Yesterday I did a short post on the stunning criticism of the Israel lobby’s influence in Australia coming from a former Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, whose memoir says that Jewish donors so preyed on the mind of a liberal prime minister that she wouldn’t let him utter a word of criticisms against Israeli settlements.
Well, sunshine is the best disinfectant, and this story just gets bigger and bigger. It’s in Haaretz (my postscript); and the Australian media are taking seriously Carr’s assertions that the lobby’s influence is “unhealthy” and that it has too much access to policymakers. The story has been propelled by lobby charges of bigotry against Carr, who trots out the usual; he recommended a Holocaust book as the most important book of the last 100 years in a book he wrote about reading. And by the fact that Carr published text messages between himself and former P.M. Julia Gillard.
First, Carr states his case plainly in an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corp. He says it’s the rightwing lobby, and that it’s banjaxed Australian opposition to the settlement project:
SARAH FERGUSON: Let’s go to the book. The strongest criticism of all in the book is aimed at the Melbourne Jewish lobby. Now, there are lobby groups for every cause under the sun. What’s wrong with the way that group operates?
BOB CARR: Well the important point about a diary of a Foreign minister is that you shine light on areas of government that are otherwise in darkness and the influence of lobby groups is one of those areas. And what I’ve done is to spell out how the extremely conservative instincts of the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne was exercised through the then-Prime Minister’s office. And I speak as someone who was in agreement with Julia Gillard’s agenda on everything else. But I’ve got to say, on this one, I found it very frustrating that we couldn’t issue, for example, a routine expression of concern about the spread of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. Great blocks of housing for Israeli citizens going up on land that everyone regards as part of a future Palestinian state, if there is to be a two-state solution resolving the standoff between Palestinians and Israelis in the Middle East.
SARAH FERGUSON: You’re saying that the Melbourne Jewish lobby had a direct impact on foreign policy as it was operated from inside Julia Gillard’s cabinet?
BOB CARR: Yeah, I would call it the Israeli lobby – I think that’s important. But certainly they enjoyed extraordinary influence. I had to resist it and my book tells the story of that resistance coming to a climax when there was a dispute on the floor of caucus about my recommendation that we don’t block the Palestinian bid for increased non-state status at the United Nations.
SARAH FERGUSON: They’re still a very small group of people. How do you account for them wielding so much power?
BOB CARR: I think party donations and a program of giving trips to MPs and journalists to Israel. But that’s not to condemn them. I mean, other interest groups do the same thing. But it needs to be highlighted because I think it reached a very unhealthy level. I think the great mistake of the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne is to express an extreme right-wing Israeli view rather than a more tolerant liberal Israeli view, and in addition to that, to seek to win on everything, to block the Foreign Minister of Australia through their influence with the Prime Minister’s office, from even making the most routine criticism of Israeli settlement policy using the kind of language that a Conservative Foreign secretary from the UK would use in a comparable statement at the same time.
Note that Carr is saying precisely what Walt and Mearsheimer wrote eight years ago and were also accused of bigotry for saying: It’s not Jews, it’s the lobby, which represents a conservative segment of that community; and the lobby has a “stranglehold” on our foreign policy.
Carr knew what he was saying would be explosive. Maybe that’s why he published diary entries verbatim, and text messages that he exchanged with Julia Gillard, showing the penetration of the lobby into decisionmaking about the Middle East.
“The book would not have been truthful with this disagreement between a prime minister and her foreign minister edited out,” Mr Carr told Fairfax Media, explaining his decision to publish Ms Gillard’s private text messages without consent, despite asking other officials for permission to publish correspondence.
“The public should know how foreign policy gets made, especially when it appears the prime minister is being heavily lobbied by one interest group with a stake in Middle East policy.”…
In diary entries Mr Carr reveals just how deep his division with Ms Gillard went. He complains that Ms Gillard would not even let him criticise Israeli West Bank settlements due to her fear it would anger Australia’s pro-Israel lobby – a reference to the Melbourne-based Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council – which Mr Carr says had a direct line into the prime minister’s office.
