What will it take for the love affair with Israel to cool?

With Israel under intense pressure to wind back its colonial project, the role of dissident Jews is vital, to make the wider community knows that we don’t support the actions of the Jewish state. Jews don’t speak with one voice.

It’s important, therefore, that the mainstream media is noticing. Take this piece in today’s Sydney Morning Herald by columnist Hamish McDonald:

The coolness didn’t last long. Along with standing firm on ”border security” and opposing higher taxes, our politicians find it hard to maintain any indignation, let alone anger or rage, against Israel.

This week the Foreign Minister, Stephen Smith, was buttering up Israel and its local lobbyists again, by staging a special press conference and media opportunity at Parliament House to ”receive” a written report and set of recommendations on boosting relations.

This was handed over by Albert Dadon, the new mover and shaker in Australia’s Jewish community, on behalf of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum, a second-track diplomacy venture started two years ago on the model of businessman Phil Scanlan’s longer-running Australia America Leadership Dialogue.

Kevin Rudd was a regular at Scanlan’s annual talkfest. Julia Gillard was a founder-member of Dadon’s one, joined by the opposition’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, Julie Bishop, and various other political, academic, business and media figures.

The Israeli forum seems already to be well into the uncritical boosterism of which Scanlan’s group gets accused in some circles. It has chosen this time to suggest that along with more trade, agricultural and scientific exchanges and so on, Australia develops military-to-military ties with Israel.

Smith said he was ”very happy” to receive this report, which would get ”serious consideration” from the Prime Minister, adding: ”The friendship between Australia and Israel is longstanding and it is enduring, and that will continue. Despite recent events, which have been the cause of public commentary between Australia and Israel, that friendship will endure.”

The, ahem, recent events include the use of forged copies of Australian passports in the recent assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai, and the ”insulting” (US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s word) action of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government in announcing more Jewish housing in disputed East Jerusalem as the US Vice-President, Joe Biden, arrived in Israel and US-brokered ”proximity talks” between Israel and the Palestinians were about to start.

Australian Federal Police agents have been sent to Israel to inquire about the passports, and ASIO has been put on the case too. But no-one is expecting the AFP to find a link to Mossad, unless the Israeli intelligence agency has been very careless indeed.

Some longer coolness about East Jerusalem would have been in order. Netanyahu, who included a smarmy letter in Dadon’s report, has been trying to weasel his way out of the row with Washington by blaming the timing, but not the substance, on his interior minister and the Jerusalem mayor.

Australia’s rebuke was mildly worded. ”I share the view that this is a bad decision at the wrong time and it’s not a helpful contribution to the peace process,” Smith said, adding that Israel was undoing the ”very hard work” of the US and others to get the two sides working towards a ”two-state” solution.

But the two-state solution that seemed a real prospect at the high water of the Oslo peace process in the 1990s has come to look more and more like a mirage, as power slips away from moderates on both sides.

Netanyahu has backed away from the offer made by his predecessor Ehud Olmert in the dying days of his leadership, when he was a caretaker prime minister under a corruption cloud. His right-wing-religious government pays only lip-service to the two-state goal.

Many of the Palestinians, as the Israeli commentator Ehud Yaari notes in the current issue of the journal Foreign Affairs, are starting to think of separate statehood and sovereignty as a new form of imprisonment. Instead, they turn to continued struggle and faith that demographics will eventually yield dominance over the entire former Palestine Mandate. The rocket attacks out of Gaza have started again.

Israel meanwhile is steadily losing the sympathy that it once had as a beleaguered underdog threatened with extinction by hostile neighbours. Now it rains destruction with high-tech American weaponry at little risk to its own personnel (many of its 13 deaths in the Gaza operation were friendly-fire accidents; some 1300 Palestinians died). Its population, swollen by Russian immigrants accustomed to talk of Muslims as ”chyornaya zhopa” (black-arses) is now losing its old interest in the Arabs, with whom older Israelis grew up. They’re now away behind a high wall.

Meanwhile groups like Peace Now in Israel itself, J-Street in Washington, and individuals like Antony Loewenstein try to revive Jewish liberalism, to much vilification as ”self-hating Jews”. But even a hard realist like Yaari is worried about the trend: he suggests a short-circuit to endless haggling over the ”final status” agreement by recognition of a Palestinian state now, to take up negotiations, a suggestion that will shock some of the Jewish diaspora organisations that have brought him out on tour.

Behind its profession of undying support for Israel, the Rudd government has put a bit more detachment into our policy, ending our previous lining up with a bunch of tiny American client states in United Nations votes on the Middle East. In November 2008, it supported UN resolutions calling for a halt to settlements in the occupied territories and for adherence to the Geneva Convention in those areas. Last year it switched our vote from abstain to favour on the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. In February it went from oppose to abstain on a resolution calling for both Israel and the Palestinians to investigate possible war crimes in the Gaza conflict.

It doesn’t seem to be having any impact on Netanyahu and has opened Rudd to opposition sniping that he’s selling out Israel to win Arab votes for the UN Security Council seat. Both sides of our politics could do well to adopt the Rudd-Confucian doctrine of the ”zhengyou”, the ”true friend” (in Chinese) who can point out shortcomings.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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