With the late Shimon Peres
Published in The Australian Jewish News on 12 September 2020
Since writing in these pages last month, I’ve been grateful to receive many kind messages from readers reflecting on my record in office. Other letters, including those published in the AJN, deserve a response.
First to Michael Gawenda, whose letter repeated the false assertion that I believe in some nefarious connection between Mark Leibler’s lobbying of Julia Gillard and the factional machinations that brought her to power. Challenged to provide evidence for this fantasy, Gawenda pointed to this passage in my book, The PM Years: “The meticulous work of moving Gillard from the left to the right on foreign policy has already begun in earnest more than a year before the coup”.
Hold the phone! Of course Gillard was on the move – on the US, on Israel, and even on marriage equality. On all these, unlike me, she had a socialist-left background and wanted to appeal to right-wing factional bosses. Even Gawenda must comprehend that a strategy on Gillard’s part does not equate to Leibler plotting my demise.
My complaint against Leibler is entirely different: his swaggering arrogance in insisting Labor back virtually every move by Benjamin Netanyahu, good or bad; that we remain silent over the Mossad’s theft of Australian passports to carry out an assassination, when they’d already been formally warned under Howard never to do it again; and his bad behaviour as a dinner guest at the Lodge when, having angrily disagreed with me over the passports affair, leaned over the table and said menacingly to my face: “Julia is looking very good in the public eye these days, prime minister.”
There is a difference between bad manners and active conspiracy. Gawenda knows this. If he’d bothered to read my book, rather than flipping straight to the index, he would have found on page 293 the list of those actually responsible for plotting the coup. They were: Wayne Swan, Mark Arbib, David Feeney, Don Farrell and Stephen Conroy (with Bill Ludwig, Paul Howes, Bill Shorten, Tony Sheldon and Karl Bitar in supporting roles). All Labor Party members.
So what was Leibler up to? Unsurprisingly, he was cultivating Gillard as an influential contact in the government. Isn’t that, after all, what lobbyists do? They lobby. And Leibler, by his own account and Gawenda’s obsequious reporting, was very good at it.
Finally, I am disappointed by Gawenda’s lack of contrition for not contacting me before publication. This was his basic professional duty as a journalist. If he’d bothered, I could have dispelled his conspiracy theory inside 60 seconds. But, then again, it would have ruined his yarn.
A second letter, by Leon Poddebsky, asserted I engaged in “bombastic opposition to Israel’s blockade against the importation by Hamas of military and dual-purpose materials for its genocidal war against the Jewish state”.
I draw Mr Poddebsky to my actual remarks in 2010: “When it comes to a blockade against Gaza, preventing the supply of humanitarian aid, such a blockade should be removed. We believe that the people of Gaza … should be provided with humanitarian assistance.” It is clear my remarks were limited to curbs on humanitarian aid. The AJN has apologised for publishing this misrepresentation, and I accept that apology with no hard feeling.
Regarding David Singer’s letter, who denies Netanyahu’s stalled West Bank plan constitutes “annexation”, I decline to debate him on ancient history. I only note the term “annexation” is used by the governments of Australia and Britain, the European Union, the United Nations, the Israeli press and even the AJN.
Mr Singer disputes the illegality of annexation, citing documents from 1922. I direct him to the superseding Oslo II Accord of 1995 where Israel agreed “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip pending the outcome of permanent status negotiations”.
Further, Mr Singer challenges my assertion that Britain’s Prime Minister agrees that annexation would violate international law. I direct Mr Singer to Boris Johnson’s article for Yedioth Ahronoth in July: “Annexation would represent a violation of International law. It would also be a gift to those who want to perpetuate old stories about Israel… If it does (go ahead), the UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed by both parties.”
Finally, on Leibler’s continuing protestations about his behaviour at dinner, I will let others who know him better pass judgment on his character. More importantly, the net impact of Leibler’s lobbying has been to undermine Australia’s once-strong bipartisan support for Israel. His cardinal error, together with others, has been to equate support for Israel with support for Netanyahu’s policies. This may be tactically smart for their Likud friends, but it’s strategically dumb given the challenges Israel will face in the decades ahead.