“So, we can’t even ‘express concern’ without complaint,” Mr Carr writes. “This lobby must fight every inch.”
Reproducing private text messages, Mr Carr suggests Ms Gillard’s support of Israel was so immovable that she would not even allow him to change Australia’s vote on what he considered to be a minor UN motion.
“Julia – motion on Lebanon oil spill raises no Palestinian or Israel security issues. In that context I gave my commitment to Lebanon,” Mr Carr writes in a text message.
“No reason has been given to me to change,” Ms Gillard reportedly replies.
“Julia – not so simple,” Mr Carr responds. “I as Foreign Minister gave my word. I was entitled to because it had nothing to do with Palestinian status or security of Israel.”
Ms Gillard shuts him down in a final terse message: “Bob … my jurisdiction on UN resolutions isn’t confined to ones on Palestine and Israel.”
Did you see where Carr said that the Israel lobby has a direct line into the P.M.’s office? Now read some of this interview on ABC of a leading Israel lobbyist, Mark Leibler, national chairman of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. ABC interviewer Tony Jones is obviously disturbed that he had such access to the P.M.
MARK LEIBLER: I think Bob doesn’t miss a trick. I mean, if anything’s calculated to sell books. Just unpick for a moment what he’s saying. He’s talking about the Jewish lobby, he’s talking about a difference of opinion between him and the Prime Minister. Why can’t they have a difference of opinion on a matter related to Israeli policy? No, if there’s a difference of opinion, the Prime Minister has to be controlled or influenced by someone. So the Prime Minister has to be wrong ’cause she’s controlled by the Jewish lobby. …
TONY JONES: Let me ask you a very simple question: did you have direct access to Julia Gillard when she was Prime Minister and were you able to express serious concerns to her directly about policy over Israel?
MARK LEIBLER: We had – I had opportunities to talk to the Prime Minister on -not only about Israel – I had more contact with her about indigenous issues than I did in relation to Israel. She very quickly formed her own view and I didn’t see that there was any need for me to intervene.
TONY JONES: OK, but I guess what you’re saying is on a reasonably regular basis you were able to talk to her about concerns that you had, is that correct?
MARK LEIBLER: If I wanted to raise concerns, I would have been able to raise them with her, as I was able to raise them with Kevin Rudd, with John Howard, with Paul Keating, with Bob Hawke and even with Malcolm Fraser. No different.
TONY JONES: So what you’re saying is you get a fair bit of access to prime ministers and have had for a long time, but …
MARK LEIBLER: Yes.
TONY JONES: … you’re arguing there’s nothing sinister about that?
MARK LEIBLER: Absolutely. By the way, I’m not unique in that respect. I mean, there are many other people who have far greater access to prime ministers, present and past, than I do, but that’s part of a democracy.
TONY JONES: No doubt. But your role as a lobbyist is well-known, so well-known that the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, described you recently as a key fundraiser for the lobby and the man who maintained close relations with prime ministers, both in Australia and Israel, over many years. Do you see yourself as a kind of go-between between the Israeli Government and Australian prime ministers?
MARK LEIBLER: Absolutely not. I mean, there are excellent relations between the Prime Minister of Australia, both the current one and the former one, and the Prime Minister of Israel. They don’t need any intermediaries.
TONY JONES: Yeah. I guess no-one here is saying there’s anything to be ashamed of, but the problem only arises when the former Foreign minister claims that the influence of the lobby was very unhealthy…. Well, when you actually get to read the book, what you’ll find out is that he recalls… a private meeting in the boardroom of Arnold Bloch Leibler, which you chaired before that breakfast meeting – in other words, the day before – in which he says you addressed him with a “how-dare-you” tone – this is how he puts it – a “how-dare-you” tone over these issues, particularly the issue of whether there should be enhanced Palestinian representation in the United Nations.
