The Australian government’s recent decision to begin referring to the West Bank and Gaza as “occupied Palestinian territories” and Israeli settlements as “illegal” runs counter to its claim to be a “committed friend” of Israel.
In the original Toy Story movie, Woody and Buzz Lightyear’s relationship is characterized by an enduring bond of friendship forged through difficult moments. Similarly, Australia’s bond with Israel has its roots in testing times.
During World War I, as part of the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign, 60,000 Australians fought the Ottomans – joined by a legion of hundreds of Zion Mule Corps, a squad of Jewish fighters envisioned by Ze’ev Jabotinsky and formed by Joseph Trumpeldor. In 1917, Australian soldiers’ bravery was instrumental in the famed Battle of Beersheba. Australia was also the first country to vote in favor of the Partition Plan on the 29th of November, 1947.
To this day, warm ties endure. Two-way trade was estimated at over $1.3 billion AUD in 2021 and is growing at a rapid rate. The respective Australia-Israel and Israel-Australia chambers of commerce have never been busier, with senior Australian business delegations visiting the Start-Up Nation on an almost weekly basis and numerous Israeli companies establishing offices Down Under. Moreover, the Australian Jewish community is known for its vociferous support for Israel.
Australia's move to refer to West Bank, Gaza as "Occupied Palestinian Territories"
And yet, this recent decision of the left-leaning Australian Labor Party (ALP) is a sharp deviation from the Australian government’s steadfast support of the State of Israel. By identifying them as “Palestinian territories,” the Australian government is effectively denying any legitimate Israeli legal claims to the West Bank.
At best, this represents a lack of basic comprehension of Israel’s thousands of years of connection to Jewish cultural and historical sites in the West Bank, and at worst is a cynical pandering to the extreme-left elements inside the ALP ahead of their internal national conference to be held next week – all at the expense of one of Australia’s strongest allies.
A key failing of this new Australian policy is that it is no longer in line with statements by key Australian allies like the US and Canada. It also contradicts previously held positions that final status issues should be resolved through negotiations between the two parties.
To make matters worse, the government claims that previous Australian governments have referred to the territories as “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and yet there is no evidence of this in past statements.
Unfortunately, this decision was not made in a vacuum and since the government was elected a year ago it has not acted in the manner befitting a close friend. The Australians have changed their voting pattern on Israel at the United Nations, reversed the previous government’s recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and issued unhelpful condemnations of settlement expansion. Not exactly steps that one would consider as friendly.
Toward the end of 2022, Mark Regev, formerly an adviser to the Israeli prime minister and career diplomat born in Australia, published a somewhat prophetic piece titled, “Are Israeli-Australian ties in danger?” While ties are still strong, Australia should not be distancing itself from a key partner like Israel – and as Buzz reminds Woody, in a turbulent world, “The important thing is that we stick together!”
The writer is a fellow at the Center for Jewish Impact. He immigrated to Israel from Australia.