The concerned Australian legal liberal who wants Israel to act humanely

Leading Australian legal academic Ben Saul wrote back in March that Israel should no longer be a protected species in the international arena.

He’s back with an equally strong statement. And note the growing number of public figures who no longer accept Zionist exceptionalism:

Britain’s expulsion of an Israeli diplomat is a lesson for Australia to stop handling Israel with kid gloves.

Israel has made clear that it does not respond to gentle persuasion or constructive criticism from its friends, nor does it listen to the quiet language of international law. Israel is willing to abuse the trust of its friends by defrauding their passports, assassinating people on foreign territory, and approving new settlements on Palestinian land on the eve of peace talks.

Strangely, Australian politicians from both major parties have often fallen over themselves to defend Israel. In doing so, Australia has often been indifferent to shocking violations of international law by Israel.

Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem, as elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, violate the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and amount to war crimes under international law, yet Australia has seldom protested. The colonial plunder of Palestinian resources by Israeli settlers is forbidden by the law of war, yet Australia does not prohibit the import of settler products to Australia.

When a credible, impartial investigation by an eminent international judge, Richard Goldstone, uncovered possible Israeli war crimes in the Gaza conflict last year, Australia howled that the report was biased and unfair. Australia provided few reasons, preferring instead to smear a complex and lengthy report and to allow Israel to blame Hamas and to evade accountability for its own crimes.

If proved, the summary execution of a Hamas suspect in Dubai would be a serious violation of international human rights law and the United Nations Charter. Australia has objected only that our passports were misused.

There was not a peep of protest by Australia when the assassination itself occurred, as if document fraud matters more than one of our supposed ‘friends’ assassinating a civilian in a peaceful foreign country.

One Liberal Senator, Julian McGauran, even announced support for extrajudicial killings, by claiming that “The tracking down of terrorist leaders is an acceptable act in the context of the war on terror”.

That, indeed, is the policy of groups like Hamas, Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, who show little concern for human rights are all too ready to execute their opponents.

Australia bowed to unreasonable Israeli pressure to boycott the United Nations’ Durban II anti-racism conference last year, on the basis of crystal-ball gazing about possible anti-semitism, instead of engaging in a crucial multilateral diplomatic process to combat racism.

Israel’s security barrier on Palestinian lands, which has impoverished Palestinian communities, was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice some years ago, yet Australia actively opposed the case from even being argued before that Court.

Australian policy towards Israel has served neither the interests of Australia nor Israel, and has been singularly unhelpful in securing the rights of Palestinians. For Australia, being a best friend and ally to Israel has too often meant remaining silent while Israel does what it wants, including thwarting the peace process or violating international law.

Australia’s often unqualified support for Israel panders to the worst, rather than the best, side of Israeli politics. Lack of criticism from its friends has encouraged Israeli lawlessness, since Israel knows that its allies will seldom complain and if they do, few consequences will follow.

The puzzling thing about Australian policy towards Israel is that it is usually contrary to Australia’s own strategic interests. It alienates Australia from large blocs of countries, including the Arab, Islamic, African and non-aligned movements, at a time when Australia is seeking a seat on the UN Security Council.

It fuels radicalisation against the west, at a time when Australia is struggling to defuse terrorist threats against it.

If Australia’s stance were rooted in deep conviction and high moral principle, the price might be worth it. But there is nothing principled about turning a blind eye to serious and often criminal violations of international law by any country, let alone by one’s ‘friends’.

Australian policy is rightly founded on a commitment to Israeli democracy and security, amidst a cruel sea of despotic Arab States. Yet, it is perfectly possible for Australia to support those interests while insisting that Israel complies with international law.

Doing so would align our friendship with Israel with our broader foreign policy goals of building an international community based on the rule of law and human rights.

It cannot be taken for granted that Israel knows what’s best for its own security. Decades of hawkish, militant Israel governments have not brought Israelis closer to peace. Israeli domestic policy has often been warped by extreme politics and a lack of respect for Palestinian rights, and many Israelis are exhausted by the pointless violence of occupation.

If Australia was serious about peace in the Middle East, serious about international law, and serious about its friendship with Israel, it would stop handling Israel with kid gloves. It is increasingly clear that the only language Israel responds to is the language of force.

It is time that Australia stopped whispering sweet nothings in Israel’s ear, and instead staked out more principled and vocal opposition to Israeli transgressions, including in the United Nations. Australia must stop fiddling with its votes on peripheral aspects of UN resolutions and instead draw lines in the sand about what we expect from our friends.

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

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