The following article by Ian Munro appears in today’s Melbourne Age:
Australia’s 12,000-strong Israeli community is deeply divided over the government’s deportation of an Israeli diplomat, with many angry that Israel risked good relations with a strong friend, former security analyst Ran Porat said.
Mr Porat, a journalist who is undertaking postgraduate research into the expatriate community, said Israelis in the past would have opposed utterly any diplomatic action against their country.
”Nowadays they are more sober and most of them understand the need of Australia to do something. They know Australia can’t stand aside and see its official documents violated,” said Mr Porat.
Others within the Jewish community were also supportive of Australia’s action. Les Rosenblatt, spokesman for the liberal Australian Jewish Democratic Society, said Israel needed to show its friends the same respect it demanded for itself.
”If there’s any truth to the accusations about the forging of Australian passports with the authorisation of the Israeli government, then that deserves a fairly strong rebuff by a good friend,” Mr Rosenblatt said.
He said the expulsion was justified to re-establish a trusting and respectful relationship.
While there has been no confirmation of Israel’s involvement with forged Australian passports used in the January assassination of Hamas activist Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, journalist and author Antony Loewenstein said the use by Mossad agents of forged travel documents was ”normal behaviour”.
”In a way the question is why this time it has generated the outrage that it has,” Mr Loewenstein said.
He said claims that Israel’s actions be excused because it was fighting terrorism misunderstood the long-term effect.
”This kind of action [the assassination] gives a short-term satisfaction that one is dealing with terrorism ”¦ but there’s a direct connection between a lawless and criminal assassination which has no basis in international law to increased hatred of both Israel and the Western states that support Israel,” Mr Loewenstein said.
Prominent members of the Jewish community are critical of Australia’s action. The Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council maintains the Australian action in deporting an Israeli official is excessive.
And the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, which claims to be the most representative Jewish community organisation, said there was nothing to suggest the Australian passport holders were the victims of anything other than theft.
”Little good can come from taking punitive action in relation to this matter against Israel, which is the Middle East’s only stable democracy and the only Middle Eastern country that can be relied on to act resolutely against international terrorism,” council president Robert Goot said.
Despite the criticism of Israel’s apparent forgery of Australian documents, few believe there will be a lasting rift between the two countries.
Mr Loewenstein said that while Foreign Minister Stephen Smith spoke of a cooling of the relationship, history showed the ties remained strong.
Mr Goot also said the mutual friendship and co-operation would endure.
Mr Porat said almost equal numbers within the Israeli community would view the expulsion as an overreaction. But relations would be resumed. ”Once that official process is complete, you can move on,” he said.