Monthly Archives: November 2018

An interpretation of the ideologies of the Liberal Party of Australia

Around the time former Attorney-General George Brandis was made High Commissioner in London, I read that the Liberal Party of Australia caucus is an estimated two-thirds conservative and one-third ‘classical’ liberal. The context was the creation of a Home Affairs ‘mega-ministry’, a kind of government-sponsored corporate raid. The new department subsumed some AGD responsibilities, and was generally interpreted as edging out the ‘moderate’ (classical liberal) Brandis to curry favour with ‘capital C Conservatives’ like former Queensland police officer Peter Dutton.

This omnishambles of a Liberal Party in turmoil, endlessly renting and kerning over factional power plays, instead of doing what the Australian public pays parliamentarians good money to do, has rolled through this Coalition government since 2013. When Liberal MP and member for the marginal electorate of Chisolm Julia Banks resigned to join the cross-bench on 27 November 2018, she cited colleagues putting personal political ambition before the national interest. Welcome to the Liberal Party, where aggressive pursuit of individual self-interest is codified as rational, and competitive, by the tenets of its very own ideology.

The day Banks stood to take her stand, legendary Fairfax photographer Andrew Ellinghausen posted a pair of images: one as she left the Liberals centres her among five men in blue and grey suits, all with their backs turned. The other chronicles her arrival to sit on the cross bench among three brightly-dressed independent women.

Both Brandis and Turnbull were regularly labelled, and probably were what passes for, ‘moderates’ in the neoliberal alt-right nativist populist Trumpist tribal world, or whatever white patriarchy is called these days. (I have written at length on the myth of moderate Malcolm, for instance here and here, and I warmly recommend this elegant analysis from Ben Eltham at New Matilda). The fact is that their purported moderation did not stop multiple women from reporting that Liberal men bullied them during the most recent leadership change, or, for that matter, men killing women every week, and often children too, in their own homes. Nor did it stop the gendered bullying in the parliament, or the media, or any other workplace or the many homes where it happens, or in public. But there hasn’t been much terrorism so that’s the main thing, according to the Prime and ‘Home’ Affairs minister.

The decline of liberalism in the Liberal Party, which is not worth saving

In this 2013 Fairfax profile, George Brandis is said to have read On Liberty by JS Mill in high school, which is the perfect cover for a deeply conservative worldview masquerading as commitment to individual liberty for all and thus – abracadabra – social equality. He later completed an honours thesis at the University of Queensland titled An interpretation of the ideology of the Liberal Party of Australia.

This is an odd title, because the Liberal Party of Australia houses two distinct ideologies. The most prominent lie the Liberal Party tells about itself – and there are many – is of a Broad Church that can and does accommodate both liberalism and conservatism. It doesn’t, and it can’t. Still, in 2018, those efforts by young George look commendable in a comparative sense. It is almost as though ‘moderate’ has become code for ‘has an ascertainable ideology that informs a coherent worldview, however narrow, naïve, and flawed’.

It can not be said that any parliamentarian among the estimated two-thirds-one-third ratio of conservatives to liberals in the Liberal Party caucus has lately enunciated his (sic) ideology. Or policy platform. Or Weltanschauung.

This is a party that campaigned against Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating (1991-1996) for having a vision for the future of the nation, mocking his platform as the vision thing. A party that offered up the alternative ‘platform’ of a relaxed and comfortable Australia from a man who says he enjoys Bob Dylan for his music not his lyrics… and who thinks saying this shit makes him quirky rather than a vacuous jerk paddling in an intellectual puddle.

In August 2018, this party produced, in yet another leadership coup that wasn’t, a failed figurehead who said he could smile and maybe show a different side if moved from Home Affairs to Prime Minister. That was his pitch. Like the electorate is his wife or something ‘yes, honey I’ve been very busy at work. I promise to smile a bit more.’

That is not a platform. If Peter Dutton decided to re-settle refugees detained on Nauru in Australia tomorrow, nobody – whether for or against the policy change – would care if he smiled or not. When his hour came, the performance of the most powerful conservative in the Liberal Party was egocentric nonsense.

