that while the US Secretary of State had told him to disarm, he had outright refused: “I told him: ‘Yes, once I have one state, one law, one rifle and one government, then you ask me to disarm. Not now. Give me a state and then I’ll decide.’

Clearly, Carr’s preoccupation with the settlements precludes him from acknowledging political realities. Of course, he will remember that in 2005 Israel handed the whole of Gaza to the Palestinians and in return was subjected to incessant Hamas rocket fire.

Carr would also recall that Israel has made genuine peace proposals to the Palestinians most notably in 2000, 2001 and 2008, which stipulated that Israel would only keep the larger and most populous settlement blocs (which it considers vital for its security) and would transfer other territory from Israeli to Palestinian sovereignty. Yet, the Palestinian Authority rejected all these offers and again in March this year walked away from the negotiating table after ten months of peace-talks.

If they had accepted, there would of course no longer be an issue with settlements.

And then there is the claimed Palestinian “right of return” to Israel for all descendants of Palestinian refugees. This demand, both impossible and unprecedented in international law, not only continues to be insisted upon by the Palestinian leadership – but is viewed in a completely uncompromising way by the Palestinian public.

Abbas made a speech in March in which he was unequivocal that every single descendant of a refugee must have the right to choose to move to Israel if they want. Former senior American National Security Council official dealing with the Middle East Elliot Abrams explained the import of Abbas demands:

In any real negotiation, Israel and the PLO will need to make compromises and it’s obvious that the PLO will have to abandon the idea that five million Palestinians have the right to move to Israel. No Israeli government will ever sign a deal that would leave Israel a majority Arab country….

By making the “right of return” a personal right for each Palestinian, Abbas is saying the PLO has no right to negotiate over it and no right to sign a agreement that defeats or even limits that “right.” If that’s really the PLO position, there will never be an agreement…

…Abbas’s maneuver here, as we approach the Kerry deadline in April, makes a genuine peace agreement unrealistic and in fact impossible. The terms he has just set forth will never be met. Rather than preparing for peace, he is not only making it impossible for himself to sign a deal, but also setting out terms that will make it impossible for his successors to sign a deal.

Yet according to a new study by the International Crisis Group (ICG), Abbas was accurately reflecting Palestinian opinion, which believes compromise is impossible on this issue, and many insist that any leader who compromises should be deposed or killed. Here’s a summary of the ICG’s findings according to Israeli journalist Adi Schwartz:

Palestinians will overwhelmingly reject any peace agreement that will not grant each of the 5 million people currently registered as “Palestinian refugees” the choice to settle in Israel. Viewing this demand as a mere talking point – as most of the peacemaking community does – is not only a delusion, but a momentous misreading of Palestinian authentic aspirations. In fact, giving up on this demand could lead to a violent revolt or a political murder of the Palestinian political leadership.

Israel has offered compromises that would have solved the settlement problem numerous times. It even dismantled numerous settlements, both in Gaza and the West Bank, in 2005 for the sake of peace.

The impossible claimed Palestinian right of return – which neither the Palestinian leadership nor the public is at all prepared to compromise on, is a vastly greater obstacle to peace by any objective measure. Indeed, the ICG warned that the current international approach to the refugee issue “is a recipe not only for failure and strife, but for undermining the two-state solution.”


The apartheid myth

“The word is apartheid, of course.”

Carr claims that his pivot from Israel towards the Palestinians was impelled by Israel’s creeping policy of “apartheid” where there is “one set of laws” for the Jewish “minority and “an inferior set of laws for the other” – being the Palestinian majority. This analysis is deeply flawed for two reasons.

First, Carr’s reference to the “Jewish minority” and “Palestinian majority” is factually erroneous. According to figures released by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, Israel’s total population at the end of 2013 was 8,132,000 of whom 6,102,000 (75.2%) were Jews, 1,682,000 (20.6%) were Arabs (Bedouin and Palestinian) and 348,000 were neither Jews nor Arabs (mostly non-Arab Christians). These figures do not include the Arab populations of the West Bank and Gaza Strip because Israel has never annexed these territories, which the Palestinians see as part of their own distinct State (along with east Jerusalem).

Yet, even if one adds in the Arab populations of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and counts all Arabs as Palestinians, the total populations of Israel – according to figures released in July this year by the CIA World Fact Book – West Bank and the CIA World Fact Book – Gaza Strip – still points to a majority of Jews (51.42%) compared to the Arab population (48.58%).

Yet more importantly, Carr’s brash application of the ‘apartheid’ slur fails to capture the crucial differences between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the conditions of apartheid-era South Africa. The clash in South Africa was a struggle by blacks for equal rights to white citizens, whom they identified as part of the same national community. Within Israel, however, Palestinians and other non-Jewish people are fully-fledged citizens with voting rights and equal access to healthcare and social services. There are currently twelve of them in the Israeli Parliament, many serve as judges in Israeli courts and they are fully integrated in public schools and universities.

Tellingly, in an interview in May this year, Frederik Willem de Klerk, the former president of South Africa responsible for ending the country’s apartheid regime, stated unequivocally that it was “unfair” to refer to Israel as an apartheid state.

He said: “You have Palestinians living in Israel with full political rights…you don’t have discriminatory laws against them, I mean not letting them swim on certain beaches or anything like that. I think it’s unfair to call Israel an apartheid state.”

