Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison thought he was sending a bouquet to Israel. It turned into a boomerang.
Two months ago, Morrison raised hopes of moving the Australian Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv when he said he was “open-minded” after President Donald Trump moved the US Embassy and recognized Israel’s capital.
Last week, however, Morrison announced that Australia would merely establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and would move the embassy only after a peace settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
More explosively, he said he recognized “West Jerusalem” as Israel’s capital, and supported the aspiration for a future state of Palestine with its capital in “East Jerusalem.”
Cue irritation and even outrage in Israel, and no wonder. There is no west Jerusalem in Israel – just Jerusalem. The city is not divided into two separate halves like West Berlin and East Berlin before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Australia has in effect unilaterally divided Jerusalem, contravening the convention established for every other country that it has the sovereign right to decide upon its own capital.
Morrison thus also effectively declared that the Western Wall and the ancient Jewish quarter of the Old City, along with the Hebrew University and Mount Scopus’s Hadassah University Medical Center, are not part of Israel’s capital since they too lie beyond the 1949 ceasefire lines – the perverse reason why much of the West insists Israel is not entitled to claim them as its own.
Back in October, many Australians viewed their prime minister’s “open mind” as a cynical attempt to win by-election votes for a Sydney seat with a high Jewish population. In the event, his Liberal Party lost that by-election and his coalition turned into a minority government.
Attempting therefore to steer a middle course on Jerusalem, he fell down the gap. Australia’s Muslim neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, are annoyed. Hamas and the Arab League are furious.
Israel is disappointed and angry. It takes a particular kind of genius to be attacked by all sides.
But Jewish Diaspora leaders have been exhibiting a similar genius.
In Australia, a joint statement by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and CEOs said the announcement was “a simple acknowledgment of a reality that has existed since 1950.” The Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council welcomed the government’s “acknowledgment of the reality” that “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.”
But the Morrison government didn’t recognize that reality because it didn’t say Jerusalem was Israel’s capital. It situated it instead in an entity that doesn’t exist.
Do these Australian Jewish leaders realize they too are agreeing that Jerusalem’s Western Wall and Old City don’t belong to Israel and might be given away to the Palestinians if they get a state?
Britain’s Jewish leadership fell into the same mire. On Twitter, the Board of Deputies of British Jews praised Australia for recognizing “the simple truth of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital” and urged the British Foreign Office to “follow suit.”
But of course Australia hadn’t recognized this simple truth. The board had rushed to praise a move that unilaterally divided Jerusalem and upset Israel.
At the same time, however, it was also attacked by the kind of people who would have been horrified by Trump moving the embassy. They said the board had been “simplistic” and needed to be more “cautious and measured” in its Israel comments.
This row reflects the fact that the board is supposed to be apolitical and represent the whole Anglo-Jewish community. And that harbors many different and passionately opposed views about Israel.
So although the board supports Israel, it usually does so in studiedly vague terms and avoids contentious issues such as the status of Jerusalem.
But that means failing to say that the Jewish people is entitled to a city that not only contains its holiest sites, not only is part of the land that the international community pledged to it a century ago, but was only ever the capital of the Jewish nation-state alone.
Furthermore, the board cannot properly defend British Jews against antisemitism unless it publicly exposes the lies told about Israel, including the claim that it illegally occupies “Palestinian” lands.
Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is to acknowledge the Jews’ historic and unique claim not just to the city but to the entire Land of Israel. It thus repudiates the big lie told by the Arab world, which rewrites the Jews out of their own history in order to destroy Israel altogether.
As a senior Palestinian official, Abbas Zaki, said in 2011: “If they get out of Jerusalem, what will become of all the talk about the Promised Land and the Chosen People?... They consider Jerusalem to have a spiritual status... If the Jews leave those places, the Zionist idea will begin to collapse.”
When in 1967 Israel liberated those parts of Jerusalem that had been illegally occupied by Jordan, it did no more than complete the task of ridding the land of the illegal Arab colonialist regime, which had helped try to destroy Israel at its rebirth in 1948.
The current Arab administration of the Temple Mount has turned that ostensibly holy Muslim site into a theater of genocidal war, using it to incite the mass murder of Jews and even using it for that purpose as a weapons depository.
Those who entertain the very possibility of Israel giving up that part of Jerusalem to people with such a murderous and antisemitic record are helping perpetuate, however unwittingly, the war of extermination against Israel in which Jerusalem is used as a hostage.
For Diaspora community leadership bodies, this means there’s a direct clash between trying to keep everyone on board and properly defending Israel and the Jewish people.
In the US, AIPAC has experienced similar difficulties. The fallacy is to think that this clash can be defused by playing to the lowest common denominator over Israel. It cannot. Those who cede any ground at all to the fundamental lies and injustice to which Israel is subjected make themselves unavoidably complicit in those lies and injustice.
So Diaspora communities need to choose. Do they try to keep everyone on board, including those Jews who are indifferent or hostile to Israel; or do they unequivocally stand up for the Jewish people as a people?
Many of them instinctively feel that to identify as a people within the Diaspora is a contradiction in terms and dangerous to boot. British Jews have always been the most craven in this regard.
American Jews are going down the same road, although for different reasons. Now Australian Jews, previously among the most staunch and outspoken supporters of Israel, have wobbled.
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (UK).
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