Israel supporter swept from premiership

Australians deliver landslide victory to Labor; Kevin Rudd will lead gov't that will include 2 Jewish MPs.

howard loses 224 ap (photo credit: AP)
howard loses 224 ap
(photo credit: AP)
John Howard, a staunch ally of Israel and America, has been swept from power after 11 years of conservative rule as Australians delivered a landslide victory to Labor on Saturday night. The country's new Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, will lead a government that will include two Jewish MPs - the first Jews to sit in government since 1990. Labor needed to win 16 more seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives. After 75% of the votes had been counted, Labor was registering a 6% swing, giving it victory with an expected 20 extra seats in what Howard described in his concession speech as an "emphatic victory" for Labor. The Liberal Party's defeat will likely be compounded because Howard, Australia's second longest-serving PM, appears to have lost his own seat in parliament after 33 years. While Rudd has forged close ties to the 110,000-strong Jewish community in Australia since he became leader last December, the 50-year-old from Queensland is not expected to be able to replicate Howard's rock solid support for the Jewish state. But at a private function for Jewish leaders in Melbourne last weekend, Rudd said his support for Israel is "in his DNA". Rudd has visited Israel twice, in 2003 and 2005, and on both occasions was led by Albert Dadon, chair of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange. Dadon was among the 500 guests at Rudd's party in Brisbane on Saturday night. The two Jewish candidates who were victorious were Michael Danby, who has sat in opposition since he was elected in 1998, and Mark Dreyfus QC, who was standing in his first election for the seat of Isaacs, named after Australia's first Jewish governor-general, Sir Isaac Isaacs. Although Rudd is a strong supporter of the US alliance, Labor has pledged to withdraw Australia's troops from Iraq and sign Kyoto, which may strain relations with Washington. Some analysts have speculated that Labor's support for Israel may waver at the United Nations. However, Rudd has declared that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad should be tried at the International Court of Justice for his genocidal declaration to "wipe Israel off the map." He has also vowed not to negotiate with Hamas "unless it undergoes radical change." George Newhouse, a high-profile Jewish human rights lawyer, failed in his bid to unseat Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Wentworth, the nation's largest Jewish electorate. Turnbull, a staunch supporter of Israel, is being tipped to challenge for the Liberal leadership. Also elected was Mike Kelly, a former colonel who served in Iraq and whose wife is Israeli, and Nicola Roxon, whose father was a Polish Jew. Rudd's chief-of-staff, David Epstein, is Jewish, and his senior media adviser, Walt Secord, born in Canada to a North American Indian, is a former journalist at the Australian Jewish News. It is the first time in Australian history that all governments - six states, two territories and at federal level - are held by Labor. Voting in Australia is compulsory. More than 13.5 million people enrolled to vote. Elections are held every three years.