THE AUSTRALIAN: Gillard driven over by Carr on Israel 13Oct13 October 13, 2013

by Chris Kenny     -    The Australian      -     12 October 2013

568570-131012-julia-gillardEXPLAINING why her foreign minister was “so hostile to Israel” and blaming the Jewish community for the weakness of her cabinet and caucus on Israel – this was what Bob Carr had reduced Julia Gillard to in her final months as prime minister.

Leaked documents reveal the acute embarrassment Senator Carr created for Ms Gillard over the question of Australia’s support for Israel.

They also provide a remarkable insight into Labor’s ongoing internal tensions over the Middle East.

Ms Gillard’s briefing notes for a Jewish community event in Sydney in April included talking points with suggested answers to the question: “Bob Carr is so hostile to Israel what are you doing about it?”

The then prime minister’s speaking notes also included a plea for the Jewish community to lobby Labor MPs to bolster support for her position in cabinet and caucus.

“There were not many voices in caucus,” she complained. “This community has work to do.”

The split over the Middle East came to a head last December when Ms Gillard told cabinet of her intention to vote no to a UN resolution giving the Palestinian territories observer status at the UN.

This triggered a backlash within government, led by Senator Carr, that forced Ms Gillard to back down and instruct Australia’s UN ambassador to abstain from the vote.

It is the only clear instance on record of Ms Gillard being thwarted by her own cabinet and caucus.

It ended a strong bipartisan position on firm support for Israel, demanding negotiation without preconditions towards a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Australia received diplomatic complaints from the US and Israel for failing to vote against the resolution, which passed comfortably regardless. And domestically, Jewish community leaders conveyed their disappointed to the government.

So on April 23, when Ms Gillard went to a high-powered lunch at Chifley Tower, hosted by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, she was in a difficult position. At the event she would become the first Australian politician to sign the London Declaration on Anti-Semitism.

But she also might have to apologise for her foreign minister, who had led the charge on the UN vote and also had made strident comments about Israeli settlements on the West Bank being illegal.

“I know Bob is genuinely committed to Israel’s security and survival,” her speaking notes suggested. “He feels exceptionally strongly on the settlements.”

The notes also directly addressed the way Ms Gillard was rolled by her party on the UN resolution; and they suggested putting the onus back on the Jewish community.

“There were not as many voices in cabinet supporting a ‘no’ vote on that resolution,” they prompted. “There were not many voices in caucus. There were a lot of members who should have been heard from – and who were not. So I believed this exposed a weakness in the community’s reach compared with previous years.”

This issue was so divisive for Labor that during the election campaign Labor’s Melbourne Ports MP, Michael Danby, took out a newspaper advertisement to distance himself from his own foreign minister.

Once Labor’s new leadership team is resolved on Sunday, it can expect to be lobbied fervently by the Jewish community to strengthen its support.

New Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who was critical of the Gillard government’s posture at the UN, has signalled Australia’s intention to return to a position of unstinting support for Israel.

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