Thursday, January 17, 2019

Bob Carr's 'Run for Your Life' 1

In my post, Kevin Rudd's 'The PM Years' (3/1/19), I mentioned several recent Australian memoirs that shed light on the tactics used by the Israel lobby to keep our politicians and journalists in line. One of these, Run for Your Life (2018), by former Labor Party foreign minister Bob Carr, has its own chapter on the subject - Me and 'The Lobby'.

These days, Carr is known for his efforts to push Labor in a pro-Palestinian state direction. This position, however, developed relatively late in his political career.

A mindset of blind support for Israel seems to have characterised most of the Labor Party since the creation of Israel in 1948, through to at least the outbreak of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000. (It should be noted that NSW state MP George Petersen (1921-2000), and Bill Hartley (1930-2006), state secretary of the Victorian ALP from 1965 to 1970, were honourable exceptions to this tendency.) In fact, during this period, dogmatic support for Israel could almost be said to have become one of Labor's much-trumpeted 'values'.

I will examine the process of Carr's move from received to actual wisdom on the subject of Palestine/Israel, and the Israel lobby's response to same, in follow up posts. For now, here are excerpts from Carr's account of his early days, shilling for Israel:

"I had been a long-term supporter of Israel. In 1977, as a young trade union official, I had rented a room in the Trades Hall, bought some cask wine and invited Bob Hawke to come along and launch Labor Friends of Israel. I had remained its token president ever since and was always on hand to greet delegations and troop along to the [Israel] Independence Day celebrations... In 1983 I had visited Israel with a delegation of NSW Labor people... and had found it congenial enough, if not a revelation, admirable for its strong labour institutions. We met no Palestinians and were not driven around the occupied West Bank. At that time no Israeli historians had explored what had really happened in 1948. That would occur only when Benny Morris and others uncovered the story of massacres and expulsions that had forced the Arab population to flee. We just accepted the prevailing wisdom. It had been 'a land without a people for a people without a land': this was the Exodus narrative." (pp 174-5)

If Begin and Sharon's bloody invasion of Lebanon in 1982 registered with Carr, he doesn't mention it.

"I and my Labor crowd were in the Zionist camp. I remember joking with John Wheeldon, a former Labor senator and a minister in the Whitlam government, about our special closeness to Israel - with its craggy old Labour Party in permanent power, its collectivised agriculture, kibbutzniks who were Holocaust survivors... I entertained the notion that in retirement I might sign up as a volunteer to talk about the Holocaust to counter Holocaust denial. It seemed to me self-evident that the Jews were in fact an exceptional people who - and I said this in many speeches at their community events - had made a contribution to civilisation well above their numbers. I didn't dream that in feeding this self-image I might be encouraging a strand of thinking that, among other things, had Jews enjoying a view of themselves as the 'Chosen People' and therefore entitled to uncontestable rights to the land God gave them. (ibid)

As an example of collective delusion, the ALP's historical love affair with Israel is reminiscent of many Western leftists' unquestioning support for Stalinist Russia. To be sure, at the time, the lobby will have lapped up the kind of adulation of Israel expressed by Carr and others in the party - to the point of taking Labor's support for its cause for granted. But, as the old adage goes, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. My next post will look at Carr's gradual awakening to the reality of Palestine/Israel.

To be continued...

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