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The possibility that the Palestinian issue could imperil an Australian Prime Minister’s hold on office would seem remote to many outsiders, but the UNESCO vote for Palestine has a resonance in Australia.
There was widespread criticism in many circles in Australia, when Australia voted “No” with the USA and Israel and their small band of allies. Not too surprising though when one knows the hold the Jewish Lobby and the Israeli Embassy in Canberra exerts on many politicians.
In fact the Arab-Islamic communities are quite large in Australia and may number around 350,000 people, many in western Sydney, and many in marginal seats in the House, where a minority Labor Government holds office by a single vote.
The Jewish community is barely 80,00O in number and mostly in wealthy suburban seats which vote conservative. It has little strategic political power, but it does have wealth and access to many Labor MP’s and a small group of MP’s of Jewish background–in a way not unlike the role of AIPAC in Washington.
So why did Julia Gillard, the Labor PM, direct Australia to vote against Palestinian membership of UNESCO, and soon one fancies, against Palestinian membership of the UN? None of this makes much sense, especially bearing in mind the huge Australian trade with the nations of the Middle East, not to mention the Islamic nations of Indonesia and Malaysia.
Gillard comes from a strand of the Labor Party in Melbourne which has long had links with Israel, and her partner, a hairdresser, had until recently worked for a Jewish millionaire property developer in Melbourne. Last year before becoming PM Gillard went (then as Deputy-PM) on a Jewish-funded delegation to Israel, and ignored all efforts to have her make contacts with Palestinians.
The former Labor PM Rudd, whom Gillard toppled in a party coup, subsequently became Foreign Minister. This was to silence him and keep him occupied after losing the PM’s job, a clever tactic by Gillard but one that has backfired politically.
Rudd was in a way the ideal choice for Foreign Minister–a former diplomat who speaks several language including Mandarin. Rudd was made for the job. His special personal project was to get international support for an Australian bid to get a seat on the UN Security Council in 2012, a feat that would have given Rudd a global forum, a role he craves. In this crusade Rudd has visited scores of countries and given out much largesse (called “aid”) to likely supporter-nations.
All this is now jeopardy, as the 60 or so Islamic states in the UN will note Australia role in this unsavory affair, and will likely vote for Finland or Luxemburg, the other two contenders for the position, much to Rudd’s chagrin. It is being said that Gillard over-ruled Rudd’s decision to abstain from voting, and she insisted that Australia vote for Netanyahu and her other Israeli friends.
Rudd could show his anger by resigning and giving up his seat in the House of Representatives, which would cost the Gillard Government a seat and office.
He is unlikely to do that, but he may act on the many rumors that he is planning a counter-coup against the woman who deprived him of the PM’s job just last year.
As the Palestinian issue continues to be a matter of intense debate, it will be interesting to see if Julia Gillard become a victim of her own markedly Zionist sympathies. It would be a fine example of the wages of hubris!
Brian McKinlay is an Australian Labor Historian who lives in Melbourne and has written widely on Australian history, notably of the Labor Movement, being the author of a 3- volume documentary history of Australian Labor and trade union and radical groups.