Embedded values

The Broad Church euphemism persists for features it shares with common law theory. The authority of the common law, which is law every bit as much as legislation is law, rests on custom, longevity, and repetition. Common law is not only case law but also the doctrines, principles, rules and so on found in and applied by and handed down via those judgements.

If a legal principle has been around for a long time (in the judgements), and is derived from the social customs and conditions of the local population (as interpreted and applied by judges in Norfolk or Surrey or Kent, a tradition that gifts its name to district and circuit courts) and repeatedly cited and followed (by the judiciary), it has the authority of law. Sometimes, creative interpretation and application of legal norms becomes an accepted legal principle, sometimes in one jurisdiction and not another – or differently in different jurisdictions (Wilkinson v Downton [1897] 2 QBD7s3 57 is a famous example).

According to common law theory, this shows (is evidence? proves? On the balance of probabilities?) that the common law is robust and flexible and relevant, is capable of adapting and changing, to accommodate shifting social values. One obvious flaw in this model is the mono-cultural demography of its custodians, who are overwhelmingly drawn from the ranks of white barristers whose parents sent them to very expensive schools for boys. These are people who tend to have a wife who attends to life outside the law, like children, like bathtime and dinner and homework and birthdays.

This kind of demographic dominance works for corporations avoiding tax liabilities, or wealthy individuals shirking contractual obligations, or celebrities upset about how their craft or character is portrayed in a newspaper. The cast are mostly the same demographic as the judiciary, or in close proximity (maleness, whiteness), and the players have their exits and their entrances. Performing at their leisure or working hard for serious money? Maybe both – who can say?

The criminal law, in contrast, has a starkly different clientele to its practitioners. Prisons are full of poor people, black people, victims of crime and people who did not finish school and who survived child sexual assault, people with disproportionately high rates of mental illness and illiteracy. The lawyers and judges are not in these classes of person.

Some would say that this picture cannot be drawn without a neoliberal framework, and I don’t disagree. But the more I think about it, the more it seems to me that distinguishing classical from neoliberalism seems redundant. The tenets all look the same.

I was talking to a colleague and friend about data integrity recently, and specifically about those terms and conditions everyone is compelled to tick, which are basically caveat emptor, buyer beware. Data harvesting by tech giants, disguised by nonsense individual freedom and choice rhetoric, exist because neoliberal governments do not know what to do with behemoths like Facebook and Amazon. Those terms and conditions are the C21 equivalent of the perfect knowledge ascribed to consumers by free market theory.

All of which brings us back to that Broad Church of liberalism and conservatism, a euphemism perfectly suited to the Liberal Party, with its inherent dishonesty, phoney religiosity, and those values. Conservatives are very attached to custom, longevity and repetition. They will rationalise any old nastiness with ‘it has been this way for a long time’. Liberals, too, use this rationalisation, but even closer to their hearts are free market values like ‘rational’ self-interest and aggression disguised as ‘competition’. The fantastic fiction of this is that selfish pursuit of personal utility by individuals ipso facto produces aggregate social good.

No, it doesn’t.

Central organising principles

Recently I was invited to an Honours workshop because a star graduate, whose thesis I supervised, was giving a talk on getting his research published in an academic journal. For his conclusion, the student had constructed a case study in the form of three fictional judgements in the NSW Supreme Court of Appeal. He created a ‘constitutional trust’ as authority for the judiciary to not apply a law which abrogates fundamental common law principles (Serious Crime Prevention Orders, for the record). He did very well.

I went along, and added a few words about how I observed that his research really fell into place when he landed on his constitutional trust, which is not a real thing (it was meticulously researched and anchored in real law). Like students and everybody, researchers have different ways of learning and interpreting as we go about the knowledge business. For me, locating the central organising principle/s that found and shape whatever it is I am writing about – law, patriarchy, colonialism, etymology, citizenship, liberalism, conservatism – is the key. It unlocks. It opens the door.

For example, for a student using feminist analysis, it is useful to know that the central organising principles of patriarchy are domination and control. I learnt this from philosopher and novelist Marilyn French (Beyond Power: On Women, Men and Morality, 1983) as an undergraduate in the late 1980s. Many years later, the work of distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton Robinson (2004) showed me to comprehend patriarchy and white supremacy, in its Australian form in particular, in The possessive logic of patriarchal white sovereignty: The High Court and the Yorta Yorta decision.

