(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
At a time when Israel is recovering from the shock of UN Security Council Resolution 2334, comments made by Australia’s government are encouraging. In a statement released on Thursday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop voiced her disagreement with the resolution.
Australia is not currently a member of the Security Council and therefore is not eligible to vote, noted Bishop. However, “in voting at the UN, the coalition government has consistently not supported one-sided resolutions targeting Israel.”
One day later, at a Hanukka menorah-lighting ceremony at Sydney’s Central Synagogue, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that “Australia stands with Israel. We support Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East,” the Australian Jewish News reported.
Canberra’s support for Israel should not be taken for granted. Pro-Palestinian activists have lamented the fact that consecutive Australian governments have been out of step with public opinion. While a large proportion of Australians tend to be critical of Israel and its policies, Labor and in particular Liberal governments have been very supportive.
Consecutive public opinion polls have shown that Australians are divided over their support for Israel. A Roy Morgan Research poll from November 2011 found that Australians were just as sympathetic with Israelis as they were with Palestinians. Only 17% said they supported Jewish settlements while 63% opposed it.
And more than half of Australians supported the Palestinian push for recognition as a full member state of the UN.
A 2014 BBC World Service opinion poll found that 67% of Australians had a negative view of Israel’s influence and just 24% had a positive view.
Israeli-Aussie relations have known their ups and downs. Under the leadership of prime minister Gough Whitlam, Australia distanced itself from Israel during the Yom Kippur War.
In 1997, during the opening of the Maccabiah Games, negligence resulted in the collapse of a bridge over the Yarkon River that led to the death of four Australian athletes and the injury of dozens more. The Games organizers and the State of Israel were slow to accept blame and provide compensation, which hurt relations with Australian Jewish communities and with the Australian government.
In 2010, Israel angered Kevin Rudd’s Labor government in Australia after reports emerged that Mossad agents forged Australian passports – along with passports from other countries – to orchestrate the targeted killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel.
In 2013, after the suicide in prison of Australian-Israeli Ben Zygier, relations were once against strained.
Then-Australian foreign minister Bob Carr was embarrassed after he first denied and later admitted that Canberra knew about Zygier, reportedly a Mossad agent.
Labor governments under Rudd and Julia Gillard tended to join the international community in condemning Israel for its settlements, claiming they were a violation of international law.
In contrast, when Bishop was in Israel in early 2014 to attend the funeral of Ariel Sharon, she questioned whether the settlements are illegal. In one media interview she said that the international community should refrain from calling settlements illegal under international law, without waiting for their status to be determined in a deal with the Palestinians. Her main concern was that prejudging the settlements would stymie efforts to reach a negotiated arrangement with the Palestinians.
Australia has emerged as one of Israel’s few true friends, largely thanks to the leadership of Turnbull and Bishop. We should not take this friendship for granted. Australian public opinion, largely influenced by biased news media, tends to be more critical of Israel.
It is important that our leaders work to foster ties between the two countries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia, planned for February, is an important step in the right direction that sets right a longstanding oversight.
Amazingly, never before has a prime minister made the long trip to Canberra. The time has come for Israel to give greater recognition to Australia’s support.