Journalist David Marr's feature on Prime Minister Julia Gillard in today's Sydney Morning Herald is a portrait of the ultimate political careerist. The following extracts deal with her university years in the early 1980s. And take a look at the theme: She wanted to take Palestine out of the Australian Union of Student!
"She was a natural leader. That was never doubted. In the mad world of campus politics, she showed calm good humour, a sharp tongue and a combative streak. But her remarkable career as a student politician - first leading the Students Representative Council at Adelaide University and then heading the Australian Union of Students (AUS) in Melbourne - raised doubts early on about her deeper beliefs. 'It was progressive instincts that led me to get involved in the AUS', she says. But as its first woman president she found herself caught in a bitter partisan divide as she fought for the survival of this once radical body. Though a long time ago, it was a key battle in her career which still colours her political reputation. She wanted to take Palestine out of the AUS. 'When Whitlam brought the troops home, people then went on a mad cat [sic] pursuit of the New Vietnam and decided it was Palestine, completely misunderstanding that what had motivated most Australian youth was conscription. The question of Palestine was never going to be the new Vietnam for Australian students. So the union got more eccentric and irrelevant. I think it was right', she says, 'to draw a line under that'. The Right loathed her for even trying to keep AUS afloat. The Left loathed her for abandoning Palestine. Her pragmatic campaign to shift focus to educational issues - funding, scholarships etc - did not win much traction. She remembers the self-mocking credo of her faction: 'What do we want?' 'Gradual change'. 'When do we want it?' 'In due course'. The year after her term as president, AUS finally collapsed. Three irreconcilable views of Gillard emerged from this brawl, three conflicting images that dog her still: Gillard the leftie, Gillard the sellout, and Gillard the political operator." (The moment of truth, David Marr, Sydney Morning Herald, 14/8/10)
Marr's cliche about the mad world of student politics aside, while the best and the brightest students of the 1980s (and those of the 1970s) were grappling with one of the great moral and political issues of our time - the wiping of Palestine off the map - Gillard (who confides to Marr that "one of my prized possessions still is the prefect's tie that I got in [Unley High]. It was the first leadership position I ever had.") had decided that it was her mission, having captured the leadership of the AUS, to wipe Palestine off its agenda. And why? Because she, the union's head prefect, had decided it was an eccentric and irrelevant issue, that she had to draw a line under it and change focus to educational issues. Whether these are the real reasons, however, is anyones's guess. Whatever, they failed to gain traction, and after her leaving (wrecking?), AUS collapses! What a glorious legacy.
Keep in mind too that Gillard's ascendency in the AUS coincided with the aftermath of Israel's brutal attempt to wipe Lebanon (& the Palestine Liberation Organisation) off the map in 1982. Given Gillard's record above, what's the bet that the brutal Israeli invasion and occupation of Lebanon awakened not a flicker of concern in head prefect Gillard?
"She also earned a reputation, in some circles, of being a captive of the Zionist lobby. As Prime Minister, Gillard listed 'support for Israel' surprisingly high on the list of fundamentals of Australian foreign policy: only below the US alliance and the war in Afghanistan and above 'focus on our region'. She says, 'I am obviously a supporter of Israel as people would know'. The Prime Minister describes herself as 'not uncritical' of the settlements and a supporter of the two-state solution. But does she have any real, practical hope that two states will emerge? 'I think it's possible', she says and pauses for a long time. 'It's possible, but yeah it's hard. Across my lifetime, we've seen what appeared to be waves of progress which then didn't amount to real change. So I suppose that has instilled in me a sense of how difficult it is and how fixed the positions are'." (ibid)
Gillard did indeed have the reputation of being a captive of the Zionist lobby in those days. So much so that she took sufficient umbrage at being labelled a Zionist collaborator by some on the left that she threatened legal action.* Not, mind you, that the student politician who had proclaimed at the time, "I do not intend to have the tag of 'Zionist' follow me around for the rest of my life," really knew or cared what Zionism was. The above passage suggests someone who, for all her prattle about the virtues of hard work (telling Marr, for example, that "[My parents] taught me the value of hard work"), has obviously never lifted a finger, at any stage in her career, to educate herself on the issue of Palestine. Her every utterance on the subject, as above, smacks of ignorance and boredom.
[*See my 25/7/10 post, Me, A Zionist? How Very Dare You]
One of the ironies in Gillard's career is that she succeeded Labor identity Barry Jones as the member for Lalor in 1998. Jones was a reader and thinker, and took enough of an interest in the Palestine problem to read at least one book on the subject that we know of. In his autobiography, A Thinking Reed (2006), he recalls how "In January 1983 I was co-opted, at short notice, to join a Caucus delegation to Israel, organised by Barry Cohen*, MP for Robertson, underwritten by the Israeli Government and some Melbourne business people [MERC: That's right, rambamming has a long history!] One of the delegation had dropped out at the last minute so Barry invited me... The embassy had invited us to meet Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, Leader of the Likud, co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize with President Sadat of Egypt and, as a younger man, a member of the Stern Gang [sic]. I had read a powerful book, The Longest War (1982), by Jacobo Timmerman, a courageous Argentinian publisher who survived torture, emigrated to Israel and wrote a tough analysis of human rights abuses against Palestinians. I tackled Begin directly, quoted a few sentences from The Longest War and invited him to comment. Begin shrugged, stretched out his arms and his voice went an octave higher. 'So he's got a pen? So he writes a book? What has that to do with me?' He refused to be drawn on Timmerman." (p 253)
[* "... a close friend so long as I refrained from any criticism, however mild, of Israel." (p 241)]
Unlike Jones, Gillard looks as though she'd rather die than pick up a book for any other reason than to kill time: "And for someone who's regarded as having such a fierce intellect, her library hardly sounds like a heady trip through academia... It's 'airport trash', page turners..." (Spotlight on the redhead, Mike Bruce, couriermail.com.au, 15/12/06)
And just imagine Gillard echoing these views of her predecessor:
"My view of politics has always been universal and historical. I was never attracted to it as the means of climbing the greasy pole or determining the spoils of office. I joined the Labor party out of a deep, but probably naive, commitment to egalitarianism and liberation. I saw the conservative symbol as a mirror in which a voter could see the beneficiary of voting Liberal or National: 'I'm voting for self-interest'. But I saw Labor as the 'other interest' party, and its symbol should have been a pair of binoculars because often the beneficiaries of its policies were remote: Aborigines, prisoners, refugees, famine and victims of disease." (ibid, p 135)