Meeting Tony Abbott in Sydney and shooting the Palestinian breeze

Last night I attended an event in central Sydney at Gleebooks with Leader of the Liberal Opposition Tony Abbott and writer and speech-writer Bob Ellis.

The room was packed with around 200 people and the two men initially talked about the war in Afghanistan (Abbott backs it, “the best of the worst options” for the country), refugees, this year’s election campaign, the release of former Guantanamo Bay detainee David Hicks  (“I hope he’s learned his lesson and can move on with his life”) and the Labor government. He’s oddly likeable, even if his politics are laced with hardline Catholicism and conservatism. Abbott can be arrogant and deluded but also self-deprecating and charming. It’s no wonder he nearly won this year’s election against a Labor rabble of belief-free politicians.

I stood up and asked a question about the Middle East: “At what point will you, the Liberal Party and the major parties in the West recognise Israel for what it is rather than what you want it to be? Israel brutally occupies the Palestinians and the West stays largely silent. What will it take for you to look honestly at the situation and not simply mouth pro-Israel platitudes?”

Abbott said he had visited Israel a few times and believed in a two-state solution, a Jewish state and Palestinian state, and acknowledged the situation wasn’t “perfect” but remained far better than every other country in the region. He talked positively about the rights of Israeli Arabs in Israel but ignored the Palestinians in the occupied territories. I sensed he didn’t know too much about it all – at a few points he stated that he wasn’t an “expert” – but he seemed to be mouthing platitudes. The “lines” were repeated over and over again.

After, while signing books, I approached Abbott again and we talked for a few minutes about the conflict. He said he had visited Israel as a guest of the government and only been taken to where they wanted to show him. When I said that there were Jewish-only roads in the West Bank, he said that was “bad” and looked uncomfortable. I urged him to visit the region again and spend time in the West Bank and even Gaza. Abbott told me that he “admired” Israel because of its supposedly thriving democracy, free and open debate and ability of Arabs to vote and participate in the democratic process. It was a postcard version of the truth, ignoring the inherent discrimination within Israel and utterly forgetting the Palestinian territories.

8 comments
  • Aaron

    Thank you, and excellent work Antony – I wished you'd used the word apartheid, however. It's accurate and transmits so much information so quickly, even to those know absolutely nothing about ME politics.

     

    It's no excuse, but at least we know ignorance is Tony Abbott's explanation. I'm going to send Abbott a copy of Jeff Halper's "An Israeli in Palestine". It's an excellent primer on the conflict and Halper's being an Israeli is an excellent "in".

     

    Now, what's Julia Gillard's excuse? After the Mathieson/Dadon thing it's much worse than ignorance I fear.

  • Brian

    Abbott seems to make a practice of confessing  his ignorance….as in the Kerry O'Brien interview on Broadband

  • Kevin Charles Herber

    While it may be possible to turn Abbott's personal view of the Israeli occupation, he faces his Parliamentary party bigots like George Brandis, and those faceless Aussie Zionists who contribute big-time to the Libs (& Labor) via blind financing.

    Both major parties simply cannot afford to lose this financing over a conflict which after all, is the lynchpin of US global policy.

    Only when political donation become totsally transparent in Oz, will there be an opportunity to face-down the rich Aussie Zionist bigots.

    There's an Aussie organisation devoted to undoing this campaign finance rort, and I'll search it & post on this item.  

  • H

    There are not "Jewish only roads", that's misleading. There are Israeli-only roads which all Israeli's irrespective or race or religion can use; Arabs and Jews can use them even if Palestinians can't. There is also the phenonemon of Palesinian only roads which Israeli's can't use.
    http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x
     

    Some roads were made Israeli-only to protect Israeli civilians in the 2nd Intifada (which was a massive suicide bombing campaign). But since then these West Bank roads are being reopened to Palestinians and checkpoints are being progressively closed.

     

    Lastly, the South African concept of apartheid doesn't apply when all Israeli citizens get equal civil and political rights irrespective of race or religion or skin colour. And apartheid doesn't apply when Palestinians in the Territories are subject to their own self-governing Palestinian Authority; if there are government services such as better teachers or nurses or more police that Palestinians need, Palestinians should look to their own self-governing Palestinian Authority.

  • H

    Referring to a comment above: there is no need to subscribe to Jewish conspiracy theories. Jews don't control the world, neither do they control Australia's political parties. The views of Australia's major political parties are their own.

  • Kevin Charles Herber

    Well then Aitch or H, why do both major Aussie parties offer unquuestioning support for Israel….and have done so for 30 years.

    We look forward to your detailed explanation.

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  • http://rememberpalestine.blogspot.com Ozziebob

    Is H disingenuous, misleading or just plain stupid? Go there, open your eyes and then come back and report what you see. The West Bank has been under harsh military occupation for 43 years, during which time Israel's theft of land and water and its denial of basic human rights to the indigenous inhabitants has intensified. Zionists will not be happy until the whole of Mandate Palestine has been ethnically cleansed – their own Final Solution.