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Sensible Centre

By ZFA President Jeremy Leibler
This article originally appeared in The Daily Telegraph 14 May 2021

By digging in with his comparison of Israel and the South African apartheid regime last week, former foreign minister Bob Carr appears to have completed the shift from somewhat obsessed advocate to irrational extremist. What a waste of undeniable intelligence, expertise and influence.

As reported by Daily-Telegraph journalist James Morrow last week, Mr Carr has again departed from federal ALP policy by encouraging party members to move motions at the upcoming state conference promoting a resolution to boycott products made in Israeli settlements.

A former foreign minister should know better than to suggest a move that would be devastating for the tens of thousands of everyday Palestinians, who work in Israeli settlements receiving the same pay and conditions as Israeli nationals.

The apartheid slur, which Mr Carr employs as “click bait” at the top of his email, is the lazy way extremists engage with other extremists. In addition to being a patently false analogy, it is utterly disrespectful to the millions who suffered under that brutal regime in South Africa.

Carr’s statement in response to the Daily-Telegraph report digs the hole even deeper. Though the logic of the statement is difficult to follow, it appears to suggest that the situation of the Palestinians in Israel is worse than that of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang because international law recognises Xinjiang as a territory of China.

It’s a sad irony that within days of Carr’s superficial analysis, Israeli schools, universities, airports are closed and millions of Israelis are spending their evenings in bomb shelters as Hamas fires hundreds of missiles at its civilian population. No doubt Carr will blame Israel for defending its own citizens and expect zero accountability of the Palestinian leadership. It doesn’t fit his narrative.

Acknowledgment of the Arab citizens of Israel, who serve as Supreme Court judges, diplomats and members of Parliament, who work as journalists, doctors, teachers is absent from Mr Carr’s missives. An inconvenient truth.

Nor does Mr Carr choose to mention that 90 per cent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza live and work under the control of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas governments, afforded a devastating lack of human and civil rights by those who purport to represent them, those who benefit from Carr’s blinkered advocacy.

Where Mr Carr is spot on is in pointing out that Israelis have different views on settlements and on many, many other issues of concern in this challenging part of the world. So too do members of the Jewish community and wider community, in Australia and globally.

But Mr Carr only gives voice to the views of extremists (or twists the words of non-extremists including two former Israeli prime ministers by quoting them completely out of context).

Sadly, Carr is not alone in providing an echo chamber for the extreme fringe, an approach which effectively extinguishes any opportunity for sensible debate on a sensitive subject. Take the UN event in September, dubbed ‘Durban IV’, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the 2001 World Conference Against Racism held in Durban.

Don’t be confused by its name – the original Durban conference was hijacked by extremist activists and marked by mob disruptions of events tackling antisemitism, demonstrations that called for violence against Jews and thousands of posters comparing Israel with the Nazis. Two subsequent gatherings, in 2009 and 2011, went down a similar path.

It is a sad irony that an international conference designed to tackle racism has been hijacked by racist activists and countries who would prefer to see the world’s only Jewish state wiped off the map.

To his great credit, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced last week that the Australian Government will follow the principled action of former Australian governments of both political persuasions in boycotting this year’s event.  The US and Canada have done the same.

Standing back from this particular issue, we need to recognise as fellow human beings that the words and actions of institutions and individuals on the extreme fringe – both right and left – inhibit reasonable and civil discourse in this country and around the world.

If we as a society want to have any chance of solving complex issues, we need to carve out a space for people to talk and listen to one another.

It is imperative, not only for the pursuit of peace in the middle east, but for humanity as a whole, that we stop allowing extremists to hog the microphone.

Jeremy Leibler is President of the Zionist Federation of Australia