Why should Israel’s lobby have different standards?

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PM Malcolm Turnbull takes selfie with Israeli PM Benjamin Yetanyahu, complete with slouch hat, at Beershaba in the former Palestine, 31 October 2017 (Image via @IsraeliPM)

Forget China, no country has interfered, spied and endangered Australia’s security, sovereignty and the integrity of its national institutions more than Israel and its powerful lobbyists, writes former Palestinian Ambassador Ali Kazak.

ASIO's director-general Duncan Lewis expressed concerns recently in his agency's annual report about foreign interference. 

Mr Lewis said over the past year:

We identified foreign powers clandestinely seeking to shape the opinion of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance their country's own political objectives.

These activities, undertaken covertly to obscure the role of foreign governments, represent a threat to our sovereignty, the integrity of our national institutions, and the exercise of our citizens' rights.

While no country was mentioned in the report, there has been a hint of concern about Russian and Chinese activities. This is a contrast with Canberra’s relaxed approach and appeasement of the most powerful lobby on behalf of a foreign government: Australia’s Israel lobby.  

There is nothing ASIO suggests any Chinese lobby of doing that the Israeli lobby has not been doing for over 30 years. Any Chinese lobby is child’s play in contrast to the well-established Israeli lobby.

No country has more interfered, spied and endangered Australia’s security, sovereignty and the integrity of its national institutions than Israel and its powerful lobby.

By their own admission, the lobby receives funds from Israeli institutions, coordinates and cooperates with the Israeli government and embassy, and has 'established a long tradition of strong public advocacy on behalf of Israel' to shape the opinion of members of the Australian public, media organisations and government officials in order to advance Israel’s own political objectives.

Consecutive Liberal and Labor governments have been selling Australia’s foreign policy to Israel for decades, with huge campaign donations and free trips for MPs, officials, staffers and union officials. 

There is no moral, commercial or national strategic interest to justify Australia’s unconditional support of the position of the Netanyahu cabinet. Nor is there a large “Jewish vote”. The last census saw the Jewish population fall to just 91,022. Public opinion surveys for more than ten years repeatedly show over 70 pe rcent support for Australia’s recognition of Palestine. So why the biased policy towards Israel?

The answer is the influence on the government and Opposition’s Middle East policies of a well-organised Israeli-linked lobby, which works for a foreign government.

Australian companies and businessmen, some of whom are both Israeli and Australian nationals, finance the Israeli-linked lobby groups. These include the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) and the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA). They also donate money to both Labor and Liberal parties. On occasions, threats were made to withhold donations when there were hints of support for Palestine.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) revealed in November 2012 that AIJAC, through its Rambam Israel Fellowship Programhas sponsored free trips to Israel for 

'... more than 400 political leaders – including Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott – party advisers, public servants and university students. A separate trip is also run for journalists... '

As far back as 9 August 1985, businessman Mark Leibler, as president of the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA), said in the Australian Jewish News (AJN):

'We are generally improving our areas of influence. … and our directors interact fairly regularly with politicians, editors and journalists on a national scale and are in contact with officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs. The [Zionist] Federation works in close cooperation with the Israel Embassy in Canberra. We ought to be, and are the leading force in the community on matters of Israel and Zionism.'

Journalist Sam Lipski wrote about lobbying for Israel in an article on the AJN on 13 August 1993. He confirmed the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and ZFA were linked with the Israeli Government and work on its behalf.

Lipski wrote:

'More or less since the 1982 Lebanon War, the ECAJ and the ZFA allowed, and the Likud government encouraged, a blurring of the roles between the ECAJ/ZFA and the Israeli Embassy. These two bodies became quasi-diplomatic agencies, often filling the vacuum created by an undermanned and remote Israel embassy.'

Imagine for a moment the angst of ASIO if a Chinese community leader had referred to Chinese associations in Australia becoming “quasi diplomatic agencies” to help the understaffed Chinese embassy. 

On 20 August 1993, Helene Teichmann wrote in AJN that the Israeli Prime Minister

'…[Yitzhak] Rabin has praised the ZFA’s work and there has never been an indication from any Israeli government, publicly or privately, that the ZFA is not doing what is good for Israel and our community or that some other organ could do better. Nor does the ZFA act in splendid isolation. The Israeli Embassy and the Federation consult closely and completely agree as to their respective roles.'

The SMH reported Mark Leibler on 3 July 1993 as revealing that

“ZFA receives funds from the Jewish Agency in Israel.”

In the Jerusalem Post on 24 June 2010, Isi Leibler wrote:

'Jewish leaders have established a long tradition of strong public advocacy on behalf of Israel, and they can take much of the credit for the fact that successive governments have maintained a strong bipartisan support for Israel.'

