Friday, August 11, 2006

Is a Lebanese lobby emerging?

It looks like Lebanese Aussies are finally getting themselves organised.

The Australian Financial Review on 10 August reported on meetings in Canberra of “a group of concerned Lebanese and Australian academics, doctors and business people … to brief MPs about their concerns the government has not backed an immediate ceasefire.”

It’ll take time before the Lebanon lobby gains direct access to lawmakers which Israel’s supporters take for granted.

Until now, Lebanese lobbies were hampered by the absence of any singular Lebanese interest crossing all religious divides. Lebanese organisations are ridden with internecine conflicts often played out publicly.

All this hasn’t been helped by the embarrassing antics of some Lebanese spokespeople (including the very non-Lebanese Mufti of Australia – Sheik Hilaly is Egyptian – and his interpreter).

During the 1982 invasion, the Israelis could at least claim that one faction invited them. But this time round, the Israelis have managed to pull off a miracle, uniting every Lebanese faction against them.

But with Syrian troops out of Lebanon and with Hezbollah in the democratic process, even the more rightwing among Maronite groups are angry. When former Israeli allies like General Michel Aoun stand with Hezbollah, things don’t auger well for any Israeli “divide-and-conquer” strategy.

With so much unity inside Lebanon against Israel, and with public opinion (including some influential pockets of Jewish communities) in Australia not completely Israel-friendly, now is as good a time as any for the Lebanese groups to work together. Or at least to not get in each other’s way.

Lebanese Aussies are politically disorganised, but they are well-heeled and well-placed. Just about every metropolitan marginal seat in Sydney and Melbourne has substantial Lebanese communities. Add the broader Muslim voters and you have a formidable block of votes.

Now we all know that ethnic and religious groups rarely vote as blocks. But the prospect of having your relos blown to bits is enough to make even the most partisan voter think again.

Howard might also think again before commenting on “self-appointed leaders”. One such leader, Dr Abraham Constantin, is a Western Sydney Liberal who almost knocked off Bill Heffernan in a Senate preselection ballot some years back.

Another figure in this emerging lobby is Rouba MacDonald, spokeswoman of Australians for Lebanon. She states at a press conference on 9 August 2006 that Lebanese Aussies felt betrayed by the Australian government. AFR quoted her as saying:

“I wonder sometimes if it is not sort of a tinge of racism … maybe Lebanese
lives are not as important as Israeli lives …

“I would just like
to ask Mr Howard why he is not making it a priority to listen to Australians
from Lebanon about their concerns about their country which has been destroyed
within a month.

“Is the Lebanese community not as important as
some other communities?”

Another emerging voice is that of lawyer Maha Melhem. Citing a Human Rights Watch report released last Monday, she said:

“While our government does not condemn Israeli actions, while our government
does not call for an immediate ceasefire it may appear to be condoning the
commission of war crimes.”

Will Lebanese Aussies exercise the muscle which their wealth and numbers makes them more than capable of showing? Time will tell.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006