Responses To Ages' 'The Anti-Semitic Labor Party'

Published: Tue 26 Oct 2004 06:30 PM
[This is a compilation of the various responses to Barry Cohen's opinion piece in the Age The Anti-Semitic Labor Party . The first five letters were published in the Age. The rest are as yet unpublished. I've included Rothfield's original letter as well as the edited version actually printed. The comments are from:
Maureen Wheeler, Hawthorn
Andrew Milnes, Northcote
Norman Rothfield, Fairfield
Luke Smith, Richmond
Nick Dyrenfurth, St Kilda
Sol Salbe, Maidstone
Norman Rothfield, Fairfield (original)
Les Rosenblatt, Elwood
Eric Roozendaal MLC (NSW)
Fay Waddington, Brisbane
Tanya Plibersek MP
-Sol Salbe]
It's not what Israel is, but what it does
I agree with just about everything Barry Cohen has said in his article "The Anti-Semitic Labor Party" (Opinion, 25/10).
I agree that America does not deserve the opprobrium that many on the left associate with it. I agree that the Arab world should be held to account for its appalling human rights record and its inability to rein in the hideous spread of fundamentalist terrorism that is increasingly speaking for Islam. I believe that Israel is now an established state and must continue to be a secure homeland for Jews.
I can believe all this and yet still feel disgust and horror at the way in which Israel continues to punish all Palestinians for the acts of some terrorists, at Israel's lack of humanity and compassion for these dispossessed people and its denial of their human rights.
I am also sick of being accused of being anti-Semitic for not being a blind supporter of everything Israel does, no matter how vicious or callous.
I grew up in Belfast, and am aware of the process by which daily acts of terror can wear down one's humanity. But I believe that is the one thing that all of us - Jews, Christians or Muslims - cannot afford to lose. And I will continue to be appalled by Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, not as an anti-Semite but as a humanitarian.
Maureen Wheeler, Hawthorn
Flawed analysis
Barry Cohen's article shows the common vacillations of many Zionists who otherwise decry prejudice and racism but are unable to deal with those issues when they come to the contradictions of Israel.
Cohen also neglects to mention at least two crucial reasons why support for Israel has supposedly waned in the ALP over the past few decades.
One of these is the rightward drift in Israel's leadership - the present Sharon Government is the most right-wing and aggressive in the state's history - as well as a growing messianic religious fringe.
The other is the Palestinian intifada and growing world awareness of the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.
It is true that there are those who overcriticise Israel and scapegoat it. But it is equally true that there are those who hold Israel up as a beacon without revealing its wrongdoing.
Andrew Milnes, Northcote
Clouded memory
Barry Cohen's philosophy of defending Israeli policies, right or wrong, has clouded both his memory and his judgement.
He has glorified the Labor Party of former years, completely ignoring the violent campaign organised by Bill Hartley, secretary of the Victorian Branch. This called for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, with Hartley using radio and parts of the press to further his campaign.
Today, any substantial criticism of Israel from some members of the ALP is against its policies and actions, not its existence - and this kind of criticism is made also by very many in Israel, as well as by 150 nations of the United Nations.
Norman Rothfield, Fairfield
Barry Cohen writes approvingly of Israel's Peace Now protesters, pointing to their massive demonstrations as a sign of healthy dissent. But Australians who oppose Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, it seems, are to be labelled anti-Semitic. This slur is becoming tiresome. Once it becomes accepted that to oppose Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories is "anti-Semitic", the label will then apply to anyone who supports the rule of international law in the Middle East.
The Palestinian question is complicated enough without resorting to name-calling.
Luke Smith, Richmond
Not impressed
As a third-generation survivor of the Holocaust, who also has travelled to Poland to view the remnants of a now-extinct family line, I am neither impressed nor intimidated by Barry Cohen's justificatory claim to the moral high ground. I often wish I could be prouder of my Labor Party - but one thing that I am not unproud of is Cohen's make-believe "anti-Semitism".
Nick Dyrenfurth, St Kilda
Barry Cohen (The Age 25/10) tells us that his views on Israel have remained the same while these days the Labor Party's are very different. But perhaps it is the ALP which has kept up with changes in the real world while Mr Cohen views have remained rigid?
