Israel slams Australia for revoking Jerusalem capital recognition, envoy summoned

The Australian government cited its belief that the status of Jerusalem should be resolved through peace negotiations.

 The national flags of Australia and Israel are seen outside the building housing the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel October 16, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
The national flags of Australia and Israel are seen outside the building housing the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel October 16, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)

Israel slammed Australia on Tuesday and summoned its ambassador for a reprimand after Canberra revoked its recognition of western Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who also serves as foreign minister, called the decision “a hasty response to an incorrect report in the media” and expressed “hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally.”

“Jerusalem is the eternal and united capital of Israel, and nothing will change that,” he said.

In the meeting with Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths, Foreign Ministry Political Director Aliza Bin-Noun expressed Jerusalem’s disappointment at Canberra’s change in policy, calling it “a miserable decision that ignores the deep and eternal connection between Israel and its historic capital and that goes against the good relations between Israel and Australia.”

She also protested that the decision came during Sukkot and Simhat Torah, when the Jewish people celebrate their special connection to Jerusalem. Sukkot traditions relate to the Temples that stood in the capital.

Israel would consider its next steps, Bin-Noun said.

 Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, September 20, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID) Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong speaks during a news conference on the sidelines of the 77th United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York City, New York, US, September 20, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/BRENDAN MCDERMID)

The capital of Israel is all of Jerusalem, not just the western part of the city, though that is where the Knesset, Supreme Court and several government ministries are located. Australia and Russia were among the countries that only recognized western Jerusalem as the capital but did not open embassies in the city. The US, Guatemala, Honduras and Kosovo opened embassies in Jerusalem in recent years.

The policy shift came a day after Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong denied media reports that her country was planning to revoke the recognition granted in 2018.

“The former government made the decision to recognize west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” she said Monday. “No decision to change has been made by the current government. Australia remains a longstanding friend and strong supporter of Israel.”

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade also denied any change to Israeli officials who contacted Canberra, as well as to Australian Jewish community leaders.

The following morning, however, Wong said that “Jerusalem is a final-status issue that should be resolved as part of any peace negotiations… This reverses the Morrison government’s recognition of west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”

She said the decision “recommits Australia to international efforts in the responsible pursuit of progress towards a just and enduring two-state solution.”

The recognition of Jerusalem by the previous prime minister, Scott Morrison, in 2018, “put Australia out of step with the majority of the international community,” Wong said. “I regret that Mr. Morrison’s decision to play politics resulted in Australia’s shifting position and the distress these shifts have caused to many people in the Australian community who care deeply about this issue.”

The decision to backtrack on recognizing Jerusalem came while Australian Jews were celebrating Simhat Torah, and organizations waited to formally respond.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese entered office in May and was the first from the Labor Party in nine years. He is a self-declared critic of Israel and has called Israel an “oppressor” that collectively punishes Palestinians. His party platform proposed to have Australia recognize a Palestinian state.

A source from the Jewish community said the government had promised not to make any changes without consulting with community representatives, but they did not actually do so.

Australian Jewry 'extremely disappointed'

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry said it was “extremely disappointed” in the decision to reverse recognition of western Jerusalem, adding that the decision was made “in a conspicuously opaque manner,” in contrast with the new government’s stated commitment to greater transparency.

“The timing of this morning’s cabinet decision was clearly media driven,” the ECAJ said. “The status of Jerusalem is an important foreign policy issue and it is demeaning for Australia to have its international position changed in such a shoddy manner... [It is] a gratuitous insult to a key economic and strategic ally, with no countervailing benefit for Australians. This is no way to treat an ally whose intelligence-sharing with Australia has prevented at least one terrorist attack against Australians that we know of.”

In addition, the ECAJ said that “the decision panders to the most extreme elements of the Labor Party and will also serve as a disincentive for the Palestinians to return to negotiations.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said: “The decision by the Albanese government to reverse Australia’s recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is deeply disappointing and counterproductive to achieving the government’s objective of a two-state solution. Every other sovereign country is allowed to determine the location of its capital. Israel should be treated no differently. When the previous government recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it was recognizing the reality on the ground – something that every Australian government in effect acknowledges when they visit the prime minister of Israel and the Knesset in Jerusalem.”

Australia-Israel and Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubinstein said: “This decision is likely to further encourage the rejectionist tendencies of the Palestinian Authority, which has spent the last 20 years rebuffing Israeli peace offers… The government is effectively rewarding this Palestinian intransigence.”

Canberra's U-turn

The media report that Canberra denied and then confirmed within a day was in The Guardian, which reported on Monday that Australia’s Foreign Ministry had deleted two sentences from its website pertaining to the status of Jerusalem.

President Rivlin with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)President Rivlin with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison (credit: KOBY GIDEON/GPO)

Previously, the website said: “Consistent with this longstanding policy, in December 2018, Australia recognized West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of the Israeli government. Australia looks forward to moving its embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after the final status determination of, a two-state solution.”