Friday, October 1, 2010

Once Were Radicals

Meredith Burgmann, one time anti-Apartheid activist, long time Labor member of the NSW Legislative Council (1991-2007), and now president of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), typifies the career politician for whom toeing the party line has become second nature.

Having secured a place as NGO representative on the Australian delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Millenium Development Goals, she writes, in a Sydney Morning Herald opinion piece, "It has given me a unique opportunity to see the Australian delegation undertaking its international obligations for the first time under the leadership of [now foreign minister] Kevin Rudd." (Rudd's finest hour could be yet to come, 30/9/10)

Not to mention a unique opportunity to participate in the ritual giving of the finger to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I have participated in some political walkouts in my time, but none have matched the thrill of being part of the Australian walkout at the United Nations in the middle of the speech by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, alleging the September 11 attacks were an American conspiracy."

The Australian walkout?

As distinct from the American-orchestrated walkout? Who is she kidding?

Nor, as Burgmann claims, did the Iranian leader allege the September 11 attacks were an American conspiracy. If she had stayed, she might have heard Ahmadinejad outline 3 viewpoints on the subject and ask, pertinently: "Assuming the viewpoint of the American government, is it rational to launch a classic war through widespread deployment of troops that led to the death of hundreds of thousands of people to counter a terrorist group?"

In addition, she might have listened to his equally pertinent words on the subject of Palestine:

"The oppressed people of Palestine have lived under the rule an occupying regime for 60 years, and been deprived of freedom, security and the right to self-determination, while the occupiers are given recognition. On a daily basis, the houses are being destroyed over the heads of innocent women and children. People are deprived of water, food and medicine in their own homeland. The Zionists have imposed 5 all-out wars on the neighboring countries and on the Palestinian people. The Zionists committed the most horrible crimes against defenseless people in the wars against Lebanon and Gaza. The Zionist regime attacked a humanitarian flotilla in blatant defiance of all international norms and killed civilians. This regime, which enjoys the absolute support of some western countries, regularly threatens the countries in the region and continues publicly announced assassinations of Palestinian figures and others, while Palestinian defenders and those opposing this regime are pressured, and labelled as terrorists and anti-Semites. All values, even the freedom of expression in Europe and the US are being sacrificed on the altar of Zionism. Solutions are doomed to fail because the right of the Palestinian people is not taken into account. Would we have witnessed such horrendous crimes if, instead of recognizing the occupation, the sovereign right of the Palestinian people had been recognized? Our unambiguous proposition is the return of the Palestinian refugees to their homeland and the reference to the vote of the people of Palestine to exercise their sovereignty and decide on the type of governance."

While Labor luvvies such as Burgmann shed few tears over Palestinians (at least that I'm aware of) they can get quite dewy-eyed over the memory of the sainted Dr H V Evatt, Labor foreign minister from 1941-1949, and chairman of the UN committee which proposed the partition of Palestine in 1947, arguably the dodgiest and most fateful colonial manoeuvre of modern times. Observing Rudd on the run, Burgmann fancies she's seeing a reincarnation of this Labor legend:

"As I watched Rudd pursue his relentless schedule of meetings it reminded me of a predecessor in the foreign affairs portfolio, Herbert Vere Evatt, during the early years of the UN. I wrote my masters thesis on Evatt and his fight to empower the small-and middle-sized nations at the UN. Evatt also punched above his weight. It seems to me there is much of Evatt's legacy in Rudd - burning passion, unlimited capacity for hard work, obsession with accountability and concern for the underdog. Perhaps, like Evatt, he will find his greatness in being foreign minister rather than being leader of the Labor Party."

Burgmann may be on to something here. Yet how typical of your Labor apparatchik to leave out Rudd's Zionism. This too harks back to Evatt, the name Rudd routinely drops at Zionist tea parties (See my 14/3/08 post The Israeli Occupation of Federal Parliament 3).

Certainly, the following account of Evatt playing to a Zionist crowd in Sydney in 1949 contains more than an echo of Rudd's shameless claim that 'support for Israel is in my DNA':

"Dr H V Evatt's speech in the Paddington Town Hall, where he was given an enthusiastic welcome by Sydney's Zionist community, attracted a big audience. One could sense the happiness of the speaker when he gave his report on the part which Australia played in the ups and downs of events which led, in 1947, to UNO's decision to partition Palestine, and recently to the 'full recognition' of the State of Israel by Australia and other States. Several speakers expressed in dignified variations their sincere thanks to Dr Evatt for his great contribution to the settlement of the thorny problem of Palestine. One does not miss the mark if the motives for Dr Evatt's championship of the Jewish cause are ascribed primarily to his righteousness and sense of justice. By avocation a judge, Dr Evatt was perhaps more qualified than other members of the UNO Assembly to go into the roots of the Jewish problem. Having gained the conviction that our cause is a just one he upheld the principles which guided his judgment against all our adversaries. That he did not yield to temptations of expediency and opportunism although pressed by [British Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Ernest] Bevin's heavy political weight, will be gratefully recorded in the annals of Jewish history. It is noteworthy that Dr Evatt did not once mention Bevin's name throughout his address... From some of his remarks it became evident that our Minister of Foreign Affairs was well aware of the currents and cross-currents within the Australian people concerning the Palestinian problem. In this connection he paid special tribute to [Anglican Judeophile] Bishop Pilcher's upright stand for the cause of the Jews. The gathering was deeply touched when Dr Evatt respectfully referred to President Dr Weizmann, who in spite of his state of ill-health appeared before the UNO as spokesman of his people. When Mr Steigrad in his vote of thanks characterised Dr Evatt's speech as 'intimate, free and friendly', all listeners acclaimed the guest of honour who appeared to be as happy as only the righteous man can be. The friendly tone in which Dr Evatt referred to the leaders of the Sydney Zionists indicated his pleasure at their satisfaction with the course of the events." (Sydney's Jewish Community, Staedter & Kimmel, 1953, pp 87-88)

