The shouting had gone on long enough. "The problem is, the microphone is shoved in front of the face of some person who is going to yell in either broken English or Arabic," despaired Moammar Mashni.
"When was the last time you saw an articulate, educated Palestinian - who there are millions of - before the cameras?"
No issue sparks more anger and argument in international politics than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even in far-off Australia, thousands of kilometres from the fighting, few foreign affairs questions excite such community passion, condemnation and debate, demonstrated once again after the latest flare-up surrounding the killing of a Hamas leader in Gaza by an Israeli missile strike. Protesters took to the streets, letters poured into newspapers, local online forums buzzed with strong opinions.
Long before the latest outbreak of violence, Mashni worried the mainstream debate in Australia had been too one-sided, dominated by supporters of Israel, with the plight of Palestinians poorly understood.
"The stereotypical picture of a Palestinian is that they have got to be a man, a Muslim, have a beard and he's got to be screaming at the television camera in Arabic. Now there are plenty of people who are not like that. I'm not like that."
So, in 2006, after Israel and Hezbollah went to war in Lebanon and another battle erupted in Gaza, Mashni abandoned more than a decade of work in retail. Inspired by his father, a Palestinian refugee who fled to Australia more than 50 years earlier, Mashni decided to create a full-time body to get the message out. A lobby group, in other words, an organisation that became known as Australians For Palestine, founded with money Mashni earned from his family business. The motto: Providing a Voice.
"That is exactly what we've been doing for the past six years," he says, "providing a voice for the Palestinian narrative to the Australian public, via members of Parliament, unions, universities, church groups, community groups, wherever we've been provided that forum."
An end to the shouting may be the aim but, in the corridors of power, Australians For Palestine is barely heard as a whisper. The competition is vastly more organised, better funded and connected.
"This is where the Jewish lobby and the Israeli lobby are very effective," West Australian senator and chairman of the Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group, Glenn Sterle, says. "The debate being held by the pro-Israeli side is very professional. The debate I see from the Palestinian side is not as professional."
One way to illustrate the level of professionalism is the number of paid trips accepted by politicians. An analysis of parliamentary records in August revealed Israel and Israeli lobby groups gave politicians 44 fully or partly funded trips to Israel and other destinations in the past two years, compared with just two by Palestine.
The Australian-Israel Parliamentary Friendship Group is one of the largest in Parliament, with 78 members. By contrast, the informal group for Palestine has fewer than 20. The Israel group is more active, holding nine functions this year, usually a luncheon over a couple of hours for interested parliamentarians to listen to a speaker brought from overseas to speak on matters Middle East.
Not only Israelis speak, Sterle says, but Americans, Brits, Italians, too, security experts, doctors, politicians or journalists on visits hosted by groups such as the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, or with the support of the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. Many of the guests also speak at similar gatherings in state capitals and are interviewed by local media.
"With the Jewish lobby you see the good. They don't come to us and just present what a terrible bunch of people the Palestinians are," Sterle says.
What amounts to an ''Israel lobby'' is hotly debated, with various groups competing to speak for the broad spectrum of views in the Australian Jewish community or on the issues generally. But not all of Sterle's colleagues share such a benign view of the influence of Israel's supporters in Australia, especially during times of heightened tensions in the Middle East.
Examples such as Labor MP Michael Danby's denunciation this week of the Greens as ''effectively in bed with the women-hating, gay-hanging Palestinian Islamic fundamentalists of Hamas'' prompt claims of browbeating.
"What I've struggled to understand, there seems to be this fear of offending Israel," Victorian Labor MP and chairwoman of the Palestinian friendship group, Maria Vamvakinou, says. .
"To be honest with you, I don't get it. This is an international issue and if you take an intellectual approach to it, it's about an ongoing occupation that goes to the question of justice, one people being subjugated by another.
"I can't see how my colleagues can't see this. I don't understand how you can refuse to see what is happening to the Palestinian people is wrong."
Mashni claims MPs are intimidated, fearful of being tarred as too pro-Palestinian. "Quite often we will find there is strong support for our message, but have been told in no uncertain terms that strong support is only behind closed doors," he says.
"Unfortunately the narrative created by the other side is that if you are pro-Palestinian, it automatically means you are anti-Israel, and nothing could be further from the truth."
Asked about the notion of intimidation, Sterle is blunt. "What a load of shit - and I respect Maria's position, she has been there, and I've got no respect for people who haven't but claim to be experts," he says, mentioning the Greens regularly in this regard.
But Sterle says over three visits to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and all the events he has taken part in Australia to discuss the conflict, people have always been open.
"I never was intimidated or feel I can't ask the hard questions," he says. "I got a view of the situation where it wasn't hidden from me." Intimidation can be in the eye of the beholder, and a boycott and sanctions campaign run by pro-Palestinian groups targeting Israeli businesses worldwide is seen as an attempt to deligitimise the Jewish state. Sterle is frustrated pro-Palestinian supporters in Australia can never find it in their heart to say they abhor the use of terrorism.
The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive officer, Vic Alhadeff, happily acknowledges efforts to inform politicians.
''If somebody uses the word 'lobby' at me as accusational in some sense, my response is there is a farmers' lobby, a teachers' lobby. It's part of democracy, it's the democratic process,'' he says. ''If it's open, if it is above board, lobbying is about when you have an issue, you approach your member of Parliament, and you say, 'Can you help in this regard?' So I certainly don't resile from it.''
The Rambam program of sponsored trips to Israel, named for the famed Jewish educator, has run for a decade from Australia, hosting more than 400 political leaders - including Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott - party advisors, public servants and university students.
A separate trip is run for journalists, and in 2010 included this reporter. Such a group happened to be in Israel a fortnight ago as the rockets flew again, including three Fairfax reporters and others from News Ltd, Sky News and SBS television.
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director, Colin Rubenstein, dismisses claims - such as by Zionist critic and author Antony Loewenstein - that these trips amount to mere propaganda missions that reporters should never accept. ''It would be useless if this was a propaganda tour. The idea is to expose our participants to a whole range of views on the Israeli front, on the Palestinian front, of non-Jewish Arab Israelis,'' he says.
As to the competing Palestinian lobby, Rubenstein doesn't see a paper tiger. ''Individuals, people, academic organisations that have been anti-Israel have come and gone. But what's disappointing to me, as an Australian, is I often find much more stridency and extremism and vituperation here, among Palestinian supporters, than you find among the real people living in the real world in the Palestinian community over there.''
Daniel Flitton is a senior correspondent.