MARK LEIBLER: Well, that is – unfortunately, that doesn’t – that just didn’t happen. I mean, the meeting took place, and I must say, we had our differences of opinion, but the main purpose of the meeting was for me to get across the message to him that we were no right-wing extremists, that our views were identical to all mainstream Jewish organisations, and that as far as the settlements are concerned, there were legitimate differences within the Jewish community and within Israel in relation to settlements being an obstacle to peace. But what – if I can put it in a nutshell, what all of the Jewish community organisations objected to was a single-minded focus on settlements, as if, you know, stopping settlement activity would suddenly lead to peace, overlooking the fact that Hamas was lobbing rockets into Israel at the time, that – I can go through a whole series of things, but – it’s complicated.
TONY JONES: Sure. But let me just take you back to this meeting, ’cause what he focuses here is, as I said before, what he described as your “how-dare-you” tone, as in, as he puts it, “How dare you consider voting to allow the Palestinians to have greater representation or enhanced representation at the United Nations.” Now, I suppose what he’s saying is that there are two different Mark Leiblers – there’s the one behind the scenes and then there’s the public one at that breakfast meeting with a more conciliatory tone which he obviously appreciated.
MARK LEIBLER: Well, all I can say is that his recollection of that meeting does not accord with my recollection of that meeting. Yes, by the way, it was a heated discussion, but I wasn’t hectoring him and I wasn’t lecturing him, but I was explaining very clearly where we differed and where we agreed and that set the basis and led to the tone of what was, I think, a very successful meeting. He was delighted with it and very pleased with it….
TONY JONES: Sure. Do you think – let’s put it this way: do you think you have considerably more influence over Australian prime ministers than, say, for example, Palestinian representatives?
MARK LEIBLER: I really don’t know. They don’t take me to their meetings.
TONY JONES: (Laughs) No, I don’t imagine they do… Mark Leibler, just finally, to make the final point, it’s a pretty obvious one, really: I suppose what you’re saying to Bob Carr is that you will continue to speak when you can to prime ministers and Foreign ministers and proffer advice from this lobby that he describes.
MARK LEIBLER: Well, I would hope that that’s how things are supposed to function in a democracy. I mean, there are other places where when you express your views or try to lobby, you end up in jail or you end up being shot. This is part of the hallmark of Australia’s wonderful democracy and it’s something that everyone can participate in.
TONY JONES: And just to finish the point, do you think you will get the same access or even more to the Tony Abbott Government that you got with the Julia Gillard Government?
MARK LEIBLER: Well, when we’ve got an issue which is a serious one which needs to be raised, we haven’t had a problem in getting access to either ALP or Liberal prime ministers or Foreign ministers and so it should be. By the way, we’re not the only ones. Basically, any representative of a community organisation, if they’ve got something serious to raise, they’ll get the access that they need.
TONY JONES: Mark Leibler, we’ll have to leave you there. Thank you very much for coming to join us live on the program tonight.
MARK LEIBLER: My pleasure.
Amazing. In the full interview, you will see that Liebler says that many Jews oppose settlements, but what all Jewish organizations “objected to was a single-minded focus on settlements, as if, you know, stopping settlement activity would suddenly lead to peace.” The same line that almost all major Jewish orgs took on Obama in 2009-2011.
But I’m stunned that Carr has been able to blow a bridge that Jimmy Carter, James Baker, Colin Powell, Paul Findley and Walt and Mearsheimer could not blow: the mainstream bar on talking about this stuff.
So, when is this story going to make “60 Minutes”? I guess they’ll think about that tomorrow, to quote Scarlett O’Hara.
P.S. Haaretz has covered the story with these blunt headlines: “Former Australian FM denounces Jewish lobby’s ‘extraordinary influence’. In new book, Bob Carr claims office of former Australian PM Julia Gillard was effectively held hostage by Jewish lobby.”
Haaretz calls out the Greater Israel crowd: “Carr claims the ‘extreme right-wing’ pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne wielded ‘extraordinary influence’ on Gillard” — who is of course a liberal politician.