THE Australia-Israel Labor Dialogue (AILD) has gone on the attack as an internal ALP storm erupted over a news story trying to link MPs’ Israel visits to an Israeli defence contractor.
In The Australian on March 16, associate editor John Lyons reported Mary Easson, one of five members of AILD’s NSW branch, has business connections with Israeli weapons manufacturer Elbit, and he speculated about how the visits were funded.
Easson explained to The AJN she has worked for Elbit Systems of Australia (ESA) through a client of her consultancy. ESA sells non-weapon military communications in Australia. A spokesperson for Elbit in Israel stated that “neither Elbit Australia nor its parent company Elbit Systems have donated to the Australian Israel Labor Dialogue”.
And AILD slammed speculation it has taken funds from Elbit as “absurd”.
Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby told Parliament on March 17 “no credible link can be drawn” between Easson’s support of AILD NSW and the ALP on one hand “and her professional endeavours” on the other. He said the story was “designed purely to smear” AILD NSW and Elbit.
Easson, a federal Labor MP from 1993-96, was one of the AILD figures involved in quashing anti-Israel motions spearheaded by former foreign minister Bob Carr at the NSW State Labor Conference last month.
She became an AILD NSW member when it was founded last year. She is married to Michael Easson, a former president of the NSW Labor Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee, who is an emphatic opponent of diminishing Labor’s support for Israel.
Carr had been a close friend who spoke at the Eassons’ wedding before he and the couple became ideologically estranged. “Bob has changed his mind [on Israel], I haven’t,” Mary Easson told The AJN.
After Lyons’ story, sparks flew as Carr claimed Labor MPs taking AILD trips could damage the party’s ties with voters of Arabic background, while Labor Friends of Palestine named union and party figures who have taken the trips.
But AILD national convenor Michael Borowick said AILD “is not now, or has ever sought to be funded by Elbit or any other defence company, whether Israeli or Australian”.
“Our funding comes from private donations sought from the Australian Jewish and pro-Israel non-Jewish community. To insinuate that because one of our supporters and activists is a consultant to a company that has a contract with Elbit, so AILD must be involved, is both absurd and extremely poor journalism,” said Borowick.
Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, whose Rambam program has partnered with AILD to send politicians and union officials to Israel, confirmed in a joint statement with AILD that the latter “is not and has never been funded by Elbit or any other arms manufacturer, regardless of the indirect connection of one AILD director, Mary Easson, to that company”.