Australia FM Rudd due in Israel

Former Australian prime minister, with mixed record on Israel ties, to visit as part of world tour.

December 10, 2010 05:32
3 minute read.
Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd

311_kevin rudd. (photo credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd is due in Israel next week.

Rudd left Australia on Tuesday on the first leg of a wideranging tour that will take him to Indonesia, the Middle East and South America. His first destination in the Middle East will be Egypt.

When he comes to Israel, he will also travel to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leaders.

When ravaging fires raged across Mount Carmel last week, Rudd announced that Australia was ready to offer assistance to Israel, declaring that Australia knew the devastating impact of bushfires.

Rudd was prime minister of Australia from December 2007 until June of this year, when he was unseated in a party putsch led by his deputy Julia Gillard, who had also been deputy leader of the Australian Labor Party while Rudd was its leader and head of the opposition.

In replacing him, she became Australia’s first woman prime minister.

Rudd has had a somewhat volatile relationship with Israel and Australia’s Jewish community.

At one stage, relations were so close that he was considered a Christian Zionist. In 2008, he spoke at a United Israel Appeal gala fund-raiser, where he declared himself to be a friend of Israel and reminisced about conversations with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and other Israeli politicians.

But then he appeared to veer in the opposite direction, especially after it emerged this past February that the Mossad had allegedly forged three Australian passports for the purpose of traveling Dubai to assassinate Hamas military commander Mahmoud al- Mabhouh.

In March, Australia, which has traditionally been pro- Israel on Middle East issues put to a vote in the UN General Assembly, abstained from a resolution that called on Israel and the Palestinians to investigate possible war crimes during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza.

Three months earlier, Australia had voted against a similar resolution, which was part of an endorsement of the Goldstone Report.

In May, Rudd ordered the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat believed to have been involved in the passport scandal, in which the identities of three Australian citizens were stolen.

In June, just days before his ouster, Rudd castigated Israel’s use of violence with regard to the Gaza-bound flotilla and called on Jerusalem to lift the blockade.

Meanwhile, the Jewish community leadership, which had enjoyed a long and warm relationship with the administration of former prime minister John Howard and the first half of the Rudd administration, suddenly found itself coldshouldered.

It responded by closing its wallets.

Australian Jewry has a long tradition of financial support for Labor Party campaigns.

When the well dried up, Labor had to woo affluent Jews back to its corner, not to mention the overall Jewish vote.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who spoke to Gillard during his telephone marathon to world leaders when seeking help to fight the Carmel inferno, received a positive response.

As has been proved with other countries, tragedy tends to break down barriers and hostilities, and it is possible that Rudd, who in the past has called for the removal of the security fence, may do something to mend diplomatic fences during his visit here.

Rudd was previously in Israel in 2003, in his capacity as Labor’s foreign affairs spokesman. At the time, he met with members of the Sharon-led government and with then-opposition leader Shimon Peres, with whom he will meet again on Monday when he calls on the president at Beit Hanassi.

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