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Julie Bishop calls for Bill Shorten to stop ALP ban on Israel visits

The Australian, Christian Kerr & Tessa Akerman

Julie Bishop has called on Bill Shorten to intervene to prevent NSW Labor barring party members visiting Israel.

NSW Labor Friends of Palestine intend to move a motion at next month’s state conference barring parliamentarians, officeholders and rank-and-file members­ from accepting sponsored travel to Israel while Benjamin Netanyahu’s government “continues settlements, refuses a Palestinian state (and) brutally mistreats Arab residents of the West Bank”.

The Foreign Minister was disappointed that some Labor Party members “prefer to hold their prejudices in ­ignorance rather than to travel to the region and learn the facts’’. “Bill Shorten should use his authority as leader to prevent this travel ban from being imposed,” she said.

The Opposition Leader has stopped short of rejecting the controversial proposal, which marks a new height in rising tensions within the Labor Party over Israel.

NSW Labor Opposition Leader Luke Foley said he did not support a ban on trips to Israel.But last year he ordered state parliamentarians visiting the country on sponsored trips to spend an equal amount of time in Palestinian territory.

A spokesman for Mr Shorten said: “Mr Shorten does not agree with any attempt to remove the flexibility of members of parliament in the conduct of their duties while overseas.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff stressed the broad nature of the visits to the region his group co-­ordinates.
“All our programs include the West Bank, where participants are briefed by senior Palestinian officials,” he said. “This gives Australian delegations an opportunity to see the situation first-hand and form their own conclusions.

“Clearly, a few ALP members are put out that an increasing number of their colleagues want to understand the reality on the ground for themselves. “Visiting the region should ­almost be a prerequisite for debating the issues. It’s the best way to appreciate the complexities and we applaud Luke Foley for making it clear he is against a ban.”

Divisions within Labor over ­Israel have widened in ­recent years, with figures from the Right taking a tougher line.

Another leader of the NSW Right, federal finance spokesman Tony Burke, successfully moved a motion at Labor’s national conference last July committing the party to “discuss joining like-minded nations who have already recognised Pales­tine” if there were no progress on a two-state ­solution. The following month the Queensland ALP passed a motion demanding a future Labor federal government “immediately” recognise a Palestinian state.

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