Letter published concerning the position of Labor MP Julia Irwin on the Israel conflict, The Australian, 18 July 2003.
Just as the ALP leadership is moving to mend fences with traditional supporters in the Jewish community, one of the people who originally caused the rift has poured more oil on the fire.
Backbencher Julia Irwin (Opinion, 16/7) claims her stance, reflected in her speech and other statements on a one-sided motion she introduced last November, are consistent with ALP policy. This means she is arguing that her refusal to condemn Palestinian terrorism is consistent with ALP policy; her unsupportable claims about demands made on Israel, her demand that Israel grant the Palestinians a state without getting a peace treaty in return, and her repeated sly attacks on the supposed evil power of the Jewish lobby in Australia are all consistent with ALP policy.
None of this is true. When I was a participant in debates in the party – at ALP conferences, the anti-Israel lobby was kept in check. By the early 1980s the anti-Semitism of sections of the mad Left of the Victorian ALP were exposed and defeated by Bob Hawke and others. At that time, Simon Crean was a proud member of the coalition for sensible ALP policy on the Middle East. He is a well-known supporter of Israel.
In no sense has the ALP ever supported the merits of one side in the debate (as if there is only one side on this complicated region). Respect for the rights of the Palestinians and support for Israel are compatible. Labor friends of Israel, from all factions, respect diverse views and criticism of Israeli government policies, including the settlements. Traditionally debate within the party is expressed in the context of respect for the only beacon of democracy in the region – Israel.
Given Ms Irwin’s latest effort, there is now no choice. It’s time the ALP leadership said something. This is not an issue about ‘freedom of speech’, as if the ALP is just a debating society. The leadership and mainstream of the party must make it absolutely clear that ALP policy on the Middle East entails genuine even-handed support for a negotiated peace process leading to a two-state solution meeting the needs of both sides.
This letter to the editor was prompted by another anti-Israel diatribe by Julia Irwin (1951- ; Federal MP for Fowler [NSW], 1998-2010], a then Labor MP in western Sydney. Irwin, a former member of the Left, who defected to the NSW ALP Right to win a pre-selection, I then considered an outlier on Middle East questions.
She was to play a persistent, active role in trying to persuade anyone who would listen of her hostile views on Israel.