Former foreign minister Bob Carr says the pro-Israel lobby had an unhealthy influence on Labor policy. Picture: sam MooySource: News Corp Australia
FORMER foreign minister Bob Carr has hit back at those who have accused him of being a bigot, and denied his views on Israel were influenced by Muslim communities in western Sydney electorates.
Mr Carr’s attack on the power of the pro-Israel lobby in Australia in his forthcoming book, Diary of a Foreign Minister, has sparked a furore, with federal Labor MP Michael Danby labelling his views bigoted.
“No lobby in Australia, I understand, has that kind of influence. It’s laughable,’’ said Mr Danby, a Jewish MP and strong supporter of Israel.
Key Jewish leader Mark Leibler also rejected the former foreign minister’s assertion that the pro-Israel lobby wielded “extraordinary influence’’ on Labor’s policy under Julia Gillard.
In his new book, Mr Carr says Ms Gillard subcontracted out Middle East policymaking to the powerful Israel lobby in Melbourne, which had its own “falafel faction” in Labor’s caucus.
He says “extreme right-wing’’ lobbyists had had an “unhealthy’’ influence on Australia’s policy towards Israel and the Occupied Territories.
“Certainly they enjoyed extraordinary influence. I had to resist it and my book tells the story of that resistance,’’ Mr Carr told ABC’s 7.30 program.
“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.’’
In his 18 months as foreign minister, Mr Carr helped achieve a shift in Australia’s Middle East policy to swing support behind Palestine at the United Nations.
Mr Carr today denied his desire to support the bid by Palestinians to upgrade their status at the United Nations was influenced by growing Muslim communities in key electorates.
“That was not the case,” he said.
“The case for not blocking, not voting to block Palestinian status at the UN, persuaded a majority of countries of the world.
“The position I was advocating to the government can’t be attributed to some crude pursuit of votes from ethnic communities.”
Mr Carr rejected Mr Danby’s accusation of bigotry.
“For years I was president of Labor Friends of Israel,’’ Mr Carr told ABC radio today.
He also said he had previously argued that Holocaust survivor Primo Levi’s book If This is a Man was the most important book of the 20th century.
Mr Carr said the lobbying was not in the interests of Israel or peace in the Middle East.
“(It) was being inappropriately and bullyingly exercised in the government. It needed to be resisted so I resisted and I am proud to have done that,’’ he said.
Mr Leibler, the national chairman of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, rejected Mr Carr’s claims of influence as “a figment of his imagination’’.
“How does the Jewish lobby control the prime minister? Through donations to the ALP and sending people to Israel. I mean, give me a break. Would anyone seriously accept that?’’ Mr Leibler told Lateline.
“Julia Gillard is an independent-thinking woman. She can come to her own conclusions without being influenced by the Jewish lobby,’’ he said.
Mr Danby also said “no-one has that kind of influence”.
He added: “I suppose in the current climate, as George Brandis says, it’s OK to be a bigot.”
Mr Carr clashed with Ms Gillard over her planned support for Israel during a crucial vote in the UN, and he effectively rolled the former prime minister on the issue in caucus.
“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,’’ Mr Carr said.
Mr Carr has defended publishing private text messages between himself and Ms Gillard, without her consent, to reveal the level of influence of the pro-Israel lobby, saying it was in the national interest.
He said his view was that Israeli settlement activity ought to stop and Australia should not block Palestine’s increased status in the UN General Assembly.
Mr Danby accused Mr Carr of being ungrateful to the Labor Party and says Ms Gillard made a mistake by bringing the former NSW premier in as a foreign minister.
“In retrospect, given all the division he caused ... it was a mistake,’’ Mr Danby told ABC Radio.
“Here’s a bloke plucked from obscurity ... a former provincial premier who dumps on Gillard and the former Labor government ... the Labor Party supported him all his political life, how about a bit of decency?’’