ISRAEL OR AUSTRALIA? The Liberal Party’s Obsession with Zionism

EXCLUSIVE: Are accusations of anti-Semitism being weaponised by certain political parties to tar their opponents? True Crime News Weekly hit the streets of the blue-ribbon electorate of Wentworth in Sydney’s east to take a look at claims that Zionism has been consistently used by the Liberal Party in attempts to secure the Jewish vote, whether the Jewish vote actually matters, and how annoying it is that we have to speak about Zionism every local election. Yael Grunseit investigates.

When a politician running in an electorate that’s home to a significant portion of the Jewish population is labelled an anti-Zionist, big media makes it look like they’ve just committed a heinous anti-Semitic hate crime.

As is their usual fashion, the Liberal Party have once again carefully chosen which political opponents to name anti-Zionists in preparation for the upcoming local elections. The latest victims are Independent candidates Allegra Spender of Wentworth and Zoe Daniels of Goldstein.

Over the last few weeks an onslaught of articles published by our good News Corp friends at The Australian and Sky News have reported on Spender’s anti-Zionist sins. Did she publicly condemn Netanyahu or sign a petition calling for the destruction of the Jewish state? No. All Spender did was gain the support of Blair Palese, a woman who tweeted a few anti-Zionist statements. 

The Australian Jewish News and Plus 61J have since clearly clarified that Spender does not associate with Palese, and that Spender does support Israel. It’s a very similar story for Daniel. 

Whether you agree with Spender or Daniel’s position on Israel isn’t what’s important here. The consistent weaponisation of anti-Zionism by the Liberal Party in a tired, unethical attempt to win over the Jewish community is the problem. It’s a strategy that disregards truth. One that exploits the interests of the Jewish community in an attempt to discredit Independents. 

To get a deeper understanding of what may be going on, True Crime News Weekly spoke with Dr Kerryn Phelps, a former Independent candidate for Wentworth who like Spender was accused of being an anti-Zionist by her Liberal opponent Dave Sharma. In Dr Phelps’ case, in 2018 and 2019. Her crime? Employing an individual who had once done some contract work for an anti-Zionist organisation. 

“The allegation of support for BDS by association, even by distanced association through a volunteer or a supporter has become a feature of some Liberal campaigns,” Dr Phelps said. 

When asked why she believes this is the case Dr Phelps responded “the Liberals must have figured it had a material effect on people’s perceptions of candidates”.

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So, let’s look at the potential material effect such an allegation could produce. In Wentworth, the electorate where Liberal MP Sharma and Independent Spender are currently battling it out, 12.5% of the population is Jewish. In Goldstein, where Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Independent candidate Zoe Daniels are at each other’s throats, only 6.8% of citizens are Jewish. Hebrew does make the list of top five languages spoken by residents, with a whooping 0.8% of Goldsteiners speaking Ivrit

The Jewish population is not that big of a deal from the numbers side of politics. We make up just 0.4% of the Australian population. What might be more significant is that almost 70% of Jewish Australians identify as Zionists. But still, what do our local elections have to do with Zionism? 

Dr Phelps, as a member of that 0.4%, explains that all this talk of Zionism only detracts from the real issues. 

“It’s definitely used as a distraction tactic and it’s definitely used to try and deflect the Jewish community’s attention away from other issues like a trillion dollars in debt, a broken promise on an integrity commission and the lack of action on climate change,” she said. 

As a young Jew living in Wentworth, I agree. I wish that in the lead up to this election my community could speak more about healthcare, the cost of living, respect for women in the workplace and the million other issues that affect our everyday lives as Australian citizens.

Instead, our political discourse is consistently relegated to narrow discussions about which politician supports Israel the most. I assume like many young Jews, the first thing I knew about Sharma is that he was the ambassador to Israel. Sure, this myopic focus on Israel is often self-inflicted by the Jewish community, but what’s certain is that the Liberal Party perpetuates it for their own benefit. 

Former Independent Wentworth MP, Dr Kerryn Phelps, has publicly come out criticising the Liberal Party for weaponising claims of anti-Zionism against political opponents this federal election campaign (Image: Wikipedia / Supplied)

True Crime News Weekly contacted Dave Sharma keen to hear his side of the story, but he rejected our invitation to talk about the issues. 

We also reached out to Spender hoping to discuss the issue further but after tentative statements from her media team that she would grant an interview, we were eventually only given a short emailed statement from the Independent electoral hopeful.

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“Since I launched my campaign, I have met with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australian Jewish Association, the Community Security Group CSG, the National Council of Jewish Women, Rabbi Dovid Slavin, and many other Rabbis privately, as well as many other members of the Jewish community. I will continue to do so,” the email from Spender’s office read.

“I ask you to look at my strong record supporting Israel and opposing the BDS movement.”

We have however also seen Spender tirelessly attempt to distance herself from her anti-Zionist supporter, Blair Palese. In response to Sharma’s claims that Spender’s anti-Zionist associations revealed what her “bigger agenda really was”, Spender told the Australian Jewish News that “none of my supporters or anyone involved in my campaign team actually makes the decision about what I stand for”.

As the AJN similarly reported, Daniels has sincerely apologised for her perceived association with anti-Zionism. Her wrongdoings took the form of an oddly anti-Semitic statement in an article published by the ABC in 2017 about Donald Trump’s supposed wealthy Jewish backers; her campaign manager Jobst Schmalenbach making some pretty weird comparisons between Hitler and Scott Morrison on social media in the past; and Daniel’s signature appearing on a petition which calls for a journalists right “to publicly and openly express personal solidarity with the Palestinian cause”. 

“​​I did apologise,” Daniel said recently. “I am deeply sorry to have caused any further pain or concern among our Jewish community, and to see the weaponisation of Jewish trauma for political gain.”

As Dr Phelps told True Crime News Weekly, both Spender and Daniel “have been at great pains” to express their support for Israel.

“So I think once a candidate expresses where they stand and what their policy is that should be the end of it,” she said.

 “I think it’s just unhelpful to try to paint a political candidate as anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist by association with other people. I just don’t think it’s constructive for community harmony to do that.”

We agree. Now let’s talk about something else. 

You can read Kerryn Phelps’ article “Sharma must be worried; he’s playing the BDS card – again” here.

About Yael Grunseit 5 Articles
Yael Grunseit is an intern with True Crime News Weekly. She is interested in the manipulation of power in politics, the justice system and Australian culture. She is finishing up her degree in Philosophy and English at the University of Sydney where she has focused on creative writing. Her work has previously appeared in Voiceworks and Shirley Magazine, with a forthcoming chapbook being published by Harbor Editions.

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