The shallow nature of debate over Israel/Palestine in Australia:
Labor has hit out at claims that the Coalition will always back Israel in sensitive votes at the United Nations.
Seizing on reports that Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop told a Jewish community forum in Melbourne last month an Abbott government would always vote against UN resolutions critical of Israel, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said she had shown an ”an immense lack of judgment”.
Such a change could see Australia voting against resolutions put to the General Assembly each year calling on Israel to respect the Geneva conventions governing the rules of war in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The Howard government switched Australia’s vote to abstain in 2004 after Australia had previously backed the resolution over decades. But Australia has never before voted against the resolution.
“Julie Bishop clearly doesn’t understand the serious implications of what she has committed a Coalition government to do,” Mr Smith said yesterday.
But Ms Bishop has denied the Coalition intends to take a blanket approach to voting on UN resolutions should it win office.
”I said we would return to the voting pattern of the Howard government,” she told The Age yesterday.
”I make no apology for my strong support of Israel. I think the Rudd-Gillard government weakened Australia’s stance at the United Nations as they pursued votes for their campaign for the Security Council.”
Ms Bishop said the Coalition would oppose what are seen as one-sided resolutions against Israel but her comments at the Jewish forum had been mis-reported. ”Maybe that’s what they wanted me to say, but I didn’t. I’m very careful about these things,” she said. ”Of course I’d never say I’d never ever abstain, there could be all sorts of circumstances that arise in the future. I don’t know, Israel could do anything.”
She challenged Labor to state how it intended to vote on future UN resolutions involving Israel.
Debate over Australia’s ties with Israel is likely to be prominent when Mr Smith and Ms Bishop face off today in a foreign policy election debate at the National Press Club.
The Coalition criticised the government’s response to an Israeli raid on a flotilla of protest ships that killed nine activists.
”Of course the Israeli government does, from time to time, make mistakes,” Liberal leader Tony Abbott said last month. ”What government doesn’t, from time to time, make mistakes?”
He said the Coalition had an unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security. ”I want to assure you that a Coalition government would never support a one-sided UN resolution against Israel to curry favour with an anti-Israel majority.”
Labor changed Australia’s UN vote in 2008 after winning office to again support the Geneva conventions resolution. Mr Smith said UN votes were an important diplomatic tool that required judgment on a case-by-case basis.