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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2314

Mr DANBY (10:14 PM) —From 7 to 9 November I attended in Ottawa, Canada the second international conference on combating anti-Semitism. The conference brought together over 150 parliamentarians from 50 different countries. On the opening evening I spoke to 500 people at the gala dinner. It was a great honour to represent Australia, with Senator Scott Ryan from the other place, at this forum. I would like to thank the conference hosts, Minister Jason Kenney; Scott Reid, Chair of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism; and my good friend the former Attorney-General of Canada, Professor Irwin Cotler, who was the life force of the conference. The conference was addressed by the Canadian Prime Minister, who in a very moving speech to the delegates said:

History teaches us that anti-Semitism is a tenacious and particularly dangerous form of hatred. And recent events are demonstrating that this hatred is now in resurgence throughout the world. That is why the work of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism has never been so important or timely as it is now.

In Australia we like to think of ourselves as a relaxed, easygoing and tolerant people, free from the violent hatreds and quarrels of the Old World. To a large extent that self-image is an accurate one. However, Australia has a history of racism, with the forcible displacement of Indigenous people and the White Australia policy, which we remember ruled for 60 years from 1901 and excluded all non-Europeans. Deep hatreds that underlie this policy have not entirely disappeared, as I told the conference, although they are seldom expressed as openly. Australia has welcomed millions of migrants since 1945. Since the 1970s these immigrants have been selected on a non-racial basis. But there remains some ambivalence about foreigners which persists in some corners of Australian society, and occasionally we see that break out in debate here.

There was an influx of Jewish refugees to Australia both in the years before the Second World War, among them my own father, and more notably in the decade after the war. At the notorious Evian Conference on refugees in 1938 the Australian delegate was the most execrable when he observed:

Australia has no racial problem and has no desire to import one.

Nevertheless, in practice Australia was much more generous than its rhetoric and accepted some 8,000 refugees from Nazism prior to the war, and the post-war Minister for Immigration, Arthur Calwell, is still held in very high regard for his facilitation of Jewish migration to Australia. These days anti-Semitism is often disguised as anti-Zionism and it has contaminated some sections of the Australian Left, though fortunately not in my own party or in the mainstream trade union movement. I have made it my mission to criticise such excesses and have had some success, particularly recently on the internet, with Crikey and newmatilda. The Canadian Prime Minister added that this phenomenon harnesses:

… disparate anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.

I gave the conference and the dinner an example of this when I cited the views of the former Prime Minister of Malaysia Mahathir Mohamad, who has said that the Jews are responsible for the global financial crisis—a man who had banned Schindler’s List from screening in Kuala Lumpur and the New York Philharmonic from playing a Hebrew melody. It was very surprising to conference delegates to find that this kind of obsession and hatred had transformed itself from even the retired Prime Minister of Malaysia into the financing by the Malaysian Prime Minister and his friends of the MV Mavi Marmara flotilla, which was so controversial in trying to break the blockade of Gaza. What you have is a person who has very deep-seated views in a country where he has probably never met a Jewish person—there are no Jews—transferring that to an international situation. It is very regrettable. The same thing has happened recently with UNESCO classifying the tombs of the patriarchs as a Muslim holy site—but that is something I will speak about on another occasion. (Time expired)