The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has written to every member of Australia’s federal Parliament to express the community’s “serious concerns” over the government’s change of language regarding Israel and the territories it conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War.
Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced last week that Australia will now refer to all of the West Bank, East Jerusalem – including the Old City – and Gaza as “Occupied Palestinian Territory” and all Israeli settlements as illegal.
The change came ahead of Labor’s federal conference which starts today (Thursday) in Brisbane. At the Victorian Labor conference in May, a motion passed calling on the federal government “to recognise the Palestinian state within the term of this Parliament”.
The letter from ECAJ co-CEOs Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin outlined that there is no Palestinian entity which exercises effective control over the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that the future of the West Bank and east Jerusalem is a “final status issue” and designating them all as “Palestinian” is a pre-judgement.
They also noted that as part of Israel since 1948, west Jerusalem “is not a final status issue” and that on the legality of settlements, “no binding determination has ever been made”.
Wertheim told The AJN, “We want to see our government stand with its democratic ally instead of taking steps against it.”
Added Ryvchin, “The ECAJ has been persistent in advocating for Israel and refuting ignorant rhetoric which falsifies history and fails to hold the Palestinian leadership to account.”
Replying to the ECAJ, independent Member for Goldstein Zoe Daniel noted the change of language was in line with other countries, former Australian foreign ministers and governments.
She also expressed agreement with the government’s position “that current escalating clashes associated with settlements are an obstacle to peace”.
“However, it does concern me that this decision was taken apparently to paper over internal Labor party divisions at its national conference,” she said.
Independent Member for Kooyong Monique Ryan told The AJN, “I’ll consult with my community and will represent their views once I’ve had an opportunity to synthesise them,” noting that she discussed the government’s decision with the Ark Centre’s Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann over Shabbat dinner.
“I strongly believe in a two-state solution.”
Member for Wentworth Allegra Spender last week called the change “counterproductive”.
“There is no point in Australia making symbolic changes to language,” she said.