November 29, 2023

Premier Chris Minns warns Labor MP over late-night Israel speech

By Michael Koziol and Matthew Knott
November 29, 2023 — 5.43pm
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A NSW Labor MP has accused Israel of ethnic cleansing and claimed political and media elites are perpetuating a “one-sided alternative reality” by blindly supporting the Jewish state while ignoring its alleged war crimes.

The late-night speech prompted a stern caution from Premier Chris Minns, who distanced himself from the remarks and told the Herald he wanted all parties to refrain from “incendiary rhetoric”.

Premier Chris Minns (right) said all parties should refrain from “incendiary rhetoric” after upper house member Stephen Lawrence (left) spoke about Israel in the chamber after midnight.

It comes as Labor faces growing internal pressure over its stance on the conflict, with a delegation of western Sydney party members meeting cabinet ministers in Canberra to voice their concerns and urge a ceasefire.

Stephen Lawrence, a public law barrister and former Dubbo mayor elected to the NSW upper house this year, used a late-night parliamentary adjournment debate to criticise “propaganda” portraying Israel as “a paragon of human rights and decency”.

Most Australians would be unaware Israel has been under investigation by the International Criminal Court since 2021 over alleged war crimes in Gaza, Lawrence said. “The reality is that Australia is an outlier, a place where the dominant perspectives on Israel and Palestine simply ignore inconvenient facts,” he said.

These facts, Lawrence said, were Israel’s “ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948 and then in 1967”, the denial of a right of return, a “suite of laws and policies that constitute the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories”, illegal settlements and discriminatory laws about land, immigration and free movement.

“We can continue to live in the alternative reality in which we pay lip service and all but ignore the facts on the ground, and where effectively unconditional support for Israel is a litmus test to be applied by wide sections of the media and political elite,” Lawrence said.

“Alternatively, we can engage with reality, accept the facts on the ground, including the shifting of international sentiment on this issue, and be a real part of an international movement to bring truth and justice to this intolerable and dangerous situation.”

Minns was not advised of the speech in advance and was unhappy with its contents. “I’m not going to endorse these views and would caution all parties to refrain from incendiary rhetoric,” he said.


“The government should be speaking with one voice. I’ve been clear [that] our role as the NSW government is to keep NSW safe and ensure we continue to protect our multicultural, multi-faith society.”

Lawrence declined to respond to Minns.

In his speech, the first-term politician also condemned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for calling the ICC investigation “pure anti-Semitism” when it was announced in 2021.

This was “an egregious smear against eminent international lawyers and part of a recent trend of expanding the definition and meaning of ‘anti-Semitism’ and using it to silence discussion of these important matters”, Lawrence said.

The ICC is examining the actions of Israeli forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups in Gaza and the West Bank since 2014, and the current prosecutor has said the events of and since October 7 would fall under its remit. But Israel, like the United States, is not a party to the ICC.

Lawrence said details of the ICC’s probe were “unclear” but one of its focal points was widely understood to be Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, which he said were “accompanied by a range of discriminatory policies”.

Meanwhile in Canberra, a delegation from NSW Labor Friends of Palestine met with senior cabinet ministers including Jason Clare and Linda Burney at Parliament House on Wednesday to call on the federal government to support an immediate and permanent ceasefire.

The party members, most of whom were from western Sydney, said they were upset Foreign Minister Penny Wong and Prime Minister Anthony Albanese declined to meet them after Wong and Albanese met visiting friends and relatives of Israeli hostages on Tuesday.

“If they want to be fair, they need to definitely see both communities,” said Suzan Wahhab, president of Palestinian Christians in Australia. “Both are suffering.”

Wahhab said many politicians were “only siding with one side”, Israel, and the advocates wanted politicians to be more outspoken about the devastation in Gaza.

Mohamad Assoum, an epidemiologist and the vice president of Labor’s Auburn-Lidcombe branch, said: “We have doctors operating the anaesthetics, children having to have their limbs amputated because of the utter deterioration of the humanitarian condition in Gaza… We need an immediate and permanent ceasefire.”

Asked if Middle Eastern voters in western Sydney felt marginalised from Labor, Assoum said locals were seeing a “massive condemnation” of antisemitism from prominent Australians but less focus on Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian discrimination.

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Michael Koziol is Sydney Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, based in our Sydney newsroom. He was previously deputy editor of The Sun-Herald and a federal political reporter in Canberra.Connect via Twitter.
Matthew Knott is the foreign affairs and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.Connect via Twitter or Facebook.


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