Only two days into the federal election campaign, and five days after her preselection, Labor candidate for the Western Australian seat of Curtin, Melissa Parke, has quit.
Parke says she doesn’t want her “well-known views” on Israel to distract from Labor leader Bill Shorten’s talking points. Her decision came after Fairfax media attacked Parke, and Labor parliamentarians senator Sue Lines and Fremantle MP Josh Wilson, for describing Israel as an apartheid state at a public launch of WA Labor Friends of Palestine.
“The homemade rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza towards and into Israel, are absolutely unacceptable and illegal under international law, but there is no doubt that they are a reaction to and a consequence of decades of brutal occupation”, Parke, a former minister in Kevin Rudd’s government, told the 5 March meeting. “They are no match for the combined power of an elite and well-resourced army, navy and air force.”
She called on the incoming Australian government to recognise the state of Palestine (now federal Labor policy) and “to support an end to the brutal occupation of Palestine and for the right of return of the Palestinian refugees”. Formerly a lawyer for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), Parke also recounted her firsthand observations of Palestinian suffering during her two year stay in Gaza.
"One case I remember vividly: a pregnant refugee woman ordered at a checkpoint in Gaza to drink a bottle of bleach”, she said. “It burnt out all her throat and insides. Fortunately her baby was saved. Another refugee was forced to put her baby through the X-ray machine."
Parke’s comments were not reported at the time, but became a sensational scoop for the Fairfax press on 10 April. Both the Sydney Morning Herald and the news website WAtoday ran a feature article titled, “Jewish advocates label WA Labor’s star pick for Curtin ‘extreme and divisive’”. In the article, Executive Council of Australian Jewry chief executive Alex Ryvchin is quoted attacking Parke not for the claims she made at the meeting (none of which he could refute), but for her public support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, which he claimed is anti-Semitic.
The following day, WAToday reported that senator Lines had told the WA Labor Friends of Palestine launch that Labor had made little progress on Palestine because “the Israeli lobby is so powerful within the party and outside of the party and it really does impact on the sort of movement we've been able to make in our policy".
However, it was not far right Zionists who sank Parke’s nomination. Bill Shorten told WAToday that Parke’s decision to quit was her own and “shows you how determined Labor is to be united”. Shadow treasurer Chris Bowen told the ABC that Parke’s views “didn’t represent the Labor Party views”. Significant pressure came from the Labor Party’s federal executive to force Parke to quit, effectively overturning her Labor branch pre-selection.
The ALP has a long history of support for apartheid Israel. Former Labor leader Doc Evatt was instrumental in creating Israel as a colonial settler state, having steered the 1947 Palestine partition plan through the United Nations while Australia’s UN ambassador. In international forums since, Labour leaders have consistently defended Israel from criticism. At home they have celebrated the racist state.
Last December, Labor’s national conference reaffirmed Labor’s support for “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognised borders” and called for the first time for “the next Labor government to recognise Palestine as a state”.
The resolution falls well short of Palestinian demands for the dismantling of Israel’s colonial and apartheid regime.
Today, two million Palestinians in Gaza live in an open-air prison, while those in the West Bank face frequent evictions from their homes and lands by ever-encroaching Israeli settlements. Under a “deal of the century” being pursued by US president Donald Trump and recently re-elected Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel would unilaterally annex Palestinian territory in the West Bank occupied by Israeli settlers.
Palestinian citizens of Israel and stateless Palestinians living under military law are discriminated against by more than 65 laws, according to Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. These laws deprive Palestinians of the ability to purchase and lease land, or return to or reside in so-called “Jewish” neighbourhoods.
Parke’s claim that Israel is an apartheid state is today hardly controversial: Israel’s Nation-State Law codifies discrimination against Palestinians through exclusive recognition of Jewish rights to self-determination in the territory it has colonised.
Parke’s decision to quit her candidacy will ensure that well-known conservative Celia Hammond – former Liberal foreign minister Julie Bishop’s successor – will face no serious contest for the blue-ribbon seat of Curtin.
But the biggest tragedy is that Parke has not fought her own party hierarchy. And neither of her Labor colleagues Lines and Wilson have publicly defended the statements – truthful and accurate – they made at the WA Labor Friends of Palestine launch. One clearly defendable example is Wilson’s comment at the launch:
"There are a lot of people [in Palestine] who say quite openly that the only fork in the path, the only opportunities in the future, are either a bi-national democratic state in which everyone – Palestinians and Israelis – have full civil, political and democratic rights together or it is a continuation forever and ever of the military occupation in an apartheid state."
The logic of this conclusion should be self-evident: Labor’s current policy of trying to turn the clock back to the Oslo Accords has failed. Labor parliamentarians who support Palestine should break with it. Moreover, they should be prepared to defend critics of Israeli apartheid when Zionists trot out their well-worn slander of “anti-Semitism”.
Nick Everett is the co-convener of Friends of Palestine WA.