The Australian foreign minister, Bob Carr, who will be visiting Israel this
week, has a longstanding warm relationship with the Jewish
Carr boasts a distinguished political career, having served
uninterruptedly for a record 10 years as premier of Australia’s most populous
state, New South Wales, retiring in 2005. He was recently appointed foreign
minister by Prime Minister Julia Gillard in March 2012.
Carr’s links with
the Australian Jewish community date back many years. He was one of the founding
members of Labor Friends of Israel and was also renowned for his support for the
campaign for Soviet Jewry.
He is an admirer of left-wing Israeli writer
Amos Oz and has on occasion been critical of various Israeli government
policies, its settlement program in particular.
In 2003, he created a
stir when he presented the Sydney Peace Prize to Hanan Ashrawi, the acerbic
Palestinian critic of Israel. But notwithstanding this, Carr has been and
unquestionably remains a genuine friend of Israel and the Jewish people and the
government of Israel will undoubtedly treat him accordingly.
positive relationship with Israel dates back to when Australian troops served in
Palestine in the course of the two World Wars. To this day, veteran Israelis
recount vignettes of the warm and uninhibited relationships with the Australians
in stark contrast to the cold and frequently hostile British attitudes displayed
throughout the mandatory period.
Since 1948, when Labor Party leader Dr.
H. V. Evatt served as UN president, until today – with the solitary
exception of prime minister Gough Whitlam, whose hostility against Israel during
the Yom Kippur War is considered an aberration – successive governments on both
sides of the political spectrum have consistently displayed friendship to
Australian governments also supported broader Jewish concerns. In
1962, Australia became the first country at the UN to raise the issue of Soviet
state-sponsored anti-Semitism and called for the right of Jews to emigrate, with
successive governments making significant global contributions towards
ameliorating the plight of Soviet Jews.
The Australian Embassy in Moscow
was regarded as a haven for refuseniks who they invited to receptions despite
the tensions this created with the Soviet authorities.
government made major contributions to the global campaign to rescind the UN
resolution bracketing Zionism with racism and also acted as intermediaries for
Jewish leaders who sought to promote diplomatic relations between Israel and
Following the previous Liberal (conservative) government
headed by John Howard, who emerged as Israel’s greatest champion amongst world
statesmen, concerns that the new Labor government would distance itself from
Israel proved to be totally unfounded.
In fact, aside from the small
Green factions, Israel today enjoys genuine bipartisan support throughout the
entire Australian parliament.
Until the late 1940s, Australia’s
population was exclusively white and primarily of British origin. It was
regarded as a backward colonial outpost notorious for its racist exclusionary
White Australia Policy. Initially, there was considerable anti-Semitic based
populist opposition to the entry of prewar Jewish refugees and postwar
Why should a country so geographically distant from the Middle
East with a relatively small Jewish community (approximately 120,000), have
adopted such a warm relationship with Jews and Israel? One of the principal
factors was is that in the late 1940s, Australia underwent radical change. It
scrapped the White Australia policy, rescinded its restrictive immigration
policy and recruited migrants, initially from Europe but then extended to Asia,
transforming itself into one the most open-minded multicultural countries in the
The genesis of the Jewish community dates back to the end of the
18th century when Jews were amongst the first convicts deported from England to
Australia. It was a declining and rapidly assimilating community until the
Second World War when it was reinvigorated by Jews fleeing Nazi persecution and
survivors from the camps. Indeed, Australia’s Jewish community absorbed more
Holocaust survivors proportionately than any other Jewish community, aside from
Jewish cultural and religious life developed dramatically. The
immigrants created an extraordinary network of Jewish day schools ranging from
Chabad to Reform and even Yiddishist, which catered for the majority of Jewish
The “Lucky Country” was a special boon for Jewish immigrants,
most of whom were penniless and shattered Holocaust survivors.
worked hard and many prospered, with a notable number becoming the leading
commercial and industrial giants in the nation.
Whilst a poor Jewish
underclass still remains, on the equivalent of a Forbes rich list, Jewish former
refugees comprise an extraordinarily high proportion of Australia’s most
successful and wealthy businessmen. It is notable that in their public business
profiles, many refer proudly to their Jewish and Zionist ties.
1980s, the Jewish community has been augmented by Russians and large numbers of
South Africans, the latter financially independent and rapidly assuming
important communal leadership roles.
Jews have also been appointed to
prominent roles in public life. Gen. Sir John Monash was Australia’s military
commander during World War I. Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowan – the latter
an active Zionist – served as governors general.
Until the 1960s, most
Jews were inclined to support the Labor Party because the conservatives were
then perceived as aloof, hostile and even anti-Semitic. Today, they divide their
support between both parties.
The large proportion of Holocaust survivors
encouraged a strong communal Zionist orientation.
The leadership invested
enormous efforts towards promoting the case for Israel at the political level,
not hesitating to protest and confront governments they considered were
displaying bias or double standards against Israel in conforming to global
politically correct approaches.
Despite the geographical distance, the
Australia- Israel Chamber of Commerce is undoubtedly the most popular and
efficient Chamber in the country. This all-encompassing Jewish passion for
Israel was the critical factor leading to the current bipartisan pro- Israel
orientation of the mainstream political parties.
Jewish leaders were
equally aggressive in fighting against anti-Semitism and all forms of
discrimination. To the pride of the community, some assumed key roles in the
broader area of human rights. For example, my brother Mark Leibler, a
long-standing Zionist and Jewish leader, was last year appointed as co-chairman
of the prestigious “Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal
Needless to say, Australian Jewry today is confronted with
similar challenges to other Diaspora communities. Assimilation and intermarriage
whilst relatively low (25 percent), is growing. In addition, the cost of Jewish
education is now prohibitive for all but the affluent and the vast majority of
children in schools are subsidized by independent fundraising.
Australian Jewry remains one of the strongest and probably most Zionist Jewish
communities in the world. This is reflected in aliya statistics. There must be
close to 15,000 Australian expatriates now living in Israel (10% of the entire
community). They strengthen the ties with the Jewish state.
Jews represented the norm, the long-term survival prospects for Diaspora Jews
would be much better than is the case.
Israel’s standing on the
international arena would be much better if, in addition to Canada and the US,
there were a few other governments displaying the same even-handedness as
The writer’s website can be viewed at
www.wordfromjerusalem.com. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org