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Spending on ads attacking Labor over Israel outstrips almost all other Liberal spots so far. By Karen Middleton.

Coalition targets Jewish voters in Goldstein, Wentworth

The Liberal Party is seeking to shore up Jewish community support in key vulnerable federal seats in Sydney and Melbourne, with a heavily funded online attack ad against Labor over Israel. Spending on the ad has outstripped almost all other Liberal spots so far.

Senior government figures are also scrambling to limit the political damage from retiring Queensland Nationals MP George Christensen, who appeared in an American right-wing video this week seeming to mock the Holocaust.

The Liberal advertisement on Facebook and Instagram has been aimed most at users in New South Wales and Victoria, where the Liberal-held seats of Wentworth and Goldstein face challenges from prominent independents who could split the conservative vote. Both electorates have significant Jewish populations.

In Wentworth, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, Allegra Spender is running against Dave Sharma, and in the Melbourne bayside electorate of Goldstein, Zoe Daniel will go up against incumbent Tim Wilson. Daniel is a former ABC foreign correspondent. Spender is the chair of the Sydney Renewable Power Company and the daughter of late former federal Liberal MP John Spender and late fashion designer Carla Zampatti.

The Liberal Party ad quotes a report from the J-wire Jewish online news website and includes video from the midyear Queensland state Labor conference, which passed a resolution driven by the party’s Left faction accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing”. The resolution also condemned what it called the “ongoing Israeli annexation by stealth of Palestinian land”.

The ad includes a quote from prominent Jewish former Labor MP Michael Danby condemning arguments put in favour of the resolution as “sickening”.

In the wake of the resolution, Labor MP Josh Burns called the Queensland motion “disappointing and blatantly one-sided” and said it did not represent federal Labor’s position. Burns is Danby’s parliamentary successor in the Melbourne seat of Macnamara – formerly Melbourne Ports.

The Liberal Party first posted its advertisement online three weeks after the Queensland Labor conference, spending about $1000 to run it for about 10 days from late June with an estimated viewing audience of up to 50,000 people.

It ran again between July and September at a cost of $5000 to $6000, with an estimated audience of up to half a million.

The ad began running a third time on November 28.

In total, the party has spent between $8000 and $9000 on running the ad – more than double what it has paid for the ads with the next biggest spend on what is a relatively inexpensive but wide-reaching advertising platform.

Among 36 different Liberal ads currently running on these sites, it has only funded one other to the same extent – a display ad featuring Scott Morrison urging people to register for Liberal Party updates. The amount spent on most of the others is in the hundreds of dollars, with more than a third of the current Liberal ads costing less than $200 each to date.

At time of press, federal Labor was not funding any Facebook and Instagram ads, having stopped its last round of paid advertising on November 30.

The Liberal ad spend emerged as the Coalition moved to limit the damage from an appearance by George Christensen on right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’s InfoWars website.

The prime minister, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and acting Nationals leader David Littleproud all telephoned and then publicly rebuked Christensen. Morrison had been campaigning alongside Sharma in Wentworth on Monday, the day before Christensen’s broadcast.

During the interview, Jones likened Australia’s Covid-19 quarantine arrangements to Auschwitz and Christensen laughed.

Morrison called the comments “absolutely appalling” and said he had spoken to Christensen about them. “George is not a candidate for the LNP at the next election, and I think George should quietly go into retirement,” the prime minister said.

Frydenberg is Jewish and his great-grandparents and other family members were murdered at Auschwitz. “Horrified, shocking,” he said on Sky News when asked for his reaction to Christensen’s broadcast. “There’s no legitimate analogy between the events of the Holocaust and what has happened during Covid, whether it’s lockdowns, mandatory vaccinations in some specific areas or, indeed, quarantine. It shows an insensitivity, a lack of understanding of history and, of course, they’re false and wrong comparisons.”

Frydenberg said Christensen had apologised to him when they spoke. “We’re all better than this,” Frydenberg said.

David Littleproud questioned Christensen’s judgement in agreeing to the interview, given what he said was the website’s “chequered” reputation.

“We respect his right for freedom of speech,” Littleproud told journalists on Tuesday. “We respect every Australian’s right of freedom of speech. But with that comes a responsibility.”

Littleproud declined to accept the proposition that Christensen had embarrassed Australia, saying context was important and that he had not actually made the Auschwitz remark himself but had agreed with it.

“I think we can blow this up a little bit beyond what it needs to be,” he said. “But there is a judgement call here … I think it’s an error of judgement in going on this program to start with.”

He called Christensen “a respected member” of the Nationals but said he needed to respect the party back.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 11, 2021 as "Coalition targets Jewish voters in Goldstein, Wentworth".

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Karen Middleton is The Saturday Paper’s chief political correspondent.