Features Australia

Aux bien pensants

24 November 2018

9:00 AM

24 November 2018

9:00 AM

Next year in Jerusalem

Scott Morrison has no alternative now but to move the Australian Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His mistake was not to have announced the move but that the government was considering it. This  allowed both the anti-Semitic and the uncourageous to join forces to campaign against what is both sensible and principled.

Australians have a special interest in Jerusalem; our forces under General Sir Harry Chauvel played a significant role in 1917 in its liberation from the Ottoman Turks. Created as Israel’s capital by King David, the city is holy to all three Abrahamic religions, so much so that the British commander, General Allenby, entered the city through the Jaffa gate on foot.

To undermine Morrison, stories were planted in the press that the Indonesians had been assured there was only a five per cent chance the move would be made, as well as comparing Morrison’s announcement to Tony Abbott’s bestowing a knighthood on Prince Philip. The faux outrage over that perfectly proper award was manufactured by a shady alliance between treacherous plotters and a sympathetic commentariat. Its falsity was demonstrated by the fact that similar awards had been made in many other countries, including republics, without the slightest criticism.

Meanwhile, the Opposition could not believe its luck, feinting concern over business losses from any Indonesian delay over a free trade agreement, hoping all the while that no one recalled the ruinous losses incurred  when they closed down the live cattle trade with Indonesia.

Among the prominent anti-Semites who joined the campaign was Malaysian PM, Mahathir Mohamad. He claimed it would result in increased terrorism. Similarly, President Trump was warned of another Intafada were he to do what his predecessors Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barak Obama had promised but failed to do to do, move the embassy. He did, but there was no Intafada.

Whatever happened to him either as a student here or because of a diplomatic snub when he was a backbencher,  as Barry Wain asserts in Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times (2010), Dr Mahathir is no friend of Australia. (Wain’s book was banned in Malaysia probably because he revealed that under Mahathir an estimated US$40 billion was squandered  on financial scandals.) Mahathir has long shown his antipathy to Australia by senselessly blocking  Australian moves to build a closer political relationship with South-East Asia. He blocked more than once our participation along with China, Japan, South Korea and India as a permanent dialogue partner in the annual ASEAN summits. He ensured  we were excluded from the important ASEM forum between ASEAN and the EU and also discussions on the ASEAN Free Trade Area.

Mahathir’s hostility to Australia was even an issue in the 1999 republic referendum. This arose when Attorney-General  Daryl Williams QC erroneously claimed an Australian republic would not have to reapply for membership of the Commonwealth of Nations. The rule was that on becoming a republic, the member could only continue if this were not opposed by any other member. This was how South Africa and Fiji had been forced out of the Commonwealth. Not only had the republicans once again not done their homework, worse, they had not taken the  precaution of seeking understandings in advance and in particular, one from  Mahathir. They behaved in the same way as the South African government did in their 1969 referendum when they wrongly assured voters that a republican South Africa would still stay in the Commonwealth. But when I referred to these facts, I was ridiculed, denounced and defamed, with Bob Hawke naming me as a liar in the national media.

Not prepared to roll over, I contacted the Commonwealth Secretary General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku, who said I was right and who authorised me to release the text of his letter. In doing so, I asked why the republicans had not sought assurances from each government that they would not oppose any change. This was their duty; it was their republic. Of course  I had in mind all along Mahathir Mohamad, no friend of Australia. So when he dares to advise us where to locate our embassy in a country with which he has no diplomatic relations, his views should be ignored and dismissed. Morrison should do this for no better reason than it is the right thing to do. In the words of the great prayer of Jews in the Diaspora at the end of Passover and Yom Kippur, ‘Next Year in Jerusalem!’

The ceremony in Paris for the hundredth anniversary of the Armistice in no way rose to this solemn occasion. Foreign heads of state, including Sir Peter Cosgrove, seemed crammed together in long lines under cover near the Arc de Triomphe. The opening music was inappropriate and when President Macron went to the lectern to give his speech, the microphone wouldn’t work. What was unacceptable was the content, which centred on a totally gratuitous attack on President Trump who leant forward listening carefully. Days before, Macron had called for the formation of a ‘real European army’ to protect the continent ‘with respect to China, Russia and even the United States of America’. ‘Very insulting,’ Trump tweeted, understandably. Despite his apparent contrition at their subsequent meeting at the Elysée, even touching his thigh, Macron centred his Armistice speech with another attack aimed squarely at President Trump’s declaration that he was a nationalist. ‘Nationalism,’ Macron claimed, ridiculously, ‘is a betrayal of patriotism.’ Why engage in such a debate on such an occasion attacking the president of a nation which had twice sent her armies across the sea to liberate France?

Meanwhile in London, in a simple and traditional ceremony Prince Charles laid a wreath at the Cenotaph while the Queen watched from a nearby balcony, flanked by the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Cornwall. Yet again, our Royal Family offers leadership beyond politics.

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