Gillard: ‘Sydney votes trump support for Israel’

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FORMER prime minister Julia Gillard has taken a swipe at Labor colleagues who place their ties to voters in some Sydney electorates above their support for Israel.

Speaking at an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce (AICC) lunch at Melbourne’s Palladium at Crown on October 6, Australia’s 27th head of state lamented “political stresses and strains” within the ALP when it comes to Israel.

After a scheduled on-stage chat about her new book, My Story, with business figure Carole Schwartz, Gillard took impromptu questions from members of her AICC audience, including one on Labor attitudes towards Israel.

Reminded by audience member Rhys Roberts of her 2012 backdown on opposing a United Nations vote to upgrade Palestinian membership, she was asked whether internal ALP dissension made it hard for her to support Israel as PM.

“There are some direct political stresses and strains when you speak to people,” Gillard admitted, then referred to “some of my Sydney colleagues with electorates where – I ­didn’t share their view – but where they become persuaded that taking a different course from voting against the recognition resolution would be well received by the communities that they were representing in Parliament.”

Certain ALP MPs in Sydney’s western suburbs have in the past been accused of pandering to their Muslim constituents on foreign policy matters relating to Israel.

Gillard added, “I just think for some others there’s not the strength of connection that there should be and that we would hope that there would be in the future,” she said.

Gillard said visiting Israel some years ago had given her “a sense of the complexity” of tensions with its neighbours. She critiqued the failed latest round of US-brokered talks between Israel and the Palestinians, saying negotiations had advanced to new stages, while previous stages had not been firmly settled.

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council chairman Mark Leibler, in the lead-up to a question on why the ex-PM was a strong personal supporter of Israel, reminded her that in My Story, she conceded her foreign minister Bob Carr, in Leibler’s words, “should never have been appointed”.

In her response, the former PM did not mention Carr, although he figures strongly in her book, but explained her personal commitment to Israel as a legacy that evolved and matured from her days in student politics.

Gillard drew praise from Pratt Foundation CEO Sam Lipski, whose foundation, along with the Ducere Group, co-sponsored the luncheon.

Lipski told the audience that Gillard was a friend of Israel, not only within the local Jewish community, but in hostile far corners of the world. He recalled her bold speech in Abu Dhabi this year, in which she said “a simple declarative statement” by Arab nations that Israel is the Jewish State would go a long way towards solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

He also commended her for making World War II rescuer of Hungarian Jews Raoul Wallenberg Australia’s first honorary citizen.

PETER KOHN