Labor reactions

Happily Carr’s Labor colleagues have been pretty clear in taking on his ridiculous Apartheid claim and counter-productive claim that the way forward is to recognise the non-existent State of Palestine rather than facilitate the negotiations resolution which is the only possible practical way forward.

Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Tanya Plibersek has already commented, stating that recognition of Palestinian statehood must occur “in the context of a negotiated peace process,” further indicating, “I don’t think we should diminish the seriousness of the apartheid struggle in South Africa.”

Plibersek is not the only senior Labor figure to take issue with Carr’s comments; former Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke openly on Carr and his appointment, which she termed a mistake, and continued that only “fruitful negotiations” would result in the creation of a Palestinian state (see previous AIJAC blog post here).


Bob Carr has continued his questionable and highly suspect use of sources as previously detailed in AIJAC posts (here and here). In his latest offering, he takes his unwillingness to actually look at the facts as presented by genuine experts to new lows, instead making his case based on a single sentence from an unnamed UK politician, unverified claims by an unnamed Christian volunteer, the fact that an American magazine put the issue of settler violence on its cover and a fictional TV show that concluded 8 years ago.

He also defers to Haaretz journalist, Gideon Levy, as his primary point of reference for the current status of Palestinians in Israel. Carr states: “Gideon Levy wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that it leaves them living with mass arrests (760 in a recent sweep, 260 of them children) expulsions, demolitions.”

Levy is known for his ultra-extreme and deliberately provocative views and is not viewed as mainstream or credible by many in Israeli society or in the journalistic community. Indeed, Carr’s choice of a hard-line left-wing Israeli journalist (who views are rejected by most of the political spectrum in Israel) as his primary ‘local’ source within Israel reveals much about the former Foreign Minister’s selectiveness and inability to make his case based on mainstream sources This is the equivalent of relying on John Pilger, or Guy Rundle as one’s sole source for understanding Australian society.

Carr manipulates fact and historical analysis to suit his clearly defined political agenda. He refers to the work of Israeli historian Benny Morris, who he says has gone through the Israeli army’s archives “to tell the full story of how massacres were used during the foundation of Israel in 1948 to drive out 700,000 Palestinians.” Carr goes on to state that “the credibility of historian Benny Morris is confirmed when he declares he agreed with the policy and thinks David Ben-Gurion should have gone further until there were no Palestinians left.” Typically such claims are loaded with factual errors.

Morris never wrote about a pre-meditated plan by Jews at the time of Israel’s inception to expel the Arab inhabitants nor did he ever claim that it did not go far enough and he wished all the Arabs were expelled. Rather, Morris has consistently maintained in his work that the Palestinian Arabs were directly responsible for the fate that befell them in 1948 by refusing to accept the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, which recommended the creation of independent Arab and Jewish States in what was the British Mandate of Palestine.

In fact, Morris has made a point of repudiating those “Israel-haters” who “are fond of citing and more often mis-citing my work.” In a letter to the Irish Times in February 2008, Morris refuted claims made by scholars David Norris and David Landy that the “Zionists” were responsible for the expulsion of Arabs in 1948 and took part in a program of “ethnic cleansing.”

Morris wrote:

“In defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the UN General Assembly Resolution of November 29th, 1947 (No. 181), they launched hostilities against the Jewish community in Palestine in the hope of aborting the emergence of the Jewish state and perhaps destroying that community. But they lost; and one of the results was the displacement of 700,000 of them from their homes…

“There was no Zionist “plan” or blanket policy of evicting the Arab population, or of “ethnic cleansing”. Plan Dalet (Plan D), of March 10th, 1948 (it is open and available for all to read in the IDF Archive and in various publications), was the master plan of the Haganah – the Jewish military force that became the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) – to counter the expected pan-Arab assault on the emergent Jewish state. That’s what it explicitly states and that’s what it was. And the invasion of the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq duly occurred, on May 15th.”

Morris went on discuss more recently the ongoing efforts by Israel since its foundation to compromise on territory for the creation of independent states of Israel and Palestine:


“This (compromise) was the guiding line of the Zionist movement in the years 1948-1977, and has been again since 1992… Since the first intifada in 1988, about two-thirds of Israelis support territorial compromise.”

Clearly, Carr manipulated Morris’ historical analysis to align with his own fictitious interpretations.

It is interesting that Carr refers in his address to an episode of “The West Wing” where staffers discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – declaring that “Revolutionaries will outlast and out-die occupiers” – shortly before President Bartlet arranges a peace summit in Camp David between the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships.

What Carr does not mention is that a few episodes later the peace talks are underway and ultimately fruitful, resulting in a US-brokered peace agreement. Unilateral declarations of the sort encouraged by Carr in the form of unilateral recognition of the currently non-existent State of Palestine were not factored into the process.
Instead in the fictional universe, peace was ultimately achieved by what Gillard advocated; constructive negotiations.

In this respect, the “West Wing” may have had a point, but in general, fiction is a lousy guide to public policy. Yet fiction is what Carr had to offer. And by making his case a shallow case for a bad policy based on a mixture of fiction, ignorance, and woolly claims about how his own views were supposedly the wave of the future, Carr amply demonstrated that he is not a true friend of either Palestinians or Israelis.

Gabrielle Debinski and Ahron Shapiro



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