Australia’s minister for Israel resigns

Australia’s minister for Israel, Michael Danby, has announced that he will not contest the next election. 

Australia doesn’t have a minster for Israel, you might be thinking. But for the Labor member for the federal seat of Melbourne Ports, commitment to apartheid Israel came before anything else. In fact, he spoke in defence of Israel in the Australian parliament more than on any other issue. 

In a J-Wire article published the day after his announcement, Danby said, “From an Australian Jewish viewpoint, perhaps my most difficult days in Canberra were with former prime minister Kevin Rudd, when he expelled the Mossad station chief in Canberra after the head of the Mossad Meir Dagan used Australian passports for the targeted [extrajudicial] assassination of the Hamas quartermaster, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, in Dubai”. 

Danby frequently attacked his party’s leadership for not being pro-Israel enough. He even derided Bob Carr, former president of Labor Friends of Israel, for pointing out the obvious: that building more Jewish-only settlements on stolen Palestinian land was a bad thing and that the Palestinians should have greater status in the United Nations.

Danby told the ABC, “The best way to a peace settlement – and I’ve tried to explain this to Bob time and time again and to end the issue of the settlements – is a peace settlement”. That is, the Palestinians should surrender all rights and then we will have a “peace settlement”.

It wasn’t just people in his own party who faced Danby’s fury. Even the Liberal Party’s Julia Bishop copped it from Danby over her criticisms of Israel using Australian passports for spying. 

Bishop originally had been unfazed by Australian passports being used by the Israeli secret service, but changed her tune in the wake of a Foreign Correspondent program finding that an Australian citizen, Ben Zygier, died mysteriously in Israel’s most secure jail cell. His “crimes”, like his death, are still a mystery, but believed to be related to Israel’s illegal activities.

Danby often claims to have spent his time in parliament fighting for human rights and free speech, particularly in relation to countries such as China. But his few comments on such issues sound vapid in light of his demand that Melbourne University Press not publish My Israel Question, a book by Jewish Australian journalist Antony Loewenstein. 

Having never read the book, which simply asks why Zionists refuse to engage with even the most moderate of Palestinian voices, Danby wrote to the Australian Jewish News: “If, God forbid, it is published, don’t give them a dollar. Don’t buy the book”. 

His support for boycotts turned out to be fleeting. Some years later, he hosted the launch of Why Boycotting Israel is Wrong, a book attacking everyone who refuses to defend the apartheid state. 

In 2017, Danby spent $4,574 of his parliamentary budget on two half-page advertisements in the Jewish News criticising ABC journalist Sophie McNeill’s coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict as biased for not treating the stabbing of three Israelis by a lone Palestinian in the same way that she covered the eviction of a Palestinian family by the Israeli state.

In retirement, Danby can be safe knowing that, while his friends and former colleagues may not be as one eyed as him in their support for a tiny racist coloniser on the other side of the world, Israel will continue to hold a special place in the hearts of Australian parliamentarians. As Danby noted in his farewell: 

“Before I was elected to parliament in 1998, there hadn’t been a single MP visit Israel for more than a decade … the atmosphere has totally improved in parliament, with many members and senators having visited Israel, the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group having one of the largest memberships in parliament.” 

And with leaders such as Victorian Labor premier Daniel Andrews, who opened a trade and investment office in Tel Aviv last year, Danby’s legacy is, sadly, living on.