Jewish comments ‘clumsy’
LIBERAL leader Mike Nahan has accused WA Labor of being anti-Israel in an escalating row with Mt Lawley MP Simon Millman.
In last week’s Voice Mr Millman claimed antisemitism was rife in the WA Liberal party after it emerged Upper House MLC Jim Chown had described the Chinese as “the Jews of Asia” at a conference in 2015 (“Comment draws ire”, February 23, Voice, 2019).
But Dr Nahan was having none of that.
“Mr Millman’s comments are bizarre and smack of political opportunism by a novice Labor MP, albeit someone who should know better than to stoop so low,” Dr Nahan said.
“I know Mr Millman is a newcomer to state parliament but he should know better than to make these slurs.
“Mr Millman actually downgrades the gravity of anti-semitism by his clumsy attempt to use it for political point scoring.
“I expect once Mr Millman gains more experience in Parliament he will realise how irresponsible such careless comments can be.
“Mr Millman can’t have it both ways. He knows the overwhelming majority of WA Labor’s rank and file membership and his Parliamentary colleagues are anti-Israel.
“The WA Liberals are proud supporters of Israel and the Jewish community.”
“The comments attributed to Mr Chown from four years ago were a reference to China’s entrepreneurialism and intended as a compliment to both the Chinese people and Israelis.”
Mr Millman is a convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel, a group of MPs that aims to engage with the WA Jewish Community and foster cultural, business and political ties between WA and Israel.
He said “I am pleased that Dr Nahan has now clarified that Mr Chown’s reliance on ethnic stereotypes was not intentionally offensive”.
Steve Lieblich commented on behalf of the Jewish Community Council of WA: “We were surprised and disappointed to see a report in the Perth Voice that some comments reportedly made by a Liberal MP several years ago indicate that ‘antisemitism’ and ‘prejudice’ is ‘permeating and pervading the WA Liberal Party.’
“In fact the Jewish Community enjoys very warm relations with both major political parties, and we reject any suggestion that antisemitism pervades either of them.”
Comment ‘was not antisemitic’
MOSHE BERNSTEIN is an adjunct research fellow at Curtin university’s China Australia Writing Centre, and has written about the shared values between Chinese and Jews.
He undertook rabbinical studies in Israel for nine years, and does not consider Mr Chown’s comment offensive.
Dr Bernstein says “the reference of the Chinese as the ‘Jews of Asia’ has a longstanding historical and academic background.
“The entrepreneurial skills of the Chinese minorities in the Southeast Asian diaspora were often compared positively with those of the Jews of Europe.
“The Chinese themselves are happy to be compared to Jews. They look at Jewish acumen in a very positive way… They have admiration for the Jewish contribution to business and entrepreneurialism,” Dr Bernstein said.
“It would seem that in the context of the meeting that it was referring to their ability to make contracts, to do good business, and that would be a positive aspect.”
Dr Bernstein said he’d found the Liberal party highly supportive of the Jewish community and the State of Israel.
“To use a remark like that as a means of suggesting the Liberal frontbench is pervaded by anti-semitism is wrong—it’s morally wrong, it’s absolutely repugnant.
“What Millman suggested—that the Liberal front bench is permeated by anti-semitism—is an absolute falsehood and a total politicisation of a statement that, in and of itself, is not antisemitic.”
by DAVID BELL