The two most commonly heard observations by Australians who visit Israel are firstly, that the country does not resemble the image of it created by the Australian and international media and secondly, how much they find they have in common with Israelis.
When we are talking about Israel we are dealing not with another despotic Middle Eastern state ruled by a potentate, a country with limited civil liberties, a subservient judiciary and widespread religious repression, but a modern society, a thriving economy, an independent judiciary, freedom of expression, guaranteed civil liberties and laws against discrimination; in other words a country with similar values to Australia’s.
The question we should ask is, why should Israel be the only country in the world in which foreign embassies should not be located in its capital? And in particular why, when all other Australian embassies are located in a country’s capital is Israel the only exception? What is the justification for this anomaly? None of the many articles critical of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to consider the move of Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem appear to satisfactorily address these questions.
The first complaint raised is that Morrison’s decision was announced during the Wentworth campaign in what appeared to be a clumsy attempt to help the Liberal candidate. This may be a valid criticism of the tactically unfortunate timing but it is hardly a reason to reject an appropriate correction of policy.
The second criticism is that the move of our embassy to Jerusalem will damage relations with our neighbours to the north, Indonesia and Malaysia. I doubt that any Australian government would view pleasing such a virulent anti-semite as Mahathir Mohamad as a guide to policy on Israel. Mahathir described Jews as acting worse than the Nazis, that they control the most powerful countries and that they learnt nothing from the Holocaust. It would be a sad day if our foreign policy initiatives were sent to Kuala Lumpur for approval. Indonesia is another issue. It is not Australia’s custom to complain to Indonesia about its policies toward other countries – policies with which we may strongly disagree – and we would expect that they would respect the decisions we make which don’t affect them directly.
The discussion of the move of the Australian embassy to Jerusalem occurred when Malcolm Turnbull, recently dumped as prime minister, was visiting Indonesia on behalf of the Prime Minister where he decided, for reasons known only to him, to make a headline issue of it. One can speculate in the absence of Turnbull’s intervention that the issue would not have raised eyebrows there. The reality is that there has recently been a quiet improvement in the relationship between Indonesia and Israel on many fronts. The only matters of importance in our relationship with Indonesia are the issues that relate directly to our two countries. In the past it has been crises such as East Timorese independence, the Bali terrorist attack, the live cattle trade debacle and the people smuggling boat armada, which resulted in tensions which have all been resolved. The Israel embassy move has been blown out of all proportion in the Australian media and will have no effect on our warm relationship with Indonesia.
The next argument against ending discrimination against Israel regarding recognition of Jerusalem as its legitimate capital is that the rest of the world, and particularly the United Nations, wish to retain the status quo. There are fifty-seven Muslim states in the United Nations opposed to Israel, the sole Jewish state. Is it surprising that rather than the United Nations functioning as a council of sages it acts more like a lynch mob?
Nikki Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, has been the first significant player to reveal that the emperor has no clothes. Committee after committee is chaired by murderous regimes that condemn Israel for minor infringements while ignoring the most egregious crimes against humanity. The Europeans, perpetrators or accomplices of the Holocaust, cast the first stone. Since 1973, with the tripling of oil prices and blackmail from the oil producers, they have repeatedly voted against Israel.
In moving the embassy to Jerusalem, Australia will show that it is not just seeking the comfort of invisibility in a crowd but will make its own independent decisions, decisions which hopefully will be a torch for others to follow. It should be noted that Australia played a vital role in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1947. The unspoken criticism is that Australia will be tainted by association with Donald Trump and be seen as his lapdog.
Trump, the ‘great narcissist’, the ‘liar’, the ‘man without a conscience’, the ‘embarrassment’, must be wrong on all his policies and hence condemned. But in fact much of what he does is sound: reaching out to Kim Jong-un, realigning trade relationships particularly with China, demanding a more equitable sharing of costs in NATO and confronting the bias of the United Nations.
Trump is a disrupter and there are times that the world needs shaking up. His most radical decision was to exit the agreement with Iran known as the JCPOA. Since the signing of the agreement the Iranian regime has been active in the development of missiles which are capable of carrying nuclear warheads, hiding nuclear faculties from inspectors, extensive involvement in terrorism and expansion of their sphere of influence throughout the Middle East by military means. Crucially the Iranian regime has an explicitly stated policy of the extermination of the state of Israel.
Finally, the most spurious argument is that this will impede the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians. Process implies movement and there is none in this so-called peace process. It would be best described as a peace cryogenic unit. Neither under Trump nor Obama has Abbas been willing to participate in negotiations.
The reason for Abbas’ intransigence should be obvious. The Palestinians are committed to the slogan ‘Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea’, the reference being to the River Jordan on Israel’s east and the Mediterranean on the west. Anyone who is willing to sign away an inch of Palestine would be assassinated.
There is inertia in politics: it is easier to perpetuate bad policies than take the risky step of changing them. After all, if a policy was approved by your predecessors they can hardly criticise you for retaining it. It takes courage and leadership, on the other hand, to introduce change.
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