Obvious as it sounds (now), etymology and semiotics fell into place for me as soon as I could articulate that language encodes values, that there is a reason for phrases like mother country, mother tongue. Lex, lexicon, words of the people, law of the land. In English, and under patriarchy, this means a mass of disprovable and thus dishonest assumptions underpin much communication, whether among monolingual native English speakers or everyone who communicates with us.

Similarly, common law theory came into sharp relief when I landed on the source of its authority in custom, longevity and repetition. In among the many intriguing and intelligent readings in law that have crossed my desk, are centuries-worth of gibberish theorising origins of law and sources of its authority. It takes the patience of a saint more saintly than the immersion-baptism fetishist Augustine of Hippo (354-430), or the religious violence apologist Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), to wade through it all.

The set literature is dominated by men, so the proposition that human ideas spring from human brains, which are grown inside human bodies, something I have personally done three times, is not sufficiently male-centered. It takes effort to locate texts on intersectionality and critical race and feminist jurisprudence, by scholars like Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw and Carol Pateman. It also takes effort to birth and raise human beings with a mind of their own.

Ideology, and a polity lacking honesty in principle

Eventually, I arrived at the comparison between central organising principles of liberal and conservative ideology: meritocracy and primogeniture. Liberals claim that the distribution of power and wealth – political economy – is organised by merit. They think that stating the merits of those at the top of social hierarchy validly explains their position of power. This is meritocracy mythology. Conservatives, in contrast, think that birth into privilege – again, power and wealth – is a valid means of organising society, of determining who can exercise decision-making authority over the rest. This is primogeniture.

An ideology is the logic of ideas, the articles of faith underpinning specific policy positions and the codification of those policies into legislation. That legislation – laws – then impose conditions on, and threaten sanctions against, the subject population. Making laws is what governments do. So the coherence of the underlying logic, and ethic of the underlying values, is not immaterial. This is the why, and how, the conservative-liberal composition of the Liberal Party caucus produces irreconcilable ideological incoherence, and thus poor governance and therefore also bad law.

Meritocracy is demonstrably false. It is a myth built on lies, yet liberalism chooses to stick with its disprovable propositions rather than implement structural changes that would make it more real. To know the demographics of the executive levels in all our institutions – industry, politics, media, religion, whatever – and still believe in meritocracy requires belief in white male superiority, which is social Darwinist nonsense. White males dominate all our institutions because they are better at everything? Have you seen Barnaby Joyce on the telly?

The central tenet of conservatism, primogeniture, is relatively useful in that it carries explanatory power. Lots of executives, whether in the public service or universities or cabinet (for example), can be identified and explained by their inherited wealth, socio-positional power, and unshakeable belief that this qualifies them for high office. But neither conservatives nor liberals defend primogeniture anymore, or not so in so many words. Some openly defend British monarchy, but not that birthright is a valid basis for choosing who gets to govern over the population.

So Liberal ideology asserts an obviously wrong and morally dubious meritocracy mythology which its members claim explains existing hierarchical social organisation. Conservatives subscribe to a view which explains the hierarchy much more realistically – born to rule – but which is no longer socially acceptable to publicly defend.

Despite the ‘transactional costs’, funded by the Australian public, as Liberal Party MPs sort through their emotional attachment to basic and mostly unformed ideology, these standpoints are not intellectually irreconcilable. For instance, the Broad Church allegory can be understood in terms of the pivot to positivism attributed to Scottish philosopher and unreconstructed scientific racist David Hume (1711-1776).

What is, and what ought to be

Hume questioned whether there is a necessary connection between what is and what ought to be. He critiqued natural law philosophy for assuming, and not adequately explaining, the logical leap from lex talionis, law of the natural world, to how the social (man-made) world ought to be. This was not new of course, what is? Aristotle wrote of political justice as part natural part legal; Justinian had universal and civil law; Aquinas developed his typology around an eternal law from the heavens, a divine law on earth, and human law by society. Most of this thinking was directed at human exceptionalism, differentiating us from the beasts and creatures (etc), and the goal of placing us at the centre of the universe.

