Israel an issue in Batman

Labor leader Bill Shorten announces Ged Kearney as the party’s candidate for Batman last Friday. Photo: AAP Image/David Crosling

WITH the resignation of Labor MP David Feeney over his citizenship status, a by-election in Melbourne’s north – possibly as early as March 10 – could become a three-way contest in which attitudes to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel play a key role.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Feeney, the pro-Israel, pro-US MP for Batman, who could not provide documents showing he was not a British citizen when elected.

Ged Kearney, the former Australian Council of Trade Unions president, has been tapped as Labor’s Batman candidate.
In the 2016 election, the Greens’ Alex Bhathal nearly unseated Feeney and she might win this time. The ALP is desperate to hold Batman, and Kearney, ideologically left of Feeney, could divert Greens votes.

But the Liberals have stated that the candidates’ stance on BDS and Israel could draw the party into a race in which it would otherwise not participate. The AJN understands the Liberals will probably decide whether or not to run a candidate later this week.

Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger told The AJN if the Greens candidate in Batman is found to support BDS, the Liberals would field a candidate and preference Labor.

BDS is the trigger because, in Kroger’s words, it is “anti-Semitic” and “equates to the destruction of Israel”. The Liberals “view with suspicion” any candidate who supports BDS, or “has attended BDS rallies or Brenner rallies”, he said, referring to blockades against Israeli chocolate shop Max Brenner.

Kroger said he was encouraged by reports Bhathal has publicly dissociated from BDS in the academic and cultural spheres. She told media she did not approve of some aspects of BDS and “my approach has always been nuanced”. Bhathal’s campaign has so far not responded to The AJN for comment.

Meanwhile, Kearney, who is said to be strongly against West Bank settlements, has committed to following Labor policy which she acknowledged is opposed to BDS.

“The ALP supports a two-state solution, achieved through peaceful dialogue and negotiation and rejects BDS. As a potential Labor MP, I acknowledge that I will be bound by that policy and that’s a reality I accept,” she stated to The AJN.
Labor MP Michael Danby emphasised ALP policy opposes BDS and “the Liberals should stand a candidate in Batman and head off a Greens victory” to prevent a leftward drift in Australia’s foreign policy.