Penny Wong’s decision to leave a visit to Israel’s stricken south off her itinerary while visiting there this week has been described by Jewish leadership as “insulting and deeply concerning”.
Contacted by The AJN on Monday, the day she left for the Middle East, Wong later emphasised she would be meeting with survivors of the October 7 massacres.
“It is a priority for me to hear firsthand their experience to understand the human toll wrought by this heinous act of violence,” she stated.
“Australia has consistently and unequivocally condemned Hamas’ attacks on Israel, the appalling loss of life and the horrors perpetrated, including sexual violence,” the FM added.
“During my visit to Israel I am engaging with a number of senior Israeli officials in order to reinforce Australia’s long-standing friendship and our commitment to ensuring both Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security,” said Wong, noting she would also be visiting Yad Vashem.
However, Wong gave no insight as to why she won’t be following in the footsteps of other foreign ministers, several world leaders and two ALP federal MPs Josh Burns and Michelle Ananda-Rajah, who have visited the sites of the terrorist attacks with survivors.
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.
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.
Ahead of her departure for the Middle East on Monday, Wong expressed to media “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.
Defending Wong, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese added that the FM’s visit to Israel is “not about an opportunity for a photo op”.
However, 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.”
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?”