Aussie Zionist leader: Likely election of Labor gov’t will pose challenges

President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Jeremy Leibler, said that the challenges facing Israel under a Labor government will center around three major issues.

Picture of Jeremy Leibler, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia (photo credit: Courtesy)
Picture of Jeremy Leibler, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia
(photo credit: Courtesy)
While Australian Labor Party head Bill Shorten is “very supportive of Israel,” there will be “challenges” if the party defeats the Liberals in the upcoming elections in May, Jeremy Leibler, the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, said this week.
The Labor Party is leading the Liberal-led coalition in most of the major polls, though in recent surveys the numbers for Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison have risen. The coalition has been in power since 2013, and charted a strongly pro-Israel course.
Leibler said that the challenges facing Israel under a Labor government will center around three major issues.
The first, he said, is whether such a government would act on a non-binding resolution passed by the party’s conference in December to recognize “Palestine.” – just three days after Morrison recognized west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“If they would act on this resolution, it would be extremely counterproductive,” Leibler said. “While there is a productive role for Australia to play in the conflict, that is not going to be the way to do it.”
The motion, which passed on a voice vote, stated that the conference “supports the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders,” and “calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a state.”
The resolution added that it expects that “this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government.”
Labor’s shadow foreign minister Penny Wong, who introduced the motion, said it was important “because we, in Labor, not only deal with the world as it is; we seek to change it for the better.”
Leibler said that a lot of work went on behind the scenes by Shorten, Wong herself, shadow defense minister Richard Marles and the Labor Friends of Israel to ensure that the resolution would be non-binding.
The second challenge if Labor comes to power will have to do with Australia’s votes at the United Nations, which for the last number of years have effectively been aligned to those of the United States and have been very supportive of Israel.
“There is absolutely concern that this may not continue,” Leibler said, noting that a future Labor government will face challenges from within its own ranks to change voting patterns. Former foreign minister Bob Carr has been very critical of Israel, pushing a pro-Palestinian position inside the party.
Leibler said that Shorten, as well as Wong and Marles – who he said have ties to the Jewish community, are supportive of Israel and understand the complexities of the situation – “are under pressure from within their own party.”
The third area of concern is that a future Labor government might reverse Morrison’s decision to recognize west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a decision which Leibler applauded as principled, even though some criticized both its timing – around the time of a key by-election in a heavily-Jewish district in New South Wales – and its recognition “only” of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“The Labor Party did not support the decision. But once it was taken, we would hope a Labor government doesn’t take active steps to reverse it,” he said.
Leibler said that more effort must be placed on explaining Israel’s position to progressives in Australia.
“We need to bring more people from the progressive side in Israel to make Israel’s case to the general public and to the alternative government in Australia,” he said.
“Shorten is a good guy who has strong links to the Jewish community and has been to Israel several times,” Leibler said. “I think he genuinely understands the importance of the friendship, and will do his very best. If he has a resounding win, he will be in a good position inside the party, where he will have leverage to be able to have a say on these issues.”
Leibler noted that among Australia’s 120,000-strong Jewish community, unlike in the United States, differences people may have with the policies of the Israeli government – specifically regarding the role of the rabbinate and the egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall – have not “developed into fundamental shifts in the relationship between Australian Jewry and Israel.”
He attributed this to Jewish education, saying that 50% of Jewish children in Australia are in Jewish day schools, and that there are also strong Zionist youth groups in the country.
“On average, Australian Jews have a stronger Jewish identity and are more Jewishly literate, meaning that they understand the importance of the relationship between the Diaspora and Israel,” he said. “I’ve always been a believer that the biggest issue in the relationship between US Jews and Israel is that there are so many people who are simply ignorant of their own Jewish traditions.”