Israel is no longer a tiny powerless Jewish community of the 'forties. It is a major military force in the world today, one that is not been reticent in using its power.
Like Mr Cohen, I have been brought up to believe that it is "never again." But my Holocaust surviving parents didn't raise me to believe that it applies to Jews only. It is a universal rule to stand up for the downtrodden.
Cohen mentions Tanya Plibersek's name as an example of the people that he is up against. Think of it: Israel commenced its occupation of the Palestinian Territories a year and a half before she was born! So while Ms Plibersek enjoyed her childhood, went through school and university, had several jobs and has now served six years in Parliament, Palestinians were suffering the humiliation of Occupation every day. Is anyone really surprised that someone who is following in Cohen's footsteps, who shares his proclaimed values, regards Ariel Sharon as a war criminal? She is not the only one to think so. A whole 400,000 Israelis said so in the largest rally ever held in Israel when Sharon sent his army to invade Lebanon.
Cohen's views haven't changed for at least 40 years. His rendition of the Israeli narrative sounds just as stale. Israel's New Historians have told us not everything that Cohen and I have been taught in our childhood was correct. It is time for him to catch up. Most likely if his convictions haven't changed would end up working with the very people whom he vilifies.
Sol Salbe, Maidstone
Barry Cohen's philosophy of defending Israeli policies, right or wrong, has clouded both his memory and his judgement.
He glorified the Labor Party of former years completely ignoring the violent campaign organised by Bill Hartley, Secretary of the Victorian Branch. It called for the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state, using radio and some press to further his campaign. Hartley showed the influence of his frequent contacts with Iraq and Libya who called for the destruction of the Jewish state. I, myself witnessed the extent of his influence when addressing dozens of ALP branches on behalf of the Jewish organisation Paths to Peace.
On the Federal level it was necessary for Jewish Leader, Walter Lippman, and myself to draft a statement affirming Israel's right to existence. This was relayed through Gough Whitlam's Secretary, Race Mathews.
Today any substantial criticism of Israel is against its policies and actions, and this comes from some members of the ALP and also by very many in Israel and by 150 Nations of the United Nations, and incidentally was vigorously expressed before his death by Barry Cohen's mentor, Abba Eban.
Barry Cohen should not forget that Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has devoted his life to promoting the settlement of Jews on captured Arab land. It would be good if Barry Cohen would direct his attention to that.
Norman Rothfield, Fairfield
Barry Cohen (Age Opinion 25/10/04, 'The Anti-Semitic Labor Party') appears to want to discredit any criticism of Israel unless it emanates from within the Israeli political culture. Because a very few brave voices in the ALP sporadically attempt to engender some serious debate on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, suddenly the ALP is an 'anti-semitic' organisation influenced by the 'lies spouted by the Palestinian propaganda machine'. It is deplorable that Barry's family suffered the fate they did under race-obsessed and genocidal European fascism and that Barry himself was the victim of prejudice and ignorance as a child at school in Griffith. However, like most Australian Jews who grew up in the 1950's, I have no doubt that Barry's pride in the 'Jewish nation' was for far too many years built around the soothing 'terra nullius' type slogan of 'a land without a people for a people without a land' which we were all taught in our 1950s Jewish National Fund ('Bluebox') contributing communities. This slogan of convenience made it far too easy to overlook the injustices suffered by dispossessed Palestinians and their descendants which now require at the very least 'reining in the Israelis' to pre-1967 borders if both peoples are to have any hopeful future at all.
Les Rosenblatt, Elwood
October 22, 2004
Roozendaal responds to Barry Cohen comments on Jewish community and ALP
The Honourable Eric Roozendaal, a Member of the NSW Legislative Council and former General Secretary of the NSW ALP issued the following statement.
Mr Roozendaal said--:
"It is disappointing to read that Mr Barry Cohen, a man who has made a towering contribution to Australian society and Jewish issues in Australia would make such incorrect comments about the ALP.
"Unfortunately, it reflects the temptation to mistake the ranting of a few for the true position of Labor.
"As a senior figure in the NSW ALP for almost 20 years, I can state categorically I have had no experience of anti-Semitism within the Labor Party.
