After years of reading, studying, talking to people with different views and going to public meetings I decided if I was going to help break down prejudice I had to fight them the only way they understood. Major decisions were made by governments so in 1963 I joined the Labor Party. Six years later I was an MP.
I’m sick of Labor leaders making all the right noises to Jewish audiences while an increasing number of backbenchers launch diatribes at Israel. When the likes of Labor MP Tanya Plibersek rise in the House of Representatives and call Ariel Sharon “a war criminal” and Israel a “rogue state”, or Opposition whip Janice Crosio makes the absurd claim that Israeli forces had destroyed Bethlehem, Nablus and the Jenin refugee camp, I want to hear more than stony silence from those in the Labor Party who say they support Israel. Some do. Most don’t.
There will be some who will argue that I am exaggerating; that the evidence is sparse; that this typical Jewish paranoia. Not at all. It came from the horses’ mouths, and the head horses at that. Before the Iraq war one of the most senior NSW right-wing MPs told me: “I understand and support Israel’s position, but in my group, I’m the only one.”
Soon after I told a Labor legend: “Anti-Semitism is now rampant in the Labor Party.” I expected a vigorous denial. His response confirmed my worst fear: “I know,” he said.
For better or worse my character and life were shaped by the anti-Semitism I experienced as a boy and a young man. I was proud to belong to a party that fought all forms of prejudice. Not any longer.
Mind you – he wasn’t too annoyed by ALP anti-semitism.
A longer version of this article (which Barry Cohen asked not be published until after the federal election) appears in the Australian Jewish News.