silvan shalom kevin rudd 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
The vocal demonstrations against an Israeli delegation to Australia led by Vice Premier Silvan Shalom were not at all reflective of the overwhelmingly positive reception the group has received in the country, Shalom told The Jerusalem Post from Australia on Monday.
The group of Israeli politicians, professors, and journalists has faced protesters in Melbourne, Sydney, and Canberra. The protesters have shouted at the group, scuffled with police and held signs calling Shalom a war criminal and saying that he should not have been allowed into Australia.
Police arrested three protesters who entered Melbourne's Park Hyatt Hotel, where Shalom and his counterpart, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard, addressed a crowd of 400 people. Police subdued some 150 demonstrators outside the event with horses and capsicum spray.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert faced similar protests on his visit two weeks ago.
"The protests indicate that we need to work harder to reach out to people," Shalom said. "We have a problem on campuses, especially with professors, some of whom are Jewish or even Israeli. But despite the protests, it's incredible how much bipartisan support we have here."
Shalom said that Gillard and opposition members of the Australian parliament even joined the Israeli delegation in dancing the hora to Israeli music.
"It's really encouraging. that at a time when we face so much criticism internationally, even among friends, that Australia is so behind us," Shalom said. "I don't think you'll find too many world leaders right now who would dance the Hora with Israelis."
The group also met with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who came to them straight from the airport after a long flight from Washington.
In his speeches and meetings, Shalom thanked the Australians for being one of only 18 countries that voted against advancing the Goldstone Report in the UN General Assembly and for being one of nine countries that boycotted the Durban II conference of anti-Israel nonprofit organizations.
Shalom said the Australian leadership agreed with him on the need to intensify sanctions on Iran following the expiration of the American deadline later this month. He also encouraged the Australian government to help finance the joint Israeli-Palestinian project of rehabilitating the Jordan River.
The visit was organized by the Australia Israel Leadership Forum, which sent an Australian delegation, led by Gillard, to Israel six months ago. Shalom is the highest-ranking Israeli government official to visit Australia, excluding former president Moshe Katsav. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin came to Australia in 2005.
The Israeli group included MKs Avraham Dichter, Nachman Shai and Ronit Tirosh of Kadima and Danny Danon of the Likud, Ben-Gurion University President Rivka Carmi, former general Gal Hirsch, political strategist Eyal Arad, and top journalists Nahum Barnea and Yaron Deckel.