Australian government MPs ’embarrass themselves’ with anti-Israel vote

Australian government MPs ’embarrass themselves’ with anti-Israel vote

Labor parliamentarians -- including Foreign Minister Bob Carr -- smack down a motion condemning a boycott of Israel, only to about-face a short while later

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr visits the Holocaust Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem on August 7, 2012. Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)
Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr visits the Holocaust Yad Vashem memorial museum in Jerusalem on August 7, 2012. Photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

In a bizarre case of parliamentarians blindly voting along party lines, members of the Australian government, including the foreign minister, last week struck down a motion condemning the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement (BDS), only to later reverse course and assert that they, too, oppose boycotts of Israel.

On September 12, opposition MP Arthur Sinodinos initiated a motion in the Senate in Canberra, which condemned BDS and called on certain politicians of the Australian Greens party to “reject the BDS policy.”

While Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said that support for BDS was not the official party policy, some party MPs have in the past advocated for a boycott of Israel.

Labor, the country’s ruling party, then joined with the Greens and voted against the motion. Among those voting no was Foreign Minister Bob Carr, who visited Israel last month. The motion was defeated by 34-30 votes.

But right after the vote, several Labor MPs had second thoughts, with some parliamentarians expressing concerns as they returned to their seats. A short while after the ballot, Carr got up to assert that his party rejects BDS and to explain why it still voted against the anti-BDS motion.

“The government opposed the motion for two reasons: firstly, the government has a long-established practice of not attempting to navigate foreign policy matters through Senate motions and, secondly, the motion moved by Senator Sinodinos politicizes an important issue through criticism of individuals,” he said, according to The Australian newspaper.

A short while later, Carr clarified again that Australia’s government “strongly opposes” BDS, saying “this position has been placed on the public record” several times. “The government does not support boycott movements that seek to ban exchanges with Israel, or policies that impede legitimate trade between states and unfairly target lawful Australian businesses,” Carr said, according to the J-Wire website.

BDS activists have recently gathered to protest in front of Israeli-owned stores — such as the Max Brenner chocolate franchise — in several Australian cities.

Opposition politicians slammed Labor for voting against the motion. “I call on the Foreign Minister to apologize to businesses in Australia that have been targeted by BDS activists,” opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said, The Australian reported.

Leaders of Australia’s Jewish community expressed regret over the fact that some parliamentarians support BDS, but welcomed the clear statements opposing the movement after last week’s vote. “All of the parties represented in the federal parliament, including the national Greens, have rejected BDS. Whilst Wednesday’s Coalition motion in the Senate condemning BDS was defeated on party lines, this should provide no comfort at all to BDS supporters,” said the director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, according to J-Wire.

Labor MP Glenn Sterle, who chairs the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, admitted that his government had embarrassed itself, telling J-Wire that he was “absolutely furious” when he first saw the motion.

“I’m not going to make excuses,” Sterle said. “If Bob [Carr] would’ve known, he would have made a one-minute statement [against the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign]. Then we would’ve voted against the motion on party lines,” he said.

The Greens’ Christine Milne said the debate around the motion was “one of the lowest points of Senate debate since I have been here,” according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

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