In February 2017, during Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s historic trip to Australia – the first ever by a sitting Israeli prime minister – he and his host, the recently deposed Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, attended an event at the Central Synagogue in Sydney’s Bondi neighborhood.
Both Netanyahu and Turnbull were greeted by a thunderous ovation, with the emcee quipping that Turnbull – representing a very Jewish district that included the synagogue – was in his “local shul.”
And the Australian prime minister obviously felt very much at home.
“It is always wonderful to be here in Central, in this beautiful shul,” he said, articulating “shul” very naturally. “We talked today at lunch about the mishpacha
(family), this is the heart of it.”
Last week, Turnbull’s political mishpacha – his own Liberal Party – unceremoniously unseated him. And for the seventh time in 11 years, Australia has a new prime minister: Scott Morrison
Israel and Netanyahu lost a genuine friend, a man who has been unstintingly pro-Israel. Turnbull greeted Netanyahu to Australia during that trip, using words like “miracle” and “envy of the world,” to describe the Jewish State.
“You can’t expect – being blunt and realistic about this – you cannot expect any Israeli government to put itself in a position where security is at risk, where its citizens are not safe,” he said in welcoming Netanyahu to Australia. “The first duty of every government is the safety of the people. That’s my first job as prime minister of Australia; it is Bibi’s first job as prime minister of Israel.”
Colin Rubenstein, the head of AIJAC, The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, told The Jerusalem Post
Sunday that “Turnbull said recently that a key aspiration he has is to be seen ‘as a mensch
.’ So far as I’m concerned, he’s certainly achieved that goal when it comes to his record on our community’s agenda.”
But while Turnbull’s departure may be lamented by some in the Australian Jewish community because he was so well-known and liked, Turnbull’s replacement is expected to be equally as strong.
Australia’s treasurer under Turnbull, Morrison – who comes from an evangelical Pentecostal background– came to Israel on an AIJAC-sponsored trip in 2003, and has been described by officials as very supportive and “sympathetically disposed” toward the country. He was a loyalist of former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was ousted by Turnbull.
Abbott has come out in favor of Australia moving its embassy to Jerusalem, something Turnbull did not do, but which may now get a second look with a new government in Canberra. The new government may also review Australia’s Iran policy, which has not followed Washington’s lead to the extent that some in Jerusalem would have liked to see.
Nevertheless, the policies of Turnbull and his foreign minister, Julie Bishop, were unabashedly pro-Israel, with Australia at times voting with the US and a handful of South Pacific Islands for Israel in the UN, as it did in June in voting against a resolution on Gaza.
Bishop resigned on Sunday, after she failed in her efforts to replace Turnbull on Friday. She will be replaced by Marise Payne, who served Turnbull as his defense minister, and is also considered to be pro-Israel.
Christopher Pyne, who was the minister for defense industry under Turnbull, will now become defense minister. He took part in a conference in Jerusalem in July and initiated an Australian-Israel Defense Industry Cooperation Joint Working Group, which he said will “give the structure needed to further deepen our already strong engagement.”
While Turnbull was viewed by some in that Sydney synagogue as an honorary member of the mishpacha, Morrison’s deputy, Josh Frydenberg, who was named Friday as the country’s treasurer – is a full-fledged member.
Frydenberg, who was the environment and energy minister under Turnbull, is a product of the Melbourne Jewish community, including its day schools, and was described as being “absolutely, 1,000% committed and involved in the Jewish community.”
His mother, a Holocaust survivor, was born in Hungary in 1943 and moved to Australia in 1950 as a stateless child.
He visited here twice in 2017, and during an April visit to Yad Vashem, told the Post
, “The Jewish people’s survival is the most stunning testament to the community’s resilience and inner strength.”
Israel, he added, “which was born from the ashes of the Holocaust, is a daily reminder of how important it is for the Jewish community around the world to see Israel prosper and survive.”
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