By Phillippa Carisbrooke
(Transcript from World News Radio)
Former Foreign Minister Bob Carr has rejected accusations he’s prejudiced.
And insisted he is a friend of Israel and Australia’s Jewish community.
It comes after comments he wrote about the pro-Israel lobby.
Phillippa Carisbrooke reports.
Comments by Bob Carr in a new book have led the secretary of the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group to call him a “bigot”.
In the book, the former Foreign Minister complains about what he calls an “unhealthy” level of influence which the pro-Israel lobby in Melbourne had over Julia Gillard and her cabinet.
The Melbourne-based Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council denies having unique access to the then Prime Minister, saying it’s put its concerns to a succession of leaders in the same way.
Chairman of the Council, Mark Leibler, says its “flattering” but “ridiculous” that Mr Carr thinks his organisation had “extraordinary” influence.
“It’s a figment of his imagination. I mean the former Prime Minister is an independent person able to make up her own mind about things.”
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry also rejects Mr Carr’s claim the pro-Israel lobby had an unhealthy level of influence on Ms Gillard’s policies towards Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Its president, Robert Goot, says Mr Carr never shared his concerns with his organisation.
“He never took the trouble or time to express those views, or any similar views, to us on the two occasions we met with him when he was Foreign Minister.”
Robert Goot says lobbying is part of the democratic process, and people shouldn’t be criticised for putting their views across.
“There’s nothing clandestine about this. When the Jewish community has an issue which affects the federal government, it makes representations to the federal government and the opposition. We do it very publicly when the occasion arises.”
The Australia Palestine Advocacy Network says the pro-Israel lobby does have far greater access to the government and opposition than pro-Palestinian groups.
The Network’s president, Bishop George Browning, says that’s down to resources.
“They offer an extraordinary number of trips for example to Israel in order for people to be brought up to speed with the Israeli point of view. And I understand more parliamentarians receive trips to Israel than any other comparable country.”
The secretary of the Australia-Israel Friendship Group in federal parliament, Labor M-P Michael Danby, has slammed Bob Carr’s remarks.
Speaking to the ABC, he labelled Mr Carr a “bigot”.
“No lobby in Australia has that kind of influence I understand. It’s laughable but I suppose in the current climate, as (federal Attorney-General) George Brandis says, it’s OK to be a bigot.”
Mr Carr has rejected the accusation, saying his political record shows he’s a friend of Israel.
“I was president of Labor Friends of Israel for a long time. As a young politician I stood on the back of a truck outside the entertainment centre as part of a Jewish community protest at the Russian Ballet because of the treatment of Soviet Jews. I have spoken at Holocaust memorials.”
The former New South Wales Premier and Senator has also defended his opposition to expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, and his support for improved Palestinian status at the United Nations.
Mr Carr denies these positions were influenced by the rising importance of Muslim communities in some electorates.
“The position I was advocating to the government can’t be attributed to some sort of crude pursuit of votes from ethnic communities. It clearly had merit.”
The chairman of the Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council says Mr Carr has been careful with his words, stressing he’s talking about the pro-Israel lobby, not the Jewish lobby.
Mark Leibler says that distinction is likely to be lost on those who hate Jews.
He has however dismissed suggestions Mr Carr is a bigot.
“Some of his statements are you know, unfortunate, and will play into the hands of anti-Semites and bigots. But Bob Carr, no, Bob Carr’s not a bigot.”
George Browning from the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network agrees.
“During his time as Foreign Minister he, as far as I can see, has done his best to represent as fairly as he can the interest of all racial groups, in particular minority groups and particularly oppressed group. And if you stand up for an oppressed group and are called a bigot then someone doesn’t know what the word means.”