EDITORIAL: Senator’s Anti-Israel comment exposes Labor rift

The Nightly
2 Min Read
Senator Fatima Payman said out loud what many within the Labor party privately believe.
Senator Fatima Payman said out loud what many within the Labor party privately believe. Credit: Ross Swanborough/The West Australian

In using the violent and divisive phrase “from the river to the sea”, young WA Senator Fatima Payman was not, as Anthony Albanese would like you to believe, going rogue by breaking with a firmly-held Labor policy position in support of Israel.

Ms Payman said out loud what many within the party privately believe.

Behind the scenes, Australia’s public support of Israel in its battle for survival against its neighbours which wish to see it wiped off the map has caused a deep rift within Labor.

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Particularly on the party’s left, many Laborites see Israel as the chief antagonist in the latest chapter of this long-running and bloody conflict.

Until recently, Australia, through its Labor Government, has at least said all the right things on the Middle East.

But now the party’s less-than-emphatic support behind the scenes for a nation which is one of Australia’s dearest friends and our ally in democracy has begun to bleed over into the public arena, and into policy.

Those tensions will play out this weekend at ALP’s Victorian State Conference, where pro-Palestinian supporters from its Socialist Left faction will demand the Albanese Government give its support to the “inalienable right of self-determination for the Palestinian people” and calling for the end to Israel’s “perpetual military occupation and human rights violations”.

That follows the move on Saturday by Foreign Minister Penny Wong to sign Australia up to a UN resolution backing a bid for Palestine’s full membership of that organisation.

In doing so, Australia broke with some of our closest security partners in the US and UK and betrayed an ideological ally which is facing an existential threat.

Ms Wong and others have tried to downplay the significance of that vote, claiming it is simply a continuation of Australia’s long-held bipartisan position in support of a two-state solution in the Middle East.

Support for a two-state solution is indeed uncontroversial. It is the only hope the world ever has of lasting peace in the Levant.

But it’s the timing of that vote in the middle of a war that is the important context here. Israel needs our unwavering support now more than ever.

Israel’s critics say that its response to the atrocities committed by Hamas militants on October 7 and aggressions since, has been disproportionate. The unfortunate fact is that Israel, hemmed in as it is by states which do not believe it should exist, has little choice.

To show any sign of weakness would be to invite annihilation.

That said, it’s understandable that many in the community — particularly those with familial connections to the Middle East, such as Ms Payman — hold strong opinions about Palestine, its future and its past.

That is why strong leadership on this issue is so important. We cannot afford to get the ideological wobbles now.

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