Australian-Israeli ties to remain strong under newly elected Abbott

Saturday’s election in Australia was a battle between the “good friends of Israel” vs “the very good friends of Israel.”

September 9, 2013 03:03
2 minute read.
Conservative candidate Tony Abbott vlaims victory in Australia's federal election, Sept. 7, 2013

Conservative Tony Abbott wins Australia election 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

From Jerusalem’s vantage point, Saturday’s election in Australia was a battle between the “good friends of Israel” vs “the very good friends of Israel.”

And, with the victory of Tony Abbott’s Liberal-National coalition over Kevin Rudd’s Labor party, the “very good friends” won this time around.

Abbott, in an “election message” that appeared last Wednesday in the Australian Jewish News, said that if elected, “we are firmly committed to restoring the Australia- Israeli friendship to the strength it enjoyed under the [John] Howard government.”

And, indeed, the Howard era is considered by some as the cherry on the top of historically strong and robust relations between Israel and Australia.

But Australia is not Denmark, where the replacement of the center-right coalition in elections there in September 2011 with a center-left coalition brought about change – in the Danish case for the worse – in the tone of the ties between the two countries.

In Australia both parties are strongly supportive, and political support given to Israel from Canberra is robust.

It was strong under Rudd during both his terms in office, and under his party rival Julia Gillard.

It is now expected to be even a bit stronger.

Or, as one diplomatic official put it Sunday when asked for his interpretation of the Australian elections, “Australia? You mean the Canada of the south,” a reference to the unapologetically and unabashedly pro-Israel Canadian government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Under Abbott, one Australian source said, Canberra will likely be as strong and unwavering in international forums in support of Israel as is Canada.

For instance, were Abbott at the helm in Australia last November when the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade the Palestinian status to that of non-member observer state, Australia would most likely have joined the US, Canada, the Czech Republic, Panama and four small South Pacific island states and voted with Israel against the move.

The country’s abstention in that vote surprised and disappointed Jerusalem.

Israeli-Aussie relations also hit a bump in May 2010 under Rudd when Australia expelled a Mossad agent following reports that Israel used forged Australian passports – among others – to assassinate Hamas’s Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai.

Another brief hiccup occurred earlier this year after the suicide in prison of Australian-Israeli citizen Ben Zygier. Then-Australian foreign minister Bob Carr first said that Canberra did not know anything about the case, but then quickly reversed himself when it became known that the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv was aware that Zygier, reportedly a Mossad agent, was in prison.

Any friction over that case, one Australian source said, played out more in the Australian media than in any government offices.

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