The amazing thing is though, whereas Evatt could perhaps be excused as having been too much under the influence of the Eurocentrism and colonialism of the time to fully grasp what he was aiding and abetting, Rudd, over 6 decades later, with the enormity of the crime which is apartheid Israel exposed for all to see, has no such excuse. Burgmann's silence on this aspect of the Evatt legacy does her little credit.


Syd Walker said...

Another fine article MERC.

Conveniently left out of Dr Evatt's record these days is his support for internationalisation of Jerusalem - not partition or absolute control by the Israeli State. He likely assumed 'reasonable' outcomes such as that would prevail before too long.

I imagine Evatt would be nauseated by the realities of life in Jerusalem (and Palestine as a whole) today, six decades after his meddling.


Your last paragraph says: "Evatt could perhaps be excused as having been too much under the influence of the Eurocentrism and colonialism of the time to fully grasp what he was aiding and abetting".

I have doubts about the accuracy of that analysis.

Support for recognition of Israel was shared by all British Dominions at the time - but not by the UK itself - whose Foreign Minister Bevin held out for a better outcome for Palestinians. At the time of the crucial UN vote, colonial fulcrum Britain was ignored by Australia.

Political commentator Douglas Reed, writing fairly soon after the event from a somewhat old-fashioned British perspective, had this to say in 'The Controversy of Zion':


After President Truman's proud recognition of what had been done in Palestine between November 1947 and May 1948 the debate at the "United Nations" lost importance and Dr. Weizmann (who in his letter to President Truman of November 27, 1947 had warmly denied the use of "undue pressure") set to work to muster other recognitions, so that the issue should be put beyond doubt. He learned that Mr. Bevin, in London, "was bringing pressure to bear on the British Dominions. . . to withhold recognition", and he at once showed who was the greater expert in applying "pressure".

Historically regarded, this was a moment of the first importance, because it showed for the first time that Zionism, which had so deeply divided Jewry, had divided the nations of the British Empire, or Commonwealth; what no warlike menace or danger had ever achieved, "irresistible pressure on international politics" smoothly accomplished. Suddenly Zion was shown to be supreme in capitals as far from the central scene as Ottawa, Canberra, Cape Town and Wellington. .

This gave proof of superb staffwork and synchronization; miracles of secret organization must have been performed, in a few decades, to ensure the obedience, at the decisive moment, of the "top-line politicians" in Canada, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. These countries were remote from Palestine; they had no interest in implanting the fuse of new world war in the Middle East; their Jewish populations were tiny. Yet submission was instantaneous. This was world power in operation.

The great significance of what transpired may need explaining to non-British readers. The bonds between the British island and the overseas nations sprung from it, though they were intangible and rested on no compulsion, had in emergency repeatedly shown a strength, mysterious to outsiders. An anecdote may illustrate:

The New Zealand Brigadier George Clifton relates that when he was captured in the Western Desert in 1941 he was brought before Field Marshal Rommel, who asked, "Why are you New Zealanders fighting? This is a European war, not yours! Are you here for the sport?"

Brigadier Clifton was perplexed to explain something which to him was as natural as life itself: "Realizing he was quite serious and really meant this, and never having previously tried to put into words the, to us, self-evident fact that if Britain fought then we fought too, I held up my hand with the fingers together and said, 'We stand together. If you attack England, you attack New Zealand and Australia and Canada too. The British Commonwealth fights together'."

That was true, in respect of people, but it was no longer true in respect of "topline politicians"...

brian said...

'to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: "I have participated in some political walkouts in my time, but none have matched the thrill of being part of the Australian walkout at the United Nations in the middle of the speech by the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, alleging the September 11 attacks were an American conspiracy."

SO why was it such a thrill? is she really as politically naieve as she seems?

'Meredith Burgmann, one time anti-Apartheid activist'
she walked out on a man speaking out aganist apartheid in Israel....

she needs a good talking to.

MERC said...

Thanks Syd & Brian. Re the matters raised by Syd, and in particular on the subject of Evatt's insistence on the internationalisation of Jerusalem, see my 8/12/09 post Doctor Who?