Penny Wong’s office has declined to comment to The AJN on her combustible decision to snub towns in Israel’s south during her visit to the Middle East this week, described by Jewish leadership as “insulting and deeply concerning”.
Wong’s office passed up The AJN request which asked why the Foreign Minister, “isn’t visiting the ravaged south of Israel during her trip? Time constraints have been attributed in some media to that decision, and if that’s the case, does the FM consider other parts of her Mideast itinerary more deserving of her time than the scene of the October 7 Hamas attacks?”
The FM also continued Australia’s conspicuous silence on South Africa’s referral of Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on “genocide” charges over its operation in Gaza, after a request by this newspaper for her to comment on the referral, almost three weeks after proceedings by South Africa were instituted at the ICJ on December 29.
Although Wong will be meeting with October 7 survivors during her time in Israel, her decision not to visit the scene of Hamas’s horrific crimes – only an hour’s drive south of Jerusalem – has been attributed to a tight schedule, in a tour in which the FM has prioritised a visit to the West Bank to meet with victims of settler violence, and visits to Jordan and the UAE.
Ahead of her departure for the Middle East on Monday, Wong expressed “profound concern that there are increasingly few safe places for Gazans”.
She repeated her condemnation of Hamas and called for the release of the remaining hostages.
But her failure to include the southern towns in her itinerary puts her at odds with a growing list of foreign ministers, world leaders, and her own party’s federal MPs Josh Burns and Michelle Ananda-Rajah.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEOs Peter Wertheim and Alex Ryvchin stated that Wong’s “decision to not travel to the scene of Hamas’s atrocities in southern Israel is insulting and deeply concerning”.
“We frequently hear about the depth of the alliance between the two countries and the long history of solidarity between Australian Labor and the people of Israel. This is the time to show that this is more than mere words. Intentionally bypassing such a visit is a serious error of judgment and we hope the Foreign Minister reconsiders this decision.”
Describing the omission from her itinerary as “deeply disappointing”, Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler stated, “A visit to Ground Zero of the worst antisemitic attack since the Holocaust would have been an important show of solidarity with Israel and Jewish Australians.”
Jewish communal doyen Nina Bassat, a former ECAJ president and a Holocaust survivor, urged the FM to visit the sites of the October 7 atrocities.
“The message you are sending is not that you support both sides. The message is that when the Hamas terrorists loudly proclaimed their triumph at killing Jews – not Israelis, but Jews – they were perpetrating the ultimate act of antisemitism and that you, as the representative of the Australian government, have not grasped this fact.”
Victorian Deputy Liberal leader and Caulfield MP David Southwick posted on X. “Penny Wong must be one of the worst Foreign Ministers we’ve ever had. Why go to Israel if you aren’t willing to tour the southern Israeli towns where the October 7 massacres occurred?”