A fair dinkum friend in a volatile region
Recently I returned from the eastern seaside suburbs of Sydney, where the Jewish communities are vibrant. Our purpose was a family chuppah held on a grassy terrace overlooking surfers riding the waves at Malabar.
A few miles along the beach is Bondi, known to most of the world as a surfers’ paradise. But to Aussie Jews, it is a mini Golders Green with kosher restaurants, falafel bars, a Jewish bookshop and, not far away, the quite magnificent Central Synagogue filled to the rafters with congregants especially during Friday nights.
Many of the communities, including the small shul founded by Shoah survivors at Coogee beach (where we were staying), have been reinvigorated by the presence of the large and growing expatriate South African Jewish community.
Among Aussie Jews, there is a fierce loyalty to Israel.
It’s not surprising that the recent state visit by Benjamin Netanyahu – the first by an Israeli leader to Australia – was greeted by the community with unmitigated joy.
One of the striking features among some of the younger generation we met was their experiences of having served in the IDF.
This seemed to be a rite of passage for several (including the groom), helping to build an unbreakable bond between young Jewish Aussies and the Israeli state.
Netanyahu’s trip to see embattled Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull came hard on the heels of visits to the US and Britain.
The biggest point of difference being that Australia voted against the United Nations Security Council resolution that condemned Israel for its settlement building.
He noted that between 2014 and 2015, the UN had adopted 20 resolutions of one kind or another that condemned Israel’s behaviour and only one into the brutality of the Syrian civil war.
“My government will not support one-sided resolutions criticising Israel of the kind recently adopted by the Security Council and deplores the boycott campaigns designed to delegitimise the Jewish state,” he said.
The vehemence of Turnbull’s language contrasts with the timidity of some other western allies of Israel.
But it also represented the outspokenness of Aussie politics, which makes some of the exchanges in the House of Commons look like a child’s tea party.
One cannot but feel that Turnbull’s approach was as much about scoring points off two former Prime Ministers Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd both of whom used the Israeli leader’s visit to call on Australia to recognise the Palestinian state.
Anti-Israel forces mustered lively protests at Sydney Town Hall, involving several hundred people, saying it was embarrassing that Australia was laying out the red carpet for Netanyahu.
As for Netanyahu, he clearly was delighted to be on Aussie territory.
Its importance to western democracies and diplomacy is often overlooked, partly because all that happens there is in time zones so far apart from ours and that of the US.
The economic and military rise of Asia and the Pacific means that it is of ever-growing strategic importance.
It’s an ally that the West and Israel needs, in an increasingly volatile arena, with many strategic experts predicting conflict in the South China Sea.