Australia/Israel relations at a tipping point: A scorecard on the Albanese Government’s first year in office
Last Saturday, a milestone came and went without much fanfare. The Albanese Government has now been in power for 12 months. The past year has seen perhaps the fastest sustained decline in Australia-Israel relations of any 12-month period in history.
Before the election, I wrote an article warning about the implications of a Labor victory for Australia’s relationship with Israel. I was criticised by the usual suspects, including former Foreign Minister Bob Carr. Surprisingly, there were some very naive reactions from within the Jewish community. One Melbourne professor even wrote an article in response, calling my predictions, ”misinformed” and “irresponsible”, and asserting that the ALP was in fact brimming with pro-Israel leadership.
Sadly, my warnings came true, and the first 12 months of the Albanese Government have been even worse than I foresaw.
Almost immediately after the May 21 election, the omens were there, when in June the Albanese Government conspicuously refused to endorse a statement from 22 countries, including the US, the UK, Canada, and Germany condemning the establishment of a new UN inquisition targeting Israel.
Anti-Israel advocates celebrated. Former Foreign Minister Gareth Evans said it sent “a very clear message”. Some Jewish groups were still in denial though and attempted to downplay the significance.
Their denial would have only worsened the sting they felt when the new government altered Australia’s record of voting with Israel at the UN. Votes at the morally bankrupt General Assembly are meaningless, but Israel’s friends are few, so when one goes missing, it’s felt.
Again, many failed to see the danger on the horizon.
September brought the next slap, a doubling of Australian funding to UNRWA, the organisation perhaps most responsible for the continuation of the Middle East conflict. The UN agency is ostensibly responsible for solving the Palestinian Arab refugee issue. In that task, it has failed spectacularly, with refugee numbers ballooning. Long condemned for the antisemitism and horrific incitement in its textbooks, funding for UNRWA was slashed by the Morrison Government, following President Trump’s lead. Now Penny Wong announced that Australian taxpayers would be forking out $20 million a year, with zero prerequisites. AJA contacts in Israel tell us that inquiries with Australian representatives concerning supervision over where the funds go are met with prevarication.
The coup de grace came the following month when Foreign Minister Penny Wong removed Australia’s limited recognition of Jerusalem. The move caught Israeli Prime Minister, Yair Lapid, and those Australian Jewish groups who hadn’t been paying attention off guard.
The announcement was cruelly and cynically timed, as Jews were celebrating the joyous religious festival of Simchat Torah. Some speculated that it was a calculated move, knowing that observant Jews could not speak to the media for several days until the issue had blown over.
The move dominated the news in Israel. AJA was contacted for Israeli television and newspaper interviews. This slight was even partly credited with hurting the election prospects of Lapid’s left-wing government, exposing them as amateurs at foreign policy.
Following the Jerusalem fiasco, I was invited to address a large rally organised by Jewish youth in Sydney. As I mingled with the crowd, the anger at Labor was palpable.
More militant Labor representatives continue to push boundaries. In my pre-election article, I warned about Senator Anne Urquhart, who has a history of anti-Israel extremism. Now rewarded as Chief Government Whip, she recently took part in an ugly Tasmanian event mourning the creation of the Jewish State as a ‘catastrophe’. AJA’s censure was front-page news there. From the ALP leadership, there were crickets.
Days later, Fatima Payman, Australia’s first hijab-wearing senator, joined in with a stunt that no doubt would have gone down well in her native Afghanistan. The ALP Western Australia representative posed with the Arabic word for ‘disaster’ superimposed over the map of Israel. If Labor is packed with Pro-Israel people, as the aforementioned, naive professor claimed, they’ve been awfully silent. Not one Labor leader has addressed the growing anti-Israel stunts from Labor’s elected representatives.
Israel’s staunchest friends in Labor, like Michael Danby, Mike Kelly and Kimberley Kitching, are no longer there and their absence is noticeable. Ahead of a recent visit to Canberra, AJA reached out to a handful of Labor MPs and the contrast with the enthusiasm from the many Coalition MPs we met was unmistakable. The Jewish MP who represents an electorate with most of Victoria’s Jews didn’t even reply.
A year of inaction has earned Australia the moniker of the ‘weakest link in the West’ when it comes to standing against the Iranian Regime butchers.
To their credit, the Albanese Government hasn’t yet removed support from the important IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, adopted during the Morrison Government. But in terms of practical implementation, it’s been a wasted year. In fact, in some respects, it’s gone backward, with several universities, including the scandal-ridden University of Adelaide, rejecting it, despite near-universal support from the Jewish community. The ABC, arguably the organisation most desperately in need of such a definition has also rejected adopting it.
So, what do the next 12 months hold? To be fair, Israel and the Jewish Community are not important priorities for Labor. They have their work cut out with their fixation on implementing an ‘Aboriginal Voice’.
Labor people I spoke to are divided. Some are optimistic. They say the fierce reaction from the Jewish community to the Jerusalem snub unnerved Penny Wong, and further significant, hostile moves like recognition of a ‘State of Palestine’ are likely to be postponed to a future Labor term.
Others warned us to be prepared for further nasty surprises, like ‘Palestine’ recognition and that even something as fundamental as Australia’s designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation, may be at risk. There were conflicting views on what will come out of the upcoming Labor National Conference. However, one thing nobody predicted was any positive surprises.
The Albanese Government is at a tipping point. The next 12 months will be instrumental in shaping Australia’s relationship with Israel. One thing is for sure, the Jewish community is wizened up to Labor’s tricks, and any further hostile acts won’t come as a surprise.