Vale Gough Whitlam (1916-2014). With respect to the Middle East conflict, we've all heard about his Labor government's (1972-75) so-called 'even-handed' Palestine/Israel policy. But what did it look like in practice, and just who in the Whitlam government was doing what (and why) for Israel at the time?
What follows is an edited extract, over three consecutive posts, from then Labour & Immigration Minister Clyde Cameron's The Cameron Diaries (1990), pages 35-40:
"The matter came before Cabinet on 29 January 1975... via Senator Willesee, who proposed that four members of the [Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO)] delegation be granted entry visas...
"Gough opened the debate in support of visas being issued to all members with the exception of one who was suspected by the West German Government of being involved in the massacre of Israeli athletes attending the Olympic Games in Munich... He referred to the Party's platform and to the need to maintain an even-handed policy in the Middle East. In fact, Gough had made such a powerful and persuasive case that I felt it was unnecessary to speak. Willesee, who had already been assured of Gough's support, shared my belief that the proposal would be endorsed notwithstanding the opposition we knew would come from Kim Beazley. So, he contented himself with a brief, almost casual, outline of his proposition.
"But then Senator John Wheeldon charged into the debate with a spirited and at times bitter denunciation of Gough's argument. He accused Gough of inconsistency in that he had issued instructions against granting even transit visas to South African sporting teams en route to New Zealand and on the grounds that South Africa was practising apartheid. The PLO, he taunted, were not prepared to even recognise the right of Israel to exist. In no circumstances, declared Wheeldon, should the Australian Government issue visas to PLO representatives as such. To do so, he argued, would lead to the inescapable fact that that we were granting official recognition to Arab terrorist organisations. The PLO, he said, had openly boasted of their terrorist activities and had publicly and specifically refused to disclaim that their goal was the destruction of the state of Israel.
"Wheeldon asserted that if the PLO were allowed entry to Australia they would most certainly engage in pressure tactics here. Indeed, he continued, they are already doing this from the PLO office in Melbourne which operates under the spiritual guidance and camouflage provided by Bill Hartley [of the Victorian Socialist Left]. No other government, he claimed, had received PLO delegates; and we would be guilty of splitting principles and of gross hypocrisy if we granted entry visas to a delegation representing the PLO. Moreover, it would be highly damaging electorally to the Party and to the Government.
"Wheeldon's outburst caught me by surprise. It caught Gough too! We knew that Kim Beazley had often expressed his opposition to the PLO and to Hartley's involvement in their cause. But hardly anyone had been prepared for Wheeldon's emotive blast. And yet, upon reflection, I should not have been surprised because he had often echoed Beazley's sentiments about Hartley. Moreover, it was well known that he was very close to Joe Berinson, the highly respected and very talented Jewish Labor Member for the Division of Perth.
"Berinson, a qualified pharmacist who had later won a law degree, was dedicated to the cause of Israel. Beazley had been influenced by his brilliant intellect, and it had now become evident Wheeldon had come under his spell as well.
"As soon as Wheeldon finished, I knew that one or two Ministers might have doubts about the advisability of granting the request, but with Whitlam, Willesee and me supporting the proposal I had little doubt it would be carried. Lionel Murphy, Rex Connor and Bill Hayden too, had on previous occasions indicated their support for an even-handed policy for the Middle East. However, to my surprise, Gough began to back and fill, and as soon as Wheeldon finished, he again entered the debate to say that he had received a note from Al Grassby, Special Consultant to Murphy on Community Relations, to the effect that the delegation may not come even if it were approved. I began to wonder whether under the ferocity of Wheeldon's attack Gough was going to water."
To be continued...