Conservatism and liberalism stem from these philosophies. Primogeniture explains how things are (our form of social organisation puts property-owning white males into positions of power, who deserve to rule), and meritocracy explains how things ought to be (positions of power should be held by those with merit, therefore the dominant group deserve their position). But ideological adherents refuse to flip their perspectives. Thinking that meritocracy produces the hierarchy we have ignores abhorrent bio-essentialist implications. Are white men from wealthy households innately better suited to governance? Genetically? No? But they dominate the executive. Why? Because primogeniture.  Conservatives, meanwhile, feel compelled to not publicly mention that the dominance of white men from wealthy households is entirely consistent with their world view.

Again, these positions can be reconciled intellectually. Both can be explained by white patriarchy and just deserts theory, for example. Patriarchy seeks domination and control, including for its own sake. Just deserts theory says the ruling class, in this case by white men, are validly placed at the top of social hierarchy – deserving of the power they hold – whether on merit or by birthright. So, that was easy.

But in the Liberal Party, the problem is intellectual honesty, intellectual capacity, courage and integrity. Liberal Party politicians are not even game to attempt ideological coherence in their public pronouncements. They prefer simplistic slogans, message manipulation, outright lies, and varying levels of verbal bullying.

None of this is new either, of course. It can be traced to its tories-vs-whigs political ancestry (the English Civil War), to catholic-vs-anglican christian sectarianism (Henry VIII and the papacy) right through to the disgusting transactionalism of present-day performative religiosity by Morrison, Turnbull, Abbott and Dutton (Pentecostal, Anglican-turned-catholic, Catholic, and mason-like protestant).

They all do it. The point is not to legitimise faux-Christianity, but to point to the constitutive problem of the Liberal Party, which is the broad church lie. This is not an organisation which can accommodate differing ideologies. It is an organisation whose members will fight to the death over ideology alone, when most players do not even understand the ideology each is defending, because pursuit of self-interest is the only tenet they picked up.

Some say the Liberal Party is done and personally I do not care whether it is or not. Something will rise, phoenix-like, from its trash ashes. My kids and I have survived a helluva a lot of vicious Liberal Party policy, and will again. But if the Liberal Party is gone, I will be the first to dance on its grave. Good riddance, horrible people. May all your imputed dividends and negative gearing be abolished.

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Predicting an election driven by racism is against the public interest

It is not in the public interest to predict a ‘race-based’ election, which in real life means a racism-based election, like the losing campaign that Matthew Guy ran in Victoria this weekend. That his strategy was a monumental failure is not in doubt: the Liberals are likely to lose up to X seats to the incumbent Labor government which faced conservative cheerleaders – like the Murdoch-owned Sky News and Herald Sun – running negative media every week, every single day, of that incumbency.

I have never lived in Melbourne and have no particular connection to Victoria and am not here to commentate on the ins and outs of the state election. But I did happen to notice a few Canberra press gallery journalists writing commentary and analysis on the risk or implications or meaning or whatever of a federal election campaign next year potentially run on racist settings.

These were (obviously) columns written with one eye on (and no certainty of) the Victoria election result, columns designed to appear prospectively pro-neutrality and retrospectively predictive. I realise that sounds as confused as all get out, so here it is in plain English:

Political journalists, and many others, believe that Australia is racist. And it is. Ask any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, ask any person of colour. Hegemonic white Australia has a racist mindset; and white dominance of the polity means that Australia is a racist place to be. But there is more to this country than the dominant narratives.

Two things.

First, on election day – with compulsory voting – everybody gets their one vote. Nobody has to do what their boss at Friday drinks wants, or that laydee on the P&C says to do, or racist uncle at Christmas reckons is the go, or the most annoying bloke at the BBQ tries to dictate from behind the tongs. We are Australians and we will rise at 4am to bake and wrap and cook (mostly women) or stroll to the local public school in thongs with the dog (mostly men) at 4pm and cast a vote for whoever the fuck we want to and nobody ever EVER stands on the corner with a gun when we do so.

Second, our commitment to egalitarianism, mythological as it may be, outweighs other national narratives. The Liberal Party might think it is smart to run what media call dog-whistling and what anyone with a clue calls racism, but it is not smart, and here is why. We might be racist, hell, Australia is a racist place, on every credible measure. But we do not want to think of ourselves as racist; and we do not want our political leaders to legitimise racism to the extent that Matthew Guy was prepared to try and do.

