Liberal opposition leader Tony Abbott has recently been in London attending the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Forum. Unsurprisingly, the Australian media has mostly ignored the event – I mean, hell, why would they want to cover how the Zionist lobby works to enforce a fundamentalist position on Israel/Palestine? – so today’s front page story in Murdoch’s Australian shows just how extreme Abbott’s position truly is. He loves “democratic” Israel but doesn’t like despotic Arabs. His knowledge about the Middle East has clearly been stolen from the back of a neo-conservative napkin at a kosher bar-mitzvah:
Tony Abbott has used his presence at an Australia-Israel-United Kingdom leadership dialogue in London to deepen his support for Israel and accentuate the split with the Gillard government over Middle East policy.
The Opposition Leader has highlighted the crack in Australian bipartisanship by arguing that Coalition support for Israel is values-based as “the only mature pluralistic democracy in the Middle East” and therefore, enduring.
Interviewed by The Australian outside the dialogue, Mr Abbott attacked the Gillard government’s new position on granting Palestine observer status at the UN, alleged it was motivated by electoral factors and warned that Australia’s election to the UN Security Council for a two-year term must not trigger abandonment of its traditional support for Israel.
“We made the wrong decision and we made the wrong decision for the wrong reasons,” Mr Abbott said. “My main concern is that this issue was not discussed in terms of the merits – it was discussed in terms of the electoral impact.
“Labor MPs felt people in western Sydney might be looking at this in terms of their own religious or political heritage from the Middle East and not from the viewpoint of what is best for Australia.
“Our view is that Australia should have been supported for a term on the UN Security Council because of our values, not because we were prepared to compromise them.”
The two-day London dialogue was striking for the contrasting level of party representation. Mr Abbott attended as Opposition Leader backed by six Liberal parliamentarians including three frontbenchers. Labor did not send a minister; its senior representative was Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Mike Kelly.
Mr Abbott said the Coalition’s rejection of observer status for Palestine was the orthodox one. Labor had shifted to abstain on the vote because “the Prime Minister was rolled by her cabinet and defied by caucus” in an “extraordinary” sequence of events.
In a prepared speech to the dialogue dinner read by senator George Brandis in Mr Abbott’s absence, the Opposition Leader delivered an unusually strong defence of Israel. Mr Abbott said: “While occasionally Israel, like all countries, makes mistakes, it is a bastion of Western civilisation in a part of the world where human rights, including the value of respectful dissent, are not well appreciated. And for no other reason, it is in the interest of the West to show understanding and support for Israel.”
In the interview, Mr Abbott said “bad behaviour should not be rewarded”, adding: “The Coalition position is that there should be no further international recognition of a Palestinian state until the Palestinians are prepared to recognise Israel’s right to exist behind secure borders as part of a two-state solution.”
Speaking outside the meeting, Dr Kelly said Mr Abbott’s partisan behaviour at the dialogue had been “inappropriate”.
Dr Kelly repudiated the Abbott argument that Labor’s new policy was driven by electoral politics.