This post should be read in tandem with my 29/3/09 post (Rambamming Makes the Front Page) on the expose of MPs and political junkets by Sydney Morning Herald journalist Phillip Hudson.
Hudson's just done it again with Ex-envoy warns on bias from MPs' free trips (13/4/09), which focuses squarely on the issue of junkets to Israel. Here are the relevant bits (along with my comments in square brackets in bold):
"A former Australian ambassador to Israel has raised concern about the high number of overseas travel gifts accepted by federal MPS [Feds are just the tip of the iceberg - see my 30/3/09 post I've been to Israel too...] and suggested the scheme could be [!!!] distorting Australia's foreign policy perspectives. Ross Burns said that during his time as ambassador in Israel from 2001 to 2003 there were many visits by MPs but only one was not a travel gift. He said that this had translated into a substantial political benefit for Israel over Arab countries. 'The issue of subsidised travel is a difficult one', he told the Herald. 'The issue was particularly tortuous in the case of Israel, where a disproportionate number of visits, including backbench MPs, Opposition frontbenchers and serving ministers, were funded not by the Australian Government or the Parliament but by Israeli lobby groups... The heavy reliance on subsidised visits to Israel has taken its toll in terms of Australia's wider interests. Most MPs and ministers who visited until recently followed programs that gave a heavily sanitised view of the Israel/Palestine situation... Missing, for example, was any exposure to the heavy burden that Israel's occupation of most of the lands of Palestine has imposed on both societies [Can you imagine someone writing about the German occupation of Europe in terms of 'imposing a heavy burden on both societies'?]. Australia's embassy in Tel Aviv could often be sidelined in the natural desire of the hosts, and accompanying 'minders', to present a few 'facts on the ground' including meetings or visits that might be construed as accepting Israel's sovereignty in contested [occupied] territory. The number of trips to Israel also greatly outnumbered visits to Arab countries, even those that have provided significant elements of the Australian community such as Lebanon and Egypt... Ms Liu has done us a great service in reminding the Australian public that subsidised travel does have a hidden cost. I suspect the costs may be a lot more trivial in the case of China than in the Middle East, where our stocks have never been lower and where political mindsets have long been conditioned through the practice of subsidised visits'..."
Hudson goes on: "The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council [AIJAC] has paid for 13 MPs to visit Israel since November 2007. Its executive director, Colin Rubenstein, said the program had been running for several years. Some journalists from the Herald have taken this trip [When are you going to do an expose on that, Phillip?]. 'It's usually a 5-day or so intensive visit to try and understand better the very complex realities of the Middle East [Oh yes, so fearfully complicated only the Israelis can explain what's going on!] so they have a better understanding of what's transpiring in the region and frankly make them more effective as parliamentarians... They're mature people. We let them make up their own minds. They're exposed to a whole range of viewpoints. They meet with a whole range of Israeli and Palestinian opinion when we can ["When we can"?]'. He said the trips usually cost several thousand dollars each and the money came from supporters in Australia, not foreign governments."
Is it too much to expect the Herald to name the MPs concerned, not to mention the Herald (& other) journalists? And what about those "supporters in Australia," without whose largesse our poor MPs would not be able to avail themselves of this once-in-a-lifetime chance to better understand "the very complex realities of the Middle East"? Who are they?
And speaking of exposes, I'll leave you with a quote from Grant F Smith's 2007 book Foreign Agents: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee from the 1963 Fulbright Hearings to the 2005 Espionage Scandal: "It is popularly believed that the immense power of the Israel lobby sprang from broad grassroots commitment by concerned individuals across America. However, evidence from internal American Zionist Council and AIPAC documents reveal a different history. Many groups, including Christian religious organizations now highly active in AIPAC-directed affairs, were initially indifferent to or even suspicious of Israeli initiatives. It took millions of dollars of Israeli government and overseas funds and decades of effort to create the public relations, lobbying, and political juggernaut that now dominates in America. However, not all Americans welcomed the formation of Israel's lobby. Founder Si Kenen's startup activities proved to be so brazen that they were put under the microscope of a US Senate committee investigating the activities of non-diplomatic foreign agents in the United States... The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations dove headlong into questions about whether the American Zionist Council, AIPAC, the Jewish Agency, and Si Kenen were avoiding Foreign Agents Registration Act declarations or filing false ones, acting as unlawful conduits to launder tax-exempt funds, and illegally disseminating Israeli government propaganda in the United States. This investigation, conducted by Senator James William Fulbright, provides the first outside glimpse into the American Zionist Committee, Si Kenan, and AIPAC." (pp 20-21)