The Victoria election result can be understood as a comprehensive rejection of racist campaign strategy. This is a good thing; but it is not the end of it, because so many people who cover elections had placed their cards on looking smart and analysing racist campaign strategies while calling it something else, like ‘dog-whistle’ this or ‘law-and-order’ that. It is not smart to predict the presence of racism in Australian election campaigns – anyone can do that – but it is wrong to cling to discredited predictions for the sake of personal ambition.

We have been here before, when white saviour Brian Harradine sold out Native Title supposedly to save the country from what we have seen time and again already: a racist election. White media had it covered, in that self-fulfilling-prophesy lowest-hanging-fruit way that is the most obvious prediction of all.

Is the Australian electorate as receptive to racist politicians as we are told by people whose job is to attract readers to their analysis of racist politicians?

It is worth remembering that the 1967 referendum was the biggest landslide in Australian electoral history. Nothing and nobody, before or since, mobilised Australian voters like the promise of meaningful change in the relationship between First Peoples and colonial-settler Australia. No political party could dream of a 90% majority vote, but that is what the electorate delivered up to the only vote on race – literally –  that we have ever held.

 

The “embassy issue” will not go away

There was no issue until it was made into an issue; and there is no question that Prime Minister Scott Morrison heard what he wanted to hear, and did what he wanted to do.

What he heard and acted on, according to Morrison, was advice from ex-ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma. This is a man billed by his colleagues as the best and brightest of Liberal Party recruits, an opinion duly amplified by major media outlets. Yet his advice was so spectacularly poorly conceived – or poorly received, or both – that a month later it is still the chemtrail of Australian politics: a toxic threat, spun out of thin air.

As good an account as any of how the prime minister lit this flaming mess is from Katharine Murphy, the Guardian Australia political editor. There is more backstory of course, there always is, but Liberal Party factional in-fighting already gets way more attention than it deserves. From where I sit, the entire caucus is not worth a jot; and costs the Australian public a fortune in salaries and phone bills and jet travel and pork, for negative return on our investment, for nothing at all in the national interest.

Domestic politicking on Israel and Palestine inevitably stirs up anti-Arab and Islamaphobic feeling as well as anti-Semitism. It mobilises unhelpful interventions from people like Malcolm Turnbull and Bob Carr, people who posture as experts on matters which they failed to address while in office, when they had the power to effect positive change. That political reporters buy into their legacy protection racket is equally irritating, but the crux is that when these voices dominate debate, no real progress is ever made.

There is no excuse for Sharma advising the prime minister as he did; and no excuse for Morrison not knowing, if indeed he did not, that announcing a re-think on moving the Australian embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is highly problematic.

Morrison had been in office less than two months at the time, and the by-election to choose a replacement for his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull was a mere five days away. Most commentators immediately noted that the seat of Wentworth has a significant Jewish bloc of around 12 per cent of voters; that strict adherents of Judaism would have likely cast pre-poll votes due to our elections being held on a Saturday; and that Jews are not a homogenous group of one mind on Israel, or Palestine, or pro-Zionist policy settings.

Oh, wait. Nobody said anything about Zionism. Nobody ever does.

The Holy City

I once spent two days in al Quds Jerusalem. The only places I saw outside the Old City walls were transport interchanges as I made my way from Ben Gurion airport (where I was later detained at length for perceived Palestinian sympathies) and back to Jaffa Tel Aviv. These Old Cities are incredible, like Uluru is incredible. I could feel the antiquity, a cellular memory buried deep in blood and bone.

I am not Arab or Jewish, or Christian or Muslim or Armenian or Greek (quarters in the Old Cities). The closest any of my forebears come to an ancestral connection is stirring renditions of the eponymous – and fictional, but the English are good at that – hymn Jerusalem. And I have the same bodily response to hearing bagpipes and the yidaki didgeridoo. Maybe I just feel sites and sounds, the way some people see auras. More likely the lessons learnt from Aboriginal friends and family, scholars and tour guides, are universal; lessons like listening to country, whichever country or whose country I am on.

