Opposition leader Tony Abbott chose a lunchtime address at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce on 19 July to make his first major speech of the election campaign – an odd choice of venue to my mind. The subject on which he chose to make one of his first major policy pronouncements was even more odd. It was reported in the 20 July edition of The Age in a piece by Jacob Saulwick, under the headline Loyal to Israel despite killings. Saulwick’s account reads, in part:
He lashed out at the government for flinching in its support of Israel, using his first big speech of the campaign to pledge fidelity to the Jewish state. He suggested the government overreacted to the Israel Defence Forces' attack on an aid flotilla that killed nine activists, while signalling that the Coalition would never side with United Nations resolutions condemning Israel.
"Of course the Israeli government does from time to time make mistakes," Abbott said. "What government doesn't from time to time make mistakes?
''I want to assure you that a Coalition government would never support a one-sided UN resolution against Israel to curry favour with an anti-Israel majority.
"And we would never overreact to any international incidents because we appreciate that Israel is under existential threat in a way that no other country in the world is."
Well, that’s got the Australia-Israel crowd on side, but it doesn’t do much for the rest of us.
We will leave aside the fact that the phrase “existential threat” is straight out of the Binyamin Netanyahu playbook, except to say that it is palpable nonsense – the reason why Israel behaves so badly is because, with one of the most powerful armed forces in the world, a substantial deployed nuclear strike force, and a demonstrated willingness to deploy lethal force at the drop of a hat, it is not under “existential threat” at all.
The important point for this post is the fact that Tony Abbott felt moved, from the outset of his campaign to become Prime Minister of Australia, to declare his undying loyalty to another country.
Julia Gillard made her feelings known a long time ago. She was Acting Prime Minister when the Israelis invaded Gaza, and while she condemned Hamas for shelling southern Israel, she pointedly refused to criticise Israel’s response. The Jewish Chronicle, 29 June 2010 (see here), quotes former chairman of the governing board of the World Jewish Congress Isi Liebler as in the following terms:
A former leader of an Australian Jewish group, Isi Leibler, praised Ms Gillard’s election as “outstanding” for Israel and said she is “one of Israel’s closest friends.”
Colin Rubinstein, Executive Director of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council welcomed her election in the following terms (see here):
Julia Gillard has our congratulations and best wishes on assuming the prime ministership of Australia.
We have valued the ongoing commitment she has shown with regard to Israel’s security and her understanding the complexity of the conflict and challenges Israel confronts while it seeks a genuine peace with its neighbours.
As Acting-Prime Minister during the Gaza War in January 2009, her resolute and principled articulation of the Australian Government’s supportive position was much appreciated by the Australian Jewish community and all of Israel’s friends.
Having been to Sderot,( she was a Rambam scholar in November 2005), unlike so many of Israel’s critics she understood and defended Israel’s right and need to defend its civilian population against repeated and indiscriminate missile attacks from Gaza.
It is odd that we live in a country in which it seems that a prerequisite for high political office is to pledge undying loyalty to some other country, a country whose national security is supposedly under threat.
Odder still that neither of them seems disposed to disclose to us, even at election time, their thinking about how they propose to secure our national security.