Opposition Leader Kim Beazley is coming under increased pressure from Australia's influential Jewish community to publicly repudiate Labor MPs who are "Nazifying" Israel, despite its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The latest bout of justifiable Jewish angst follows another ugly outburst by Labor backbencher Julia Irwin in federal Parliament two weeks ago.
Following the Gaza pull-out, Irwin told Parliament in part: "Gaza is now a Palestinian ghetto; a prison for its one million people. All flows of people and goods must pass through Israeli border controls, which has resulted in the World Bank's reporting that unemployment and poverty will rise in Gaza. Now Israel will rule Gaza like a walled ghetto, a giant penal colony, a concentration camp.
"We are witnessing the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Palestinian nation. The world must not allow this to happen."
This is deliberately insidious stuff. Note the use of the words "ghetto", "concentration camp" and "ethnic cleansing", all terms associated with the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany. An understandably furious Australian Jewish community believes Irwin is engaged in dangerous moral relativism, putting forward the phony proposition that Israel is acting in the same way as Hitler.
That anger has prompted a letter to Beazley from Martin Guenzl, a prominent member of the Australian-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. Guenzl was polite but to the point. His letter to the Opposition Leader said in part:
"I wanted to register my shock and disgust at the comments made by the member of [sic] Fowler, Ms Irwin, in Parliament last week, and seek from you a public condemnation.
"Nazification of Israel -- through use of the terms 'concentration camp', 'walled ghetto' and 'ethnic cleansing' -- crosses a red line from legitimate criticism to deliberate demonisation. There can be no justification for the choice of words, which seem inflammatory by design, at a time when painful concessions bring hope of improvement in the Middle East.
"Israel, like Australia, is home to many survivors of the death camps in Europe, survivors who remain traumatised by the genocidal threats of Nazi Germany. In recent years, many survivors have faced renewed threats in Israel from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the PA-sponsored clerics who preach that Jews should be killed. How shamefully ironic that the soldiers and fences that prevent terrorists completing the job Hitler started almost 60 years ago would themselves be Nazified.
"It is disappointing that such comments, which have no place in a civilised country, have not been immediately condemned outright. I would welcome your thoughts and response on this matter, and would be even more encouraged if such condemnation was to be made soon."
Following Irwin's unconscionable speech, a number of things happened. Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne, and backbencher Tony Smith, the keepers of the pro-Israel flame inside the Coalition, immediately called for Beazley to state his position. "Mr Beazley must publicly denounce Ms Irwin and condemn the rubbish that she speaks, if he is to convince anyone that his support for Israel is more than hot air," said Smith.
Pyne was on the same songsheet: "Kim Beazley should immediately discipline Ms Irwin. He must insist that she apologise for her remarks. She must be required to withdraw them in the House."
Irwin subsequently did just that. Beazley, under pressure from Pyne and Smith in question time on the issue, tried to regain ground on the run. "There is absolutely nobody in this chamber who has been more supportive of Israel's right to exist within secure and recognised borders than I," the Opposition Leader told the chamber by way of a preamble to an unrelated question. "I do not need to be hectored and lectured by the likes of you."
Beazley is correct. He is an advocate of secure Israeli and Palestinian states. But the issue here is Irwin and Labor's overall credibility on the Middle East, something he must now sustain as leader. While Irwin is nominally a member of Beazley's Right faction, her heart remains with the Left. She only swapped factions as part of a deal that threatened her husband's state pre-selection in NSW. And it is the Left that is repository of anti-Israeli sentiment inside the caucus. In terms of amoral factional deals, Mark Latham had some things right.
Following Irwin's diatribe Opposition whip Roger Price magically appeared and, pointedly speaking on behalf of the Labor Party, declared to the Parliament: "Australia should do whatever it can in the coming months to encourage both sides to maintain the momentum created by Israel's decision to withdraw from Gaza. It is true that the honourable member for Fowler [Irwin], who is always passionate about the causes she embraces, used some words in a speech which caused offence, but she withdrew them today after question time and I admire the honourable member for Fowler for her courage in doing so."
The Jewish community, though, is not going to be happy with any "admiration" for Irwin. They want a straight-out public repudiation from Beazley. And you can understand why. Irwin has form in condemning Israel in strident terms. On September 8 she slipped into the parliamentary adjournment debate to reject the idea that terrorists might target Australia because of its Western values system. Rather, she argued, it was because of Australia's actions in Islamic countries such as Iraq that we were in danger. Her observation: "This cowardly Government wants to hide behind another lie, the lie that Islamic fundamentalism is the root of terrorism." That's right, Julia, we're the ones who are responsible for blowing up people on the London underground.
Irwin is not alone. Inner Sydney city left-wing MP Tanya Plibersek has previously condemned Ariel Sharon as a "war criminal". Fellow left winger Anthony Albanese admits he cannot talk to Jewish ALP backbencher Michael Danby except through intermediaries. A happy bunch when it comes to the politics of Israel.
What's also making Australian Jewry uneasy is the recent revelations in The Latham Diaries that the former Labor leader was opposed to the Australian-US alliance and would have junked it if he became prime minister. Not that he told the Australian people that. Latham, of course, was supported by large elements of the Left for the leadership. And anti-US sentiment necessarily equates to being anti-Israel.
Even some members of the caucus are now wondering what private undertakings Latham might have given on the alliance and Israel in the horse trading over leadership votes. The Australian Jewish community is wondering, too. Latham has gone but Irwin remains. Over to you Kim.