The fog of politics

The Coalition is losing sight of its humanity, as it defends Israel at all costs

The Albanese government has continued to strengthen its position on Israel’s killing of aid workers, announcing the appointment of a special adviser to look at the “sufficiency and appropriateness” of the Israeli response. Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong this morning revealed that former Australian Defence Force chief Mark Binskin will lead Australia’s examination of Israel’s investigation (the PM says he expects Israeli’s full cooperation), while several Labor MPs took to social media over the weekend to belatedly condemn the occupier for its “disproportionate, indiscriminate, reckless” conduct in Gaza. It has taken Labor a long time to reach this point – too long, many argue. (ABC journalist Laura Tingle says there is “something disturbing” about the fact that it took the death of an Australian for our government to start calling for international law to be upheld.) The Opposition, however, is still far from that point, defending the “tragedy” in similar terms to the Israeli government, with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton this afternoon claiming that Binskin’s appointment was “a political response”. Is this really the position the Coalition wants to take, pushing back against the idea that Israel should be accountable and defending an ally that even the US is beginning to turn against?

It has taken members of the Coalition a few days to land upon their talking points. (Angus Taylor was having a bit of trouble last Thursday, the ABC noted, with the shadow treasurer seemingly unaware that Israel had already accepted responsibility for the aid worker deaths.) But they have certainly found them in recent days, parroting lines from the Israeli government, blaming Hamas and the fog of war. Speaking on RN last week, Liberal senator Dave Sharma said he’d seen no evidence Israel had been reckless, before buying into Israeli propaganda questioning the UN’s famine projections (experts say it is “not plausible” to reject these). The Australian foreign editor Greg Sheridan, meanwhile, has straight up claimed that Hamas is to blame for the fact that Israel repeatedly fired upon an aid convoy, implying Israel cannot be held responsible for anything it does.

But it was shadow foreign minister Simon Birmingham’s comments on Insiders on Sunday that really shone a light on just how far Israel’s Coalition cheer squad is willing to take this. Pressed on what he thought of Israel’s response, Birmingham argued – not for the first time – that Zomi Frankcom’s death was a “tragedy” but that “tragedies and mistakes” happen in war, in comments that sounded just like those of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. Birmingham used almost every question about Israel’s conduct to deflect to Hamas, refusing to say whether Israel needed to take “greater care” when it came to civilian lives, despite repeated questions, and arguing that Israel takes more care than Hamas. The answer, it seemed, was no, with Birmingham’s response implying that Israel should be allowed to act with impunity.

Is this really the standard to which the Coalition wants to hold an ally, shrugging its shoulders at the killing of aid workers because other actions are worse? Rubbishing our own government’s attempts to seek accountability for the murder of an Australian, even if it means standing with a foreign regime that Australians are increasingly appalled by? It’s clear that the Israeli government, having been allowed to kill civilians with impunity over the past six months, has lost sight of what is proportionate and reasonable. And so too has the Opposition, which is increasingly willing to defend the indefensible in the fog that is Australian federal politics.

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