FORMER politician Melissa Parke’s defamation proceedings against Wentworth MP Dave Sharma and Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Colin Rubenstein will be heard in November after mediation failed last month.
The former Fremantle MP is suing Sharma based on a tweet and Rubenstein for an opinion piece, both of which were in response to her withdrawing as Labor’s candidate for Curtin in last year’s federal election after making a controversial speech at a pro-Palestinian event.
In that speech she accused Israel of having a “fully fledged system of apartheid”, called rockets from Gaza “a reaction to and a consequence of decades of brutal occupation” and said Israel’s influence on Australian politics and foreign policy “is substantial”.
Sharma’s tweet accused her remarks of “antisemitism and trafficking in conspiracy theories” while Rubenstein penned an opinion piece which Parke says accused her of being an antisemite, a conspiracy theorist and a “liar, fanatic and compulsive slanderer”.
The proceedings have been filed in the Adelaide Registry of the Federal Court.
Parke’s lawyer, Abby Hamdan is a co-founder of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFPA), an organisation that promotes the anti-Israel boycott movement.
Her witnesses include prominent anti-Israel voices Bob Carr, Jake Lynch, Anthony Loewenstein, Stuart Rees and Peter Slezak.
Sharma told The AJN, “I consider it unfortunate that a political candidate is seeking to use the law of defamation in an attempt to limit the freedom of speech of another candidate.
“She is free to disagree with me and I would welcome a debate. But instead she has chosen to use the courts in an attempt to intimidate and silence those who do not share her anti-Israel views.”
He added it is “more than coincidental” that Parke filed the proceedings in Adelaide and “has acting on her behalf office bearers and activists within the Australian Friends of Palestine Association”.
“It suggests this is part of a concerted and coordinated effort to limit the ability of those who would defend Israel to speak out,” he said.
While Parke did not respond to a request for comment made via her lawyer prior to going to press, she told The Australian last month she had brought the action “in order to defend freedom of speech in Australia”.