Either way, my politics are grounded in universality and not in exceptionalism, or nationalism. These ideologies illuminate the embassy issue that wasn’t, until it was. This  utterly unnecessary nonsense is consuming political capital in Australia, in 2018, in the dying months of a Coalition government, thanks to advice the prime minister says he received from former ambassador to Israel and failed Liberal candidate Dave Sharma.

The Zionist position on Al Quds Jerusalem is of an eternal, undivided holy city and capital of Eretz Israel. At the opening of the newly relocated US Embassy, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said

The truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state… The prophet, Zechariah, declared over 2,500 years ago, ‘So said the Lord, ‘I will return to Zion and I will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem shall be called the City of Truth’… God bless the United States of America and God bless Jerusalem, the eternal, undivided capital of Israel.

There is no place in this Holy City for a shared capital with a sovereign Palestine, and no place for self-determination of the Palestinian people, under military occupation for over 50 years. There is more biblical imagery in the same vein [full English text here], designed to flatter baffled belligerents like Donald Trump.

The Netanyahu position puts the lie to Morrison’s claim that his embassy announcement on behalf of the Australian people supports ‘the two-state solution’. Al Quds Jerusalem as the eternal undivided capital of a Jewish state, and the international consensus on a two-state ‘solution’ (to ‘the conflict’), are mutually exclusive propositions. Morrison is ignorant, or lying, or both; and government ministers are now doubling down on this internally incoherent line of argument, in complete contempt of voters and whether we have any understanding of the relevant issues.

The Australian Embassy Issue

There is no real way of knowing if Scott Morrison understands the implications of his announcement. The man is a chronic motor-mouth, the more he blathers about listening and hearing the more you suspect he is incapable of either, or both.

Perhaps Morrison is a committed Christian Zionist, and is across all the politics of an ‘eternal undivided’ capital of Israel. Most Christian Zionists are from the same kind of Pentecostal sect to which Morrison belongs. Alternatively, all politics is local (see O’Neill and Hymel, 1995). Maybe Morrison was driven exclusively or largely by the Wentworth by-election. The major media outlets reported the embassy news as retail politics, but failed to interrogate the legitimacy of mobilising foreign policy for domestic purposes.

This is not unusual. When the prime minister decked out a big blue campaign bus without calling an election, the political press explained this was because the government is threatened in marginal seats in Queensland. Which we know. What the electorate really need the press to do is what we can not: directly question the legitimacy of a politician using government power and money – the political economy of conservative incumbency – to shore up his margins and splash the pork about.

Similarly, many predicted that the embassy announcement would jeopardise bilateral relations with Indonesia; and were widely lauded for doing their job. In certain circles, foreign affairs are the holy grail of seniority and mastery. The foreign affairs editor at the Murdoch-owned The Australian is incapable of not mentioning this kind of vanity. For instance, the presumed foreign affairs ‘inexperience’ of Barack Obama and Julia Gillard consumed many airtime hours and column inches; the obvious foreign affairs ineptitude of men like Donald Trump and Scott Morrison barely rate a mention.

Then there were the leaked ASIO memos showing that Morrison announced without consulting security agencies; Senate estimates concessions that Morrison did not work with DFAT diplomats or the Defence Minister; and that military chiefs found out after media briefings. This is important, but not for the reasons we see in most analyses. The claim is that announcing a potential embassy move may increase security threats in an actuarised world, where the pseudo-science of risk predictors funnels billions of dollars in funding to the military and security agencies.

It will increase the risk of terror attacks, the claim goes, which relies on the false assumption that Palestinians are inherently violent. Palestinians are no more violent or non-violent than any ethnic group: there is no violence gene. The reasoning here is bio-essentialist nonsense, and anyone amplifying such ugly untruths ought to be ashamed.

This messaging, however, coincides with why Zionism goes unreported: its ideology is in fact very violent. As mentioned above, Zionism is characterised by nationalism and exceptionalism: Zionists believe that Israel is the Jewish Homeland, on the basis of Chosen People exceptionalism. There is no place for the Indigenous Peoples in the Zionist worldview, not Bedouin, nor Palestinian or Arab. Many Israelis say Arab and not Palestinian to erase the identity and existence of countrymen and women.

