Recent research by Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) has concluded that Australian politicians are taking significantly more privately-sponsored trips to Israel than any other country translating into pro-Israel government policies over a number of years.

Similarly, it has been reported that  Pro-Israel lobby groups have poured millions of dollars into recent Democratic primaries in a number of states in USA managing to beat candidates critical of Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

One significant donor is WhatsApp founder, Jan Koum donating $2 million to American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful lobbying group in America advocating pro-Israel policies to the legislative and executive branches of the US government.

Information gathered by the APAN from the parliamentary register of interests shows 18 percent of all sponsored trips between June 2018 and April 2022 were to Israel, with the next closest destinations being Taiwan (12%), and the USA (11%).

While both Taiwan and the USA are amongst Australia’s top 10 export markets, Israel is a very minor trading partner – representing 0.1% of Australian exports. Sponsored trips to Israel also do not mirror community movements – in 2019, less than 0.2% of Australian overseas travel was to Israel.

A surge in political spending by organisations funded by hardline supporters of Israel, led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), is reshaping Democratic primaries in the US over several months.

AIPAC has spent $6m on to contest in Maryland, more than any other organisation, to oppose Donna Edwards angered some pro-Israel groups during her stint as a representative by failing to back resolutions in support of Israel over its 2011 war in Gaza and other positions.

She also backed the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran when it was strongly opposed by the Israeli government and therefore AIPAC.

The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), a private company criticised for minimising Israel’s human rights record, takes more parliamentarians to Israel than any other group.

“Parliamentarians must consider the flow-on impact of these junket trips on Australian public policy,” Australia Palestine Advocacy Network President, Bishop George Browning said.

“We need to ensure this doesn’t lead to reluctance to hold Israel to account.”

Former Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bob Carr, was also critical of the findings, saying “APAN’s report confirms what was never in doubt: the Israel lobby is the largest foreign influence operation run in Australia – at least since the end of pro-Soviet propaganda and marketing during the Cold War.

“The trips and the other activities have only one objective and that’s to see that no matter what Israel does – spreading settlements, for example, or bulldozing Palestinian homes – it will never be criticised by Canberra.”

A decade ago, a Fairfax investigation indicated China was the top destination for lobby trips. However, the current research echoes a 2018 report by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which found Israel was again the top destination for federal politicians between 2010-2018.

During the period under study, Coalition parliamentarians were almost twice as likely than Labor parliamentarians to take sponsored trips to Israel. Furthermore, Coalition parliamentarians were four times as likely to take AIJAC-sponsored trips to Israel than Labor parliamentarians.

A small number of crossbench parliamentarians also took sponsored trips to Israel.

When analysing sponsored trips to all other countries, roughly an equal number of Coalition and Labor parliamentarians took these trips, with a small number of crossbench parliamentarians also taking sponsored trips.

Only six parliamentarians visited Palestine in this period.

Collectively, there were twice as many Labor and crossbench parliamentarians who travelled to Palestine than Coalition parliamentarians.

The full report can be accessed here, while the collated data can be viewed here.

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