Several Labor MPs have expressed concerns about Julia Gillard’s upcoming trip to Israel, where the Deputy Prime Minister will lead a delegation to hold a dialogue with Israeli leaders.

The MP for Fowler, Julia Irwin, an executive member of the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Palestine group, yesterday criticised the trip as an unnecessary “public relations exercise” for Israel. “When leaders and academics are distancing themselves from Israel following its attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, Australian politicians are taking part in this public relations exercise,” Ms Irwin said.

The delegationalso includes the Labor MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus and the Liberal MPs Peter Costello, Christopher Pyne and George Brandis.

Ms Gillard, who leaves on Wednesday and is also visiting the US, said the dialogue was “an important new initiative” and she plans to reiterate Australia’s commitment to a two-state solution. She will also visit Ramallah to meet Palestinian leaders, she said.

It is understood that about six Labor MPs have expressed concerns about the delegation and may raise the issue at caucus this week.

The delegation is being organised by the Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange and is expected to feature discussions with Israeli political leaders, including the President, Shimon Peres, and the Defence Minister, Ehud Barak.

Jonathan Pearlman