The metaphysical – the Zionist belief system – is backed by extreme physical force in multiple forms, including the renewed military assault on Gaza immediately after the UN voted on Palestinian leadership of its G77 last month. As with targeting civilians, collective punishment is a war crime (Geneva Convention Art 33).

The predictable post-UN vote attacks by Israel on Gaza were apparently not predicted by diplo-genius Dave Sharma. The Liberal candidate unconvincingly told Australian media and Wentworth voters that our government’s embassy announcement was in anticipation of the Palestinian bid to lead the G77. This is straight up hasbara, and in terms of his by-election campaign, would convince nobody and please only rusted on Zionists, voters who would have voted for him anyway.

In other words, the policy is wrong, the rationale is wrong, and the domestic politics were also all wrong. The whole thing is an avoidable disaster, from the leaked texts between Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi and Australian Defence Minister Marise Payne to the official deployment of Turnbull – by Morrison – to represent Australia at an oceans conference in Bali and smooth over the mess, which then blew up in their faces.

Sharma has not been tapped for his role in all this, but he should be, because he has constructive knowledge of the fall-out: if he did not know, his socio-positional status says he ought to have known. This is the one piece of advice on the public record that we know he offered to a sitting prime minister, the first ever Pentecostal one in Australia, during a by-election in which he was the government candidate. Sharma is not Jewish, yet his much-touted resume shows that he should know this is not about his ambassadorial credentials, or capacity to raise funds for the Liberal Party.

It is personal, because religion is personal, because ideology is personal.

When Morrison stood at the despatch box in parliament and shouted in the face of former Attorney General Mark Dreyfus QC that Sharma knows more about Israel than anyone on the opposition benches, it was personal. When Josh Frydenberg went on the record to state the anti-Semitic record of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, it was personal. Major media are not noting the ethno-religious identity of Frydenberg in every report, of course, as is always done when Aboriginal people speak on Aboriginal policy, or feminists speak to reproductive rights.

This erasure of inherent biases is privilege. No Arab, no Muslim, no Palestinian gets to speak on Israel or Gaza or the West Bank or terrorism without being labelled in a way that invites audiences to dismiss their expert point of view. Meanwhile Israeli Defence Forces terrorise Palestinians on a mass scale every single day of the week and nobody highlights whether or not major media outlets’ Jerusalem-based foreign correspondents are Jewish.

So Josh Frydenberg can invoke the Holocaust and nobody points out that he is the first Jewish Liberal Party MP in the House of Representatives. I do not much like writing about all this, because of the genie-in-the-bottle effect. But I will say: what Frydenberg is doing can not and will not help his people. It is not possible to put Israel Palestine into the public debate without producing intractable hostility and increasing anti-Semitism.

Political journalists are acutely alert to this inevitability, yet remain compelled to report what Morrison said and did (he is the prime minister) while not necessarily compelled to remind readers or listeners of Sharma’s role (unless or until pre-selected for the next election, Sharma is basically nobody).

Realpolitik

As Na’ama Carlin eloquently explains here, the ‘embassy issue’ was unworkable from day one, a cheap political stunt. It was an insult to Jewish communities, in Wentworth and beyond, with its simplistic and offensive presumption that Jewish Australians are single-issue and pro-Zionist voters. Not all Jews are Zionists, and not all Zionists are Jews.

At a march for Gaza at Sydney Town Hall in 2014, I was standing next to a woman and boy who I guessed to be mother and son, or maybe auntie and nephew (she was about my age, he was 13 or 14, the same age as my younger son at the time). When a group nearby set up their stall and unfurled a banner Jews Against The Occupation, she asked (I think, in Arabic) They are Jews? The boy replied in English They are Jews but they are not Zionists.

I tell this story not only because it would probably have taken me twenty sentences to communicate the same point. I work at Western Sydney University, where high-level multi-cultural and bilingual competencies are the rule and not the exception among the student body. I tell it because the young teen boy had a better grasp of Israel and Palestine than can be detected from the public pronouncements of the Australian prime minister, from the collective wisdom of the parliamentary press corps, or the advice of a former ambassador and Liberal Party candidate in an electorate with more Jewish voters than any other electorate in the country.