"In fact, the ALP is the only major political party in the nation that can proudly claim two Jewish parliamentarians within its ranks - myself and the Federal Member for Melbourne Ports, Mr Michael Danby.
"Moreover, the ALP leadership has always - and remains solidly - pro-Israel. Think of Mark Latham, Bob Carr, Kim Beazley, Steve Bracks and Kevin Rudd for a start.
"In fact, on February 24, Bob Carr took the unprecedented step of moving a resolution of the State Parliament "condemning all manifestations of anti-Semitism and supporting tolerance and community harmony".
"And then there's a whole new generation such as Kiama MP, Matt Brown, who is president of Parliamentary Friends of Israel or George Newhouse with the Jewish Labor Forum - who are working within the party to strengthen relations between the Jewish community and the ALP.
"The criticism that sometimes emanates from the margins of the ALP is almost always directed specifically at the tough policies of the Sharon government, not at Jews or the State of Israel per se.
"It is important to make a clear distinction that a criticism of the Sharon Government does not equate to anti-Semitism,
"And, by the way, the Coalition has its own differences on Israel. Albury-based Liberal MP for Farrer, Ms Sussan Ley, who chairs the Federal Parliament's Friends of Palestine Group is a vocal critic of Israel.
"So let's be clear on this. The ALP supported Israel from the very beginning. In fact, H.V. Evatt was the UN President who declared the founding of Israel in 1948. And ever since, the ALP leadership and the vast bulk of its parliamentary membership has remained undeviating in its support for Israel and its absolute condemnation of anti-Semitism in every form.
"That is the official and the majority view of the ALP and always will be. Yes, there are critics here and there - and you would expect that in a party that is diverse and democratic."
Hon Erie Roozendaal
It is really wearing thin having the likes of Barry Cohen trotting out visions of the sepia-toned family portrait of the 1930?s to somehow justify what is happening today in the Middle East. That the holocaust was an appalling occurrence will never be in dispute yet he violates that sympathy when he uses it to justify the treatment being metered out to Palestinians.
Spare me, Barry, your pain at the taunts at school about being a Jew. You weren't treated any differently to the Chinks from the goldfields onwards, the Ities and dagos in the 50?s not forgetting the Slopes in the 70?s and the Towel Heads today. In case you haven't worked it out especially after the "Tampa" incident -Australians are a racist lot. Why we enshrined it in legislation with the White Australia Policy.
How could you write you were obsessive about the apartheid regime in South Africa when you condone the same thing in what was once Palestine? Maybe you should ask yourself why more than 100,000 Peace Now supporters came out into Rabin Square. Could it be they are right? Could it be that Palestinian suicide bombers are driven to such extremes because they lack hope after so many years of occupation, intimidation, humiliation and subjugation by one of the most well equipped military forces in the world. Maybe you should take some of the blame for deaths on both sides because of your inflexible approach. As for the pictures shown on TV of the Arabs cheering. Have you noticed it's the same bloody picture all the time and guess whose side the owners of the media in Australia are on. Finally it is quite infantile how you accuse anyone who disagrees with actions taken by USA of being a communist. For every Pol Pot there is a Pinochet.
Fay Waddington, Brisbane
[Scanned from the PDF version by Paul M Reti]
October 25, 2004
Statement by Tanya Plibersek, Federal Member for Sydney
I support a two-State solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and support the existence of the Jewish state. That is a fact.
I have criticised the policies of the Sharon Government. I have also condemned acts of terror such as suicide bombing in no uncertain terms. That is a fact too.
But at no point, I have ever felt that my criticisms of the Sharon Government were anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish or threatened the survival of the State of Israel.
If members of the Jewish community have thought that to be the case, then I am very disappointed and apologise for any unintended hurt.
However, I have a continuing interest in a peaceful resolution to the problems of the Middle East and will continue to actively involve myself in the search for a solution.
In addition, I am proud of my statements criticising the Taliban for its treatment of women in Afghanistan and the mullahs for their repression of democracy in Iran. I do not believe these criticisms make me anti-Arab.
Nor, when I criticise the policies of the Howard Government do I consider myself "un-Australian".
*** ENDS ***

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