Labor’s deputy president in the Senate has attacked Israel for the “crime of apartheid” in an inflammatory parliamentary speech condemned by Penny Wong.
In a speech in the Senate on February 8, Senator Sue Lines called on the international community to pressure Israel to “dismantle this cruel system” of apartheid, referencing a controversial Amnesty International report that drew widespread global criticism for its anti-Israel bias and factual inaccuracies.
Opposition Leader in the Senate and foreign affairs spokeswoman Penny Wong told The Australian she did not agree with Senator Lines and said her speech “does not reflect the position of the Labor Party”.
“Labor does not agree with the use of the term ‘apartheid’,” Senator Wong said.
“It’s not a term that’s been found to apply by any international court and is not helpful in progressing meaningful dialogue and negotiation necessary to achieve a just and enduring peace.”
Senator Wong added: “Labor is a strong friend of Israel.”
In her speech, Senator Lines said the Amnesty International report “confirms that Israeli policies against Palestinians fit the definition of the international crime of apartheid”.
“The report follows a long list of other institutions and human rights organisations – international, Palestinian and Israeli – that have analysed the situation and confirmed that the policies of successive Israeli governments constitute apartheid,” Senator Lines continued.
“Amnesty International is calling on Israel to dismantle this cruel system, and the international community must pressure it to do so.” Apartheid is a system of legal segregation under which one ethnic group subjugates another, treating citizens of the same state differently based on their ethnicity.
The Amnesty report had been rejected by the White House, the Morrison government and other democratic governments internationally, including Germany, the UK, Ireland and Canada.
“The Amnesty Report … absurdly labels Israel an apartheid state, despite an Arab party being a key member of the current Israeli governing coalition and all of its citizens having equal rights regardless of ethnicity or religion,” Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said.
“Regrettably, there is a small group of Labor MPs, including Senator Lines, who seize on any opportunity to demonise, vilify and misrepresent Israel.”
The senator has a history of anti-Israel remarks, complaining about the power of the “Israel lobby” impacting on Labor policies at the launch of WA Labor Friends of Palestine in 2019.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese promoted Senator Lines, from WA, to the role of deputy president of the Senate and has described her as “talented” and “terrific” in several press conferences, using her appointment to boast that “West Australians will have a direct say in formulating Labor policy at the next election”.
Former federal Labor MP Michael Danby said Senator Lines was “slated to become president of the Senate, the third-ranking person in Australia if there’s a change of government”.
“Frankly, when I was in the Labor Party I was always opposed to the Socialist Left and she’s just demonstrated again to Australians why it’s a worry and a concern that people like her will be elevated if and when we’re elected into government,” he said.
Former Australian ambassador to Israel and Liberal MP David Sharma said Mr Albanese’s silence on Senator Lines’ speech and his refusal to condemn the recent boycott of the Sydney Festival were concerning.
“Albanese proudly told the Jewish community last year that he was firmly opposed to the BDS movement,” he said. “But he refuses to condemn it when it rears its head, and his parliamentary team has free licence to peddle this anti-Israel nonsense.” Mr Sharma described Senator Lines’ endorsement of the Amnesty report as “deeply worrying”, “wrong on the facts” and said it was “part of a pattern of behaviour by Labor figures who should know better but seek to dog whistle to the anti-Israel lobby”.
Senator Wong pointed out Nationals MPs Ken O’Dowd and Mark Coulton had also accused Israel of apartheid.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Alex Ryvchin said Senator Lines had a “history of regurgitating some of the most extreme anti-Israel talking points”.