In the diplomatic debacle at the United Nations General Assembly pertaining to
the vote of recognition to the Palestinian Authority, two countries considered
solid supporters of Israel abandoned us at the crucial moment.
shocked when Germany abstained, especially as Chancellor Angela Merkel had
stated earlier that Germany would vote against the Palestinian
The other unexpected defection was the last-moment abstention
of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s Labor government, considered a
strong supporter of Israel.
On a few recent occasions, votes by Australia
at the UN appeared to deviate from the norm, but this was rationalized as
temporary pandering to the Arabs to solicit votes for elections to the Security
The dramatic tilt against Israel was spearheaded by Foreign
Minister Bob Carr, who exerted enormous pressure on the Labor caucus and
compelled Prime Minister Gillard to backtrack on her decision to oppose the
Palestinian initiative. Had she not complied, she would have been humiliatingly
defeated and possibly toppled as prime minister.
Carr was vigorously
supported by former Labor prime minister Bob Hawke, once one of Israel’s
greatest supporters, notorious for (while inebriated) having called on Israel to
“nuke” the Palestinians if they failed to halt the terror. Hawke was intimately
connected to Israel’s Labor leaders, but after Menachem Begin was elected prime
minister in 1977, he changed his views and today regards Israel as
He was supported by another veteran Labor politician,
former foreign minister Gareth Evans, who since retiring from government has
been consistently canvassing the Arab cause. Both fervently lobbied Labor
ministers to repudiate Gillard’s policy.
Carr was only appointed to his
post in March this year. Prior to that he had served for 11 years as premier of
Australia’s largest state, New South Wales. Ironically, he was once considered a
close friend of the Jewish community.
He is knowledgeable about Jewish
affairs and has a genuine and sensitive understanding of the
In 1977, he was a founding member of the Labor Friends of
He subsequently became a passionate admirer of Amos Oz and
appears to have absorbed much of his farleft outlook on Israeli affairs. In
2003, as state premier, he dismayed the Jewish community and friends of Israel
by presenting the Sydney Peace Prize to Palestinian political activist Hanan
Ashrawi, renowned for her rabid demonization of Israel.
Israel in August this year meeting Israeli and Palestinian leaders, including
Ashrawi. On his return to Australia, he raised eyebrows when he dispatched a
delegation to Iran to solicit votes for Australia’s UN Security Council
candidacy. There were also unconfirmed rumors circulating of deals struck with
the Arabs in return for their support.
His backing of Israel during the
Gaza campaign was lukewarm. In the Senate, he made the astonishing statement:
“Any response by Israel needs to be proportionate and not lead to civilian
casualties. We have on more than a dozen occasions called on both sides to
Setting aside the moral equivalence inherent in this
remark, he was effectively demanding that Israel – which more than any army in
history goes out of its way to minimize civilian casualties – take no action to
defend its citizens from missile attacks.
He was even more forthcoming
after the UN vote when he proclaimed, “I don’t apologize for the fact that
Australia has interests in the Arab world. If we had voted no, that would have
been a body blow to our interests in over 20 countries. The truth is they all
see this as a bedrock issue.”
He also dismissed suggestions that the
Palestinians intended to exploit their new observer status to initiate charges
of war crimes against Israel at the International Criminal Court.
change of policy was confirmed when he joined the European bandwagon and hauled
Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, over the coals following Israel’s
decision to build homes in the Jerusalem suburbs and adjacent areas – which the
Bush administration had agreed should remain within Israel.
a long association of friendship with Israel dating back to Australian troops
who served in Palestine during both World Wars. Labor leader Dr.
H.V. Evatt was UN president in 1948 when the Jewish state was proclaimed,
and since then until today – with the exception of prime minister Gough Whitlam
from 1972-1975 – successive Australian governments of all political persuasions
displayed strong friendship towards Israel.
The Liberal (conservative)
government under prime minister John Howard, which governed Australia for 11
years prior to Labor’s electoral victory in 2007, was especially supportive of
Israel and could be compared to the Harper government in Canada
When Howard visited Israel in 2000, I had already made aliya, and
I reluctantly accepted his invitation to accompany his delegation to meet with
Yasser Arafat. Afterwards he solicited my opinion, and I told him I regarded
Arafat as a duplicitous terrorist and did not believe he had any intention of
seeking a peace settlement.
I recall his response: “Should Arafat ever
renege on the commitments to peace which he conveyed today, I give you a clear
undertaking that as long as I am prime minister, the Jewish community and the
people of Israel will never have reason to feel that I let them
Howard kept his word and in subsequent years emerged as Israel’s
greatest champion among world statesmen.
Labor, headed by Kevin Rudd,
gained office in 2007 and three years later was succeeded by Julia
Under both prime ministers, but especially Gillard, Labor
maintained an evenhanded, bipartisan approach toward Israel.
Much of this
historical bipartisanship can be attributed to a vigorous Jewish community,
renowned as being one of the most vibrant Zionist communities in the Diaspora.
Its leadership has never failed to speak up and take a principled stand on
behalf of Israel when appropriate.
With close to 500,000 Muslims now
living in Australia, many concentrated in key Labor Party electorates, their
influence has impacted on a number of Labor ministers.
Combined with the
vehement anti-Israel orientation of the far-left Labor factions, this enabled
Carr to persuade the Cabinet to tilt its policy against Israel.
it is premature to totally write off the Australian Labor Party. It has a long
tradition of friendship toward Israel and many of its leaders were distressed
with recent developments. Besides, although understandably disheartened, Prime
Minister Gillard remains solidly pro-Israel, reiterating her view that this
abstention was a mistake and will only serve to embolden Palestinian
The opposition Liberal Party adamantly supports Israel.
Former prime minister John Howard described the government’s tilt as “pathetic”
and an “embarrassment.”
Elections are scheduled next year and recent
polls indicate that the Liberals may win by a landslide.
Gillard succeeds in persuading the Labor Party caucus to change its approach, in
the short term Israel should not expect support from Australia under Foreign
Minister Carr. Like many of our European “friends,” Carr may continue insisting
that his motivations are based upon having the Jewish state’s security at heart
and trying to save Israel from itself. But when the chips are down, he will
abandon us, as he did at the UN General Assembly.
The writer’s website
can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.
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