Labor backbencher and vocal Israel supporter Michael Danby has launched an extraordinary attack on Foreign Minister Bob Carr, accusing him of acting like ''Tiberius on the telephone'' and organising a rebellion against Prime Minister Julia Gillard over the United Nations vote on Palestine.
In an opinion piece in News Limited papers on Wednesday, Mr Danby described Senator Carr’s actions over the UN vote last month - and Australia’s ultimate decision to abstain - as ‘‘unforgivable behaviour for any minister in any cabinet government.’’
''Parliament last month saw a switch in Australia's stance at the UN creation of a Palestinian state after Julia Gillard's pro-Israel position was challenged and then overturned by Carr and others ... It is unacceptable in a cabinet for a minister to act - to use Gough Whitlam's immortal description - like Tiberius on the telephone, organising numbers against his or her leader,'' Mr Danby said.
At the UN General Assembly last month, Australia abstained from a vote on a resolution to give Palestine observer status at the UN.
Ms Gillard had wanted Australia to join the United States, Israel, Canada and some smaller nations in voting no, but faced tough resistance led Senator Carr, and supported by MPs from the Left and Right factions.
During a cabinet meeting which considered the matter, most ministers argued for a abstention or a yes vote.
Ms Gillard insisted on a no vote and cabinet had no choice but to back her. But she was warned subsequently by factional bosses the Right would not support her in the caucus.
On Wednesday, Senator Carr has dismissed Mr Danby’s piece, telling ABC Radio he had a different view of how to be a ‘‘friend of Israel’’.
'I describe Michael, who's a great friend of mine, as being a stronger Labor Zionist than Ben Gurion, the founder of the state of Israel himself.''
Senator Carr said it was ''absolutely wrong'' to suggest he had behaved unacceptably over the UN matter.
''I made very few phone calls. Tiberius with his telephone on the Isle of Capri was much more active.''
Mr Danby also used his 730 word piece to criticise Senator Carr’s NSW right faction and the quality of its membership.
''After his departure as premier [of NSW] I didn't pay much attention to Carr, except to lament to other Labor moderates around the country about the absence of beliefs in some NSW "comrades".
''There are clever and capable Labor figures in NSW, such as Paul Howes, Tony Burke, Chris Bowen and Luke Foley, but any examination of some state MPs shows a debilitating quality of most of the NSW Right in the post-Keating era.''
Mr Danby then disagreed with this Labor colleagues over their reported ‘‘domestic motivations’’ for supporting the changed vote in caucus during the final week of parliament - or concerns about Middle Eastern voters in marginal seats in western Sydney.
''It is self-defeating to suggest, as was widely claimed, that voters in western Sydney (who swung against the NSW Labor Party by 30-40 per cent at the last state election) will be influenced by votes at the UN,'' he said.
''Corruption at the heart of both the Left and Right of NSW Labor and the clear lack of infrastructure, particularly in western Sydney, are the real turn-off in Sydney seats.''
Labor MP Ed Husic, who holds the western Sydney seat of Chifley, told Sky News that Senator Carr had not behaved improperly.
''I’m very disappointed that [Mr Danby’s] written this article,'' he said.
''I don’t think its right to ventilate those views in the way that’s happened in the last 24 hours.’’ This is not the first time Mr Danby has publicly voiced his concerns about the UN vote.
Last month, he lashed Labor ministers Stephen Smith and Simon Crean over Australia's intentions to abstain on the contentious plan.
Mr Danby described the stoush inside cabinet before Ms Gillard reversed her personal opposition to the Palestinian seat as ''a setback for supporters of Israel''. He singled out Mr Smith and Mr Crean in an interview with the Australian Jewish News.
''The Jewish community should be particularly disappointed with ministers Crean and Stephen Smith, who did not support the Prime Minister on the pro-Israel position at this crucial juncture,'' Mr Danby is reported to have said.
With Daniel Flitton