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Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday, August 19, 2003

Muzzled, say ALP's critics of Israel

By Mike Seccombe

CONCERN that Labor is in danger of losing votes and donations from the Jewish community appear to have driven the Opposition Leader, Simon Crean, to stop two pro-Palestinian backbenchers from speaking yesterday in a parliamentary debate on the Middle East.

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One of the censored backbenchers, Julia Irwin, a strong critic of the Israeli Government, last night said she was appalled that Labor policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict had been "hijacked by powerful forces" associated with the Jewish lobby.

She said she had been told by Mr Crean's foreign policy adviser, Karl Ungerer, that she was not allowed to speak, following a complaint to Mr Crean by the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Jeremy Jones.

Before Parliament rose last week, three backbenchers - Ms Irwin, Leo McLeay and the pro-Israel Michael Danby - were scheduled to speak to a private members motion on the so-called road map to peace in the Middle East.

But following the complaint to Mr Crean on Wednesday they were told the next day that they could not.

They were replaced by Mr Crean, the shadow foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, and the former leader Kim Beazley - a rare collection of Labor heavyweights for a minor debate on a Liberal-sponsored backbenchers' motion.

"I've definitely been muzzled in this debate," Ms Irwin said last night. "It's quite clear that . . . the leader's office wants Labor to toe the line and they just will not tolerate any different views.

"The Labor Party has been hijacked by powerful interests. And there are a lot of members on my side on the back bench who are absolutely horrified."

A spokesman for Mr Crean denied that the sudden change in speakers was a response to concern that the Jewish community was deserting Labor because of pro-Palestinian comments made by a number of prominent ALP members over recent months.

But he did acknowledge a need to "clarify" where Labor stood.

"There has been a lot of debate about what Labor's position is on Israel," the spokesman said.

"Mr Crean thought this was a good opportunity to put Labor's position on the record."

Ms Irwin and Mr McLeay are from the NSW [New South Wales] Right, but it is understood several backbenchers, mostly on the Left, are also concerned about the move.

In a speech to the house on Monday last week Mr McLeay savaged Mr Jones for what he called "regular attacks on members of Parliament and others who give any support for the plight of the Palestinian people".

"The attacks that have been made on my colleague [Ms Irwin] . . . have been disgraceful. It amazes me how intolerant Mr Jones and the pro-Israeli lobby can be.

"If you are not an enthusiastic supporter of the Sharon version of the Berlin Wall , you are considered to be anti-Jewish. When will the Jeremy Joneses of this world understand that criticism of the Israeli Government and its actions is not anti-Semitism?".


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Dossier: David Irving's 1993 libel action against Jeremy Jones and Australia Israel Publications
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