A chaotic process

Backflip ‘unwarranted, unnecessary and damaging’

'A shambolic process, contemptuous of many stakeholders, and executed with shocking timing.'

IT is common for parliamentarians from both sides of politics to speak of the strength of Australia’s support for and friendship with Israel. The test of friendship isn’t one of always agreeing, but true friendship does rely on always showing respect. In recent days the Albanese Labor government has, sadly, shown nothing but disrespect for our Israeli friends.

Labor’s completely unnecessary decision that Australia will cease to recognise West Jerusalem as the Israeli capital has been a shambolic process, contemptuous of many stakeholders, and executed with shocking timing.

Firstly, the Labor Party has clearly been deceptive and misleading in its conduct. Senior Labor members of Parliament assured concerned stakeholders, including readers of The Australian Jewish News, that on the question of Israel it didn’t matter which way they voted at the last election.

Mark Dreyfus wrote in The AJN on March 4 this year to attack Scott Morrison for suggesting there was any difference in policies. Mr Dreyfus claimed that across domestic politics Australia “spoke with one voice”. Josh Burns did likewise in The AJN on March 18, saying that Australia’s Jewish community should feel proud that its interests would be safeguarded “irrespective of whoever forms government”. Messrs Dreyfus and Burns should both feel shame, not pride, for misleading the community ahead of the election.

Contrary to their pre-election reassurances, the Albanese government has taken significant steps to reduce Australia’s support for Israel and, it appears, is likely to take further steps too.

Within weeks of their election the new Labor government refused to join 22 nations including Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, UK and US in voting in favour of a key motion put to the UN Human Rights Council. This motion expressed “deep concern” at the “disproportionate scrutiny” of Israel from an open-ended commission of inquiry into alleged human rights abuses. This is the same council that recently declined to even debate a one-off report on serious abuses in the Xinjiang region of China.

Now, we have the Labor backflip on the status of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. To be clear, Australia’s position only related to West Jerusalem, while acknowledging the aspiration of the Palestinian people to have a future Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, the details of which would rightly be negotiated as part of a two-state solution.

Labor’s backflip was unwarranted, unnecessary, and damaging. US President Joe Biden has seen no need to make a similar change in US policy similarly, which also recognises West Jerusalem. Yet perhaps even greater damage lies in the shocking way in which Labor has handled this decision. As if the breaking of its election commitments wasn’t bad enough, Labor’s handling of its backflip was monumentality ham-fisted.

Following speculation prompted by changes on a departmental website, Foreign Minister Wong’s office were as recently as Monday night officially telling journalists “no decision to change that [recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital] has been made by the government.”

Just hours later the Foreign Minister herself held a media conference to announce a complete reversal of Australia’s position on this significant matter of international foreign policy. Did Labor appropriately consult before making this decision? No. Did they have the courtesy to engage the Israeli government or Israel’s ambassador? No.

The Albanese Labor government largely ignored speaking with Australians who care about a two-state solution that provides peace and security for Israel and a future Palestinian state, and instead informed them of the government’s decision only after it was made.

Astonishingly, the government was also inconsiderate enough to announce this on the Jewish holy day of Simchat Torah and foolish enough to do so in the heated environment of an Israeli election campaign, with polling day just two weeks away.

The Labor government needs to explain not only why it made this unnecessary decision and how it is in Australia’s national interest to have made recognised terrorist organisations like Hamas and Islamic State happy, but also to explain the chaotic process behind it.

Little wonder that, in a remarkable statement of condemnation, Israel’s Prime Minister Yair Lapid said, “We can only hope that the Australian government manages other matters more seriously and professionally.”

Prime Minister Lapid is right to hope. But based on the performance of the Albanese government to date, he is also right to fear what could come next. What should come next is a call from Prime Minister Albanese to Prime Minister Lapid apologising for the inconsiderate and amateur way in which this matter was handled. But what is more likely are a series of other concerning actions.

Will Labor further weaken Australia’s voting record at the UN? Will Labor pre-emptively recognise a Palestinian state without effective negotiations of its borders? Will Anthony Albanese act more in accordance with his previous rhetoric attacking Israel rather than Labor’s reassuring words before the last election?

It is one thing to say that we are friends but it is another to act as friends. The Albanese government needs to take far greater care and show far more consideration to Israel to now start the long road of making up for its broken promises.

Simon Birmingham is the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.

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