Australasian Union of Jewish Students
Political Training Seminar
Parliament House, Canberra
E & OE
It’s great to be here today, thank you for having me. I’ve had a very soft spot for AUJS since AUJS was kind enough to send me to Israel in 1997 when I was a young staffer working for Peter Costello. It was a tremendous experience it was the first of what have now been five visits to Israel. I also had the good fortune to go across with Peter Costello when he was Treasurer, and we got to meet the then Prime Minister Sharon, then Opposition Leader Peres and then Finance Minister Netanyahu, which was a real thrill. I’ve also been to Israel with the Australia-Israel leadership dialogue, and recently I had the fortune to go an individual study tour as a Yachad scholar. And most recently, I went to Israel for a holiday. I had had enough of working in Israel, I just wanted to enjoy the place.
It’s always struck me as really bizarre that such an incredibly benign and wonderful nation as Israel cops so much flak and draws so much ire and so much agro. One of the very first lessons I learned in student politics was that there are a few defining characteristics of the hard left, and they are; being anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israel. If you scratch the hard left below the surface you will always find those three things. The reason for that, I think, is because each embodies economic liberty and personal liberty, two ideals that are completely antithetical to a hard left view. So if you have a hard left view, if you don’t like free markets, if you don’t like individual freedom; then it’s just a matter of logic that you’ve got to be anti-Western, you’ve got to be anti-American and you’ve got to be anti-Israel.
Australia, I don’t need to tell any of you, has always been an incredibly staunch and steadfast supporter of