One case study says it all.

Former Minister for Foreign Affairs Senator Gareth Evans criticized Israel’s human rights records during a visit to Israel in 1992 and echoed U.S. support for General Assembly Resolution 194, which calls for the repatriation of the Palestinian refugees forced out of their homeland in 1948. The Israel lobby went into overdrive. The Australian newspaper reported, on 13 June 1992, the president of the ECAJ Leslie Caplan had denounced Evans in an article headlined ‘Jewish community pressures Evans on criticism of Israel’

Caplan said:

"Unless the Government stepped back from the views expressed by Senator Evans, it would cost the ALP significant Jewish support at the next federal election."

And Jewish MP Barry Cohen said:

“... the Jewish community, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, had always been a strong source of ideological and financial support for the ALP. That will be weakened whenever a government appears to be antagonistic towards the State of Israel.”

An article in The Bulletin on 4 August 1992, entitled ‘ALP can’t count on Jewish support’, reported ECAJ’s new president, Jeremy Jones, saying

“It is not so much the Jewish vote that matters – there are fewer than 100,000 Jews in Australia – but rather the vast financial resources of the community’s wealthier members.”

Imagine if a Chinese community leader had said: It’s not the number of Chinese voters in Australia that counts but rather the vast finances of its wealthier members.

When Labor MPs criticized Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights in 2003, there was the threat of withdrawing Jewish financial support to Labor. 

The former Federal Labor MP Julia Irwin said in The Australian:

"The threat to withdraw financial support for the ALP because of perceived anti-Israel comments by Labor backbenchers is worrying. Not because the Labor needs the money, but because it suggests that all party members must toe the line even if their comments broadly agree with Labor policy.”

The late Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, said in an article ‘The isolation of Hamas is impeding peace’, in The Age (11/8/09):

“Fear of criticism from the Jewish lobby in Australia has so far prevented Australian governments taking effective action.”

As a result of the Israeli lobby’s influence, Australia has joined a group of banana republics such as Micronesia, Costa Rica, Palau and the Marshall Islands, continuously opposing UN resolutions condemning Israel’s occupation, violations of international law and human rights, racial discrimination, the building of Jewish colonies and the Apartheid Wall, which further isolates Australia from the international community at the UN and other international forums.

For years, the Australian media has been reporting Israel’s spying activities, forging Australian and New Zealand passports, and recruiting Australians from the Jewish community to its army and spy agencies.

For example, New Zealand’s security agency arrested two Mossad agents in mid-2004 while attempting to obtain New Zealand passports under false names, Mossad’s spy cell operated under the nose of ASIO from its headquarters in Sydney, which was the base for its spying activities in Australasia for more than ten years.

Mossad used the forged Australian passports to spy in other countries and carry out the assassination of a Palestinian Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Mabhoh in Dubai, UAE, a country friendly to Australia. This was a serious violation of Australia’s sovereignty and the undermining of international confidence in Australia’s passports.

Imagine the front page hysteria if Chinese spies had ever forged Australian passports to carry out a targeted assassination in a third country with which Australia had cordial relations. Nothing remotely as serious and specific was uncovered by the recent Four Corners-Fairfax attempt, assisted by ASIO, to find Chinese intrusion on Australian sovereignty.

In an article in the SMH on 26 February 2010, Peter Hartcher reported an Australian official saying

“... the Israeli secret service had probably calculated that, even if it were caught using forged Australian passports, Canberra would not retaliate. It wouldn’t matter whether it was John Howard or Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott in the prime minister’s chair… [the Israelis] know they’ve got us by the balls… partly because of the Israel lobby.”

Allowing Israel and its lobby to use their financial donations, interfere, spy and endanger Australia’s security, sovereignty and the integrity of its national institutions with impunity, and without being accountable is a clear indication of the dangerous level of influence they have been allowed to get to in Australia, which makes the Government and the security agencies so weak and fearful; they are becoming the untouchable Holly Cow no matter what they do.

Attorney-General George Brandis announced recently that the Government is developing new legislation to require registration of foreign agents in Australia.   

This would immediately be applicable to Israel and its powerful lobby. ASIO too should be required to oversight the most powerful lobby for a foreign government at work in Australia.

Substitute the words Israel, Jewish and Zionist Organisation for China, Chinese and the Communist Party, and imagine if China forged Australian passports, and used them to spy on other countries and carry out assassinations in friendly countries. Then think again about how Australia might have reacted — and how, indeed, it should react.

Ali Kazak is a former Palestinian ambassador.

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