Climate of concern over independent candidates

Climate of concern over independent candidates

'Several Climate 200 candidates have past activities or links that may concern Jewish voters'

Climate 200 founder Simon Holmes à Court at the National Press Club in Canberra in February. Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch
Climate 200 founder Simon Holmes à Court at the National Press Club in Canberra in February. Photo: AAP Image/Lukas Coch

one unusual feature of the upcoming Federal election is the large number of candidates, all standing as independents, receiving funding from Simon Holmes à Court’s Climate 200. Mostly challenging sitting coalition members, they include several “Voices of” or “Teal” candidates. And several Climate 200 candidates have past activities or links that may well concern Jewish voters.

This is perhaps unsurprising, given Holmes à Court himself has three times repeated Yassmin Abdel-Magied’s controversial ANZAC Day 2017 tweet, “lest we forget (manus, nauru, syria, palestine)” and, also on Twitter, objected to Scott Morrison recognising west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Holmes à Court was also regularly in the gallery during Michael Staindl’s legal challenge against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s eligibility to serve in parliament on the basis of alleged dual citizenship, dismissed in 2020. The case was seen by many as unsavoury – taking advantage of Frydenberg’s mother’s family fleeing Hungary at a time of anti-Jewish violence following World War II, leaving her stateless – but Holmes à Court explained he was giving Staindl “moral support”.

Janet Holmes à Court, Simon’s mother, has a history of anti-Israel activism, including being one of 23 signatories to a 2011 Australia Palestine Advocacy Network letter urging Australia to vote at the UN for a Palestinian state, and signing a 2017 letter opposing the visit of then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Australia.

Perhaps the most contentious action by a Climate 200 candidate was Zoe Daniel, who’s opposing Liberal Tim Wilson in the Victorian seat of Goldstein, signing `the virulently anti-Israel “Do Better On Palestine” letter in May 2021. After making various baseless slurs against Israel, it basically urges the media to cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a one-sided and unbalanced way that gives priority to the Palestinian perspective.

Daniel has since stated she will “always be a strong supporter of the State of Israel as a Jewish State, existing within safe and secure borders,” a position diametrically at odds with the letter. However, she refuses to remove her signature, saying that seems to her “insincere, or a cheat’s way out.” This raises questions about the sincerity of her stated current position on Israel.

Daniel also claimed, in an article written as an ABC journalist in December 2017, that by announcing he would move the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, then US president Donald Trump had sabotaged Middle East peace efforts and was “satisfying his wealthy Jewish donors”. (In fact, as Trump said at the time, the motivation was his evangelical base).

In addition, on social media in 2020, Daniel’s campaign manager, Sue Barrett wrote, “…Hitler altered reality with drugs and [Scott] Morrison uses religion,” and Barrett’s husband, campaign operations manager Jobst Schmalenbach, said, “The Jewish right-wing lobby group should simply shut up. Palestine is an open-air prison.”

Allegra Spender, challenging Liberal MP Dave Sharma in Wentworth in NSW, also hit trouble with an anti-Israel campaigner – Blair Palese – one of four core members of Wentworth Independents who drafted the group’s platform.

Palese has complained on social media about “Australia’s shocking support of Israel in killing unarmed children and civilians,” and shared articles and tweets supporting the BDS campaign against the Sydney Festival. However Spender, who personally opposes BDS and says she supports Israel, states Palese has never been a part of her campaign team.

Worst for sheer quantity of anti-Israel activity is a current MP, independent Andrew Wilkie, the member for Clarke in Tasmania. In February 2020, when then Israeli president Reuven Rivlin visited Parliament House in Canberra, Wilkie addressed a “Vigil for Palestinian rights” outside. He accused Israel of “treating its domestic Palestinians” and “Palestinians outside its borders” as “second-rate citizens”, invading and occupying surrounding territories, and denying people in surrounding areas their sovereignty.

He has a few times called for Australia to immediately recognise a Palestinian state, and at least twice has stated that Australian political leaders “appear to be beholden to Israeli interests at the expense of the Palestinian people”.

On May 12 2021, during the Gaza conflict, Wilkie told parliament “the context” was “the Nakba, where, in 1948, Jewish militia razed hundreds of villages and an estimated 700,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes, becoming refugees.” He added that “illegal Israeli settlement of Palestinian territory” was “at the heart of the ongoing conflict”.

Wilkie together with fellow Climate 200-supported independent MP, Rebekha Sharkie, the Member for Mayo in South Australia, signed a petition in November 2016 making various allegations about Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children, and calling for “urgent action to end the ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system.”

Monique Ryan, standing against Treasurer Josh Frydenberg in his seat of Kooyong, was forced to apologise for sharing a post to social media in 2017. The post mocked up Adolf Hitler’s book Mein Kampf to show Donald Trump on the cover, with the book renamed “Covfefe” after Trump’s mysterious tweet of the word.

In January 2021, Kylea Tink, challenging Trent Zimmerman in North Sydney, also compared Trump to Hitler. She retweeted the comment, “When you read about how Hitler failed at his first attempt to overthrow the government on November 8, 1923, being tried for treason and briefly imprisoned, yet within eight years had succeeded, then you understand how important it is to convict Trump and ban him from future federal office,” and added, “History should never be repeated x.”

Jo Dyer, standing in retiring Liberal Nicolle Flint’s South Australian seat of Boothby, tweeted in May 2021 that an article was “lucid” and “persuasive”. The article states, “The Israeli state depends on the dispossession of Palestinians, and so, by its nature, will constantly create and recreate violence,” and effectively calls for the end of Israel by creating a “single, democratic state for all”.

Of course, the Climate 200 candidates and staff are far from alone in this election when it comes to showing hostility to Israel or making inappropriate comments about Hitler. However, it is important to consider this history when deciding whether to vote for them, or give financial support to Climate 200 – especially given their potential to hold the balance of power.

Jamie Hyams is a senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

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