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The Australian | March 12, 2008

Labor split over Israel support

A BIPARTISAN motion congratulating Israel on 60 years of statehood has provoked division in federal Labor, with one government MP threatening to boycott the vote and union heavyweights accusing the Jewish state of racism and ethnic cleansing.

The parliamentary motion is due to be passed by MPs today, commemorating 60 years of friendship between Australia and Israel.

The motion provoked a clash between Kevin Rudd and Labor MP Julia Irwin yesterday after Ms Irwin questioned why the Government was supporting the gesture, given Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

And today a group of individuals and organisations, including the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union, the Maritime Union of Australia and South Australian Democrat MP Sandra Kanck, have put their names to an advertisement in The Australian condemning the motion.

"We, as informed and concerned Australians, choose to disassociate ourselves from a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians since the al-Nakba (Catastrophe) of 1948," the advertisement reads.

Today's motion will commemorate Australia's role in the establishment of Israel and commend Israel's commitment to democracy, the rule of law and pluralism. It reiterates Australia's commitment to Israel's right to exist and to finding a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Partyroom sources told The Australian that Ms Irwin unsuccessfully attempted to table a number of Amnesty International reports during yesterday's caucus meeting, which she said detailed Israel's alleged mistreatment of the Palestinians.

Ms Irwin told The Australian she had yet to decide if she would support the motion.

National secretary of the CFMEU John Sutton said the union was critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. Referring to the recent violence, he condemned the "latest slaughter of Palestinians".

The man who authorised the CFMEU's participation in the ad, NSW secretary Andrew Ferguson - brother of Labor MPs Laurie and Martin Ferguson - said while he objected to some of the more pungent language in the statement, he supported the basic thrust. He said the CFMEU had no problem with Israel's right to exist.

Sections of Labor's Left have long struggled to reconcile themselves to the party's support of Israel, and the problem threatened a rift between Labor and the Jewish lobby last year.

In 2003, Ms Irwin called for UN intervention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and read an email to the parliament that described the Jewish lobby in Australia as "the most implacable, arrogant, cruel and powerful lobby in the country".

The head of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, Colin Rubenstein, dismissed Ms Irwin's remarks, saying Israel's critics in the ALP were confined to the party's fringes.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,23360098-5013871,00.html

Posted on 11-03-2008


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