As an Israeli citizen currently residing in Australia last Wednesday was a solemn day with it marking both Yom Hazikaron and ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day is when Australia commemorates the battles of it’s armed forces since its first military battle 97 years ago, when its forces first entered World War 1. While as an Israeli citizen I joined the Jewish world in paying tribute to Israel’s soldiers who have laid down their lives to create and defend the State of Israel.
Yom Hazikaron and ANZAC day coinciding is a coincidence but I feel it highlights the similarities between Israel and Australia two relatively young countries. While Israel has had to have a strong military and national personality in order to defend itself from its neighbors over the past 64 years, Australia in the most part existing peacefully has also understood the importance of having a strong military. Australia has therefore actively been involved in military campaigns from the World Wars, through Vietnam and to modern times in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On arriving in Australia it came as a present surprise to see that Australia across the political spectrum is one ofIsrael’s best friends, with both the Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the Opposition Leader Tony Abbott being strong vocal advocates ofIsrael, often an unusual position in the currently global climate. This may because Australian’s understand that countries need a strong army, especially vulnerable countries likeIsrael, often under attack. Just as important though may be a belief in shared western democratic values, while also having a similar relaxed ‘sunny country’ culture.
In recent years though, as Australia has tried to become more of a ‘Global Leader’ led by the Foreign Office with an ambition for a seat on the Security Council, the former Prime Minster and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, questioned Australia’s natural backing of Israel in the United Nations by abstaining on important votes.
When Kevin Rudd, lost the leadership election of the Labour Party earlier this year and stood down from Government, pro-Israel groups welcomed the appointment of his replacement as Foreign Minister Bob Carr. It was thought that given the new Foreign Minister’s long support forIsrael– including being a founder of Labour Friends of Israel in the 1970s – he would return Australian foreign policy to be a strong supporter of Israel, as the only true democracy in the Middle East.
However, early anecdotes of how Bob Carr now view’s Australia’s relationship with Israel does not appear to be as rosy as thought. Bob Carr appears to be even more critical of Israel than his predecessor. This was made clear most recently when following the Quartet’s neutral call for peace-talks to be resumed betweenIsraeland the Palestinian Authority, Bob Carr took a more hard line, warningIsraelthat peace was only possible ifIsraelremoved a counter productive policy of building in settlements. By reiterating the failed policy which President Obama adopted two years ago, and now has appeared to drop, Australian Foreign Policy now seems to be ignoring the unwillingness of the Palestinians continued attacks onIsraelboth through missiles and in their education and media.
While still early days in the tenure of Bob Carr as Australian Foreign Minister, it appears that Australia may sadly not be as close a friend of Israel as it once was.