In a recent edition of the Young Labor Left magazine, Secretary Tim Chapman wrote that “young people today are not more conservative than previous generations, but we have grown up in a more conservative world … I think a key issue in this apparent rebirth of conservatism is that the cultural traditions of the Left simply were not passed on to our generation.”
These traditions were felt during Saturday’s Young Labor Left public meeting on the Israel/Palestine conflict in the western Sydney suburb of Granville. Labor’s Laurie Ferguson attended the event – he holds the seat of Reid – along with Palestinian activist Rihab Charida and myself, who spoke to the small crowd at the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union state office. The majority were under 35 and many came from the Middle East.
Ferguson gave a potted history of the ALP’s relationship with Israel and Palestine and argued that university campuses of the 1970s were the high point for Palestinian support. He said the ALP’s strong support for Israel was due to a number of factors, including Jewish financial donations to the party. He told of the historical connections between the Israeli Labour Party and the ALP but acknowledged that his side of politics “hadn’t really done much on the issue in the last 20 years.”
He said that the Palestinian representatives in Australia did poorly – and singled out the recently departed official Palestinian spokesman, Ali Kazak – because they weren’t proficient at building coalitions of support. This was in stark contrast to the Jewish community and Israelis, he said, many whom were “suave operators.”
The rise of Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Western fears of Islamic fundamentalism made it hard to garner support for the Palestinian side, Ferguson argued. He stated that the Israelis never really wanted to negotiate with the Palestinians.
Ferguson said that the only Jewish Federal MP, Michael Danby, spends much of his office’s time doing little more than advocating for Israel.
When asked about highlighting the Palestinian position in Australia – especially since the ALP leadership seems incapable of criticising Israel in public – Ferguson said a letter by Liberal MP Susan Ley in the Australian Financial Review was far more effective than a protest of 1000 people.
Journalist Andrew West once wrote that Ferguson was a savvy local operator and a “fly doesn’t fart in Laurie’s western Sydney seat of Reid without his knowing about it”. On Saturday, he seemed resigned to the fact that the Israel/Palestine conflict simply was not a major issue in either major political party.
Disclosure: I was invited by the NSW Young Labor Left to speak at the forum but I have no political affiliation with the party.