Former Australian foreign minister attacks ‘pro-Israel lobby’

Bob Carr decries ‘unhealthy’ influence over Canberra’s foreign policy, which has been ‘subcontracted’ to Jewish donors

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Bob Carr, seen on a visit to Israel during his time as foreign minister (photo credit: Yossi Zamir)
Bob Carr, seen on a visit to Israel during his time as foreign minister (photo credit: Yossi Zamir)

Australia’s former foreign minister has lashed out at the country’s “Israel lobby,” lamenting that during his time in office it reached “extraordinary” and “unhealthy” levels of influence over Canberra’s foreign policy — mainly because of campaign contributions by Jewish donors.

In his new political memoir and in interviews he is giving to promote the book, Bob Carr (Labor) talks frankly about his term as Australia’s chief diplomat, which lasted from March 2012 until September 2013. In the book, he also recounts discussions and arguments over many foreign policy issues, and even details his dietary habits and complains about lack of comforts on the job. However, “the strongest criticism of all” in the 500-page book is reserved for Melbourne’s Israeli lobby, an Australian journalist said.

Australian foreign policy had been “subcontracted” to Jewish donors, Carr writes in the book, according to the Guardian.

One of key passages in “Bob Carr: Diary of a Foreign Minister” details a disagreements he had with then-prime minister Julia Gillard over Canberra’s stance vis-à-vis the Palestinians’ admission to the United Nations General Assembly as a nonmember state.

“What I’ve done is to spell out how the extremely conservative instincts of the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne was exercised through the then-Prime Minister’s Office,” Carr said Wednesday in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“I found it very frustrating that we couldn’t issue, for example, a routine expression of concern about the spread of Israeli settlements on the West Bank — great blocks of housing for Israeli citizens going up on land that everyone regards as part of the future Palestinian state if there is to be a two-state solution.”

Carr said that “party donations” and programs targeting journalists were the reason why the numerically small pro-Israel lobby wields so much political influence. These were legitimate measures, he continued, as other interest groups do the same. “But it needs to be highlighted, because I think it reached a very unhealthy level,” he said, regarding pro-Israel forces in Australia.

“I think the great mistake of the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne is to express an extreme right-wing Israeli view rather than a more tolerant, liberal Israeli view; and in addition to that, to seek to win on everything: to block the foreign minister of Australia through their influence with the Prime Minister’s Office; for making the most routine criticism of Israeli settlement policies, using the kind of language that a Conservative foreign secretary from the UK would use in a comparable statement at the same time.”

Carr, 66, was referring to a significant disagreement with then-prime minister Julia Gillard during the fall of 2012, when the Palestinian Authority applied for nonmember state status at the UN General Assembly. According to Carr’s account, Gillard wanted to support Israel’s position and vote against the resolution, while fellow Labor party officials opposed her stance.

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard (photo credit: AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati, File)
Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard (photo credit: AP Photo/Firdia Lisnawati, File)

In his book, Carr described a conversation he had with former prime minister Kevin Rudd, who at the time was Gillard’s chief rival for the party leadership, about Canberra’s position on the Palestinian UN application. “How much of this is about money, I asked him,” Carr wrote, according to the Guardian. “He said about one-fifth of the money he had raised in the 2007 election campaign had come from the Jewish community.” Carr then concludes that, “subcontracting our foreign policy to party donors is what this involves. Or appears to involve.”

Only two ministers supported Gillard’s position during a cabinet discussion on this matter, while nine opposed it, according to Carr. The prime minister first insisted the issue was her “call,” but later changed her mind after she realized she would be overruled by her ministers.

Australia finally abstained in the November 29, 2012, vote.

Gillard is currently in Israel on a private visit. She declined to be interviewed. The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem declined to comment for this article.

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