- by Graham Holton
- The Guardian
- Issue #2077
Israeli flag on Masada. Photo: Jeff Nyveen – flickr.com (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Deed)
On 28 October, 120 member states of the UN General Assembly voted Yes to the resolution for an immediate truce to provide aid to the Palestinians in Gaza. Forty-five countries, including Australia and the United Kingdom, abstained and fourteen members, including Israel and the United States, voted against the resolution. James Larsen, Australia’s representative, told the UN General Assembly, that while Australia agreed to its central proposition: “We abstained with disappointment because we believe the resolution, as drafted, was incomplete,” as it does not mention Hamas’s role in beginning the conflict.
Although Australia has present-day reasons for being on Israel’s side, including our servile relationship with the USA, this country, has a long history of supporting Israel.
After World War I the Zionist movement in Australia, led by Sir John Monash and others, lobbied government officials, with the government following a pro-Zionist policy. Australia played a decisive role in securing the passage of the UN General Assembly’s partition resolution of 29 November 1947, through the foreign minister “Doc” H V Evatt, who served as chairman of the General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine.
Australia was the first country to vote in favour of the 1947 UN partition resolution, that led to the creation of Israel as a nation state. Two years later Australia established diplomatic relations with Israel and presided over the vote admitting Israel to the UN.
Australia was one of the eleven members of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), which recommended partition by a vote of 7-3, instead of supporting a single federated state. Evatt was chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine in September 1947, ensuring the partition of the British Palestine Mandate was passed, by a vote of 25-13.
Following the 1957 Arab-Israeli War, the Australian Jewish News reported that a speech by PM Robert Menzies was “one of the finest Zionist speeches I have ever heard.” In 1962 Menzies called on the Soviet Union to allow its Jewish citizens to emigrate to Israel. The Liberal PM Harold Holt sent the foreign minister, Paul Hasluck, to Israel in 1966, meeting with PM Levi Eshkol and Foreign Minister Abba Eban. It was the first official visit to Israel by a serving Australian cabinet minister and the beginning of many bilateral ministerial visits.
The relationship hasn’t always gone Israel’s way. With the outbreak of the 1967 War, Australia did not sell Mirage aircraft or spare parts to Israeli as requested. Instead Hasluck favoured a ceasefire followed by negotiations.
Following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, PM Malcolm Fraser committed Australian forces to the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in Sinai in October 1981, as part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. The ALP showed its strong support for Israel, when PM Bob Hawke successfully campaigned to rescind the 1975 UN “Zionism is racism” resolution.
The Howard government, 1996-2007, brought the Australian-Israeli relationship to new heights. In 2004 the LNP laid out its policy towards Israel: “Under the Coalition Government, the relationship between Australia and Israel has never been stronger.” In 2007, Howard spoke of his “personal commitment” to Israel and the “precious bilateral relationship between Australia and Israel.”
Defence officials began annual strategic talks with Israel in 2018, and in 2019 Australia appointed a resident Defence Attaché to the Embassy in Tel Aviv. Australia and Israel expanded cooperation on national security, defence and cybersecurity. The Australian Trade and Defence Office in Jerusalem facilitates trade, investment and defence industry partnerships with Israel, now Australia’s 46th largest two-way trading partner.
The DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) website feebly confirms Australia’s official commitment to a two-state solution – Israel and Palestine. “Australia is strongly opposed to unfair targeting of Israel in the United Nations and other multilateral institutions. However, we make clear our concerns about Israeli actions that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution and continue to urge Israel and other actors to respect international law.”
It’s unlikely we will see an Australian government vote against Israel in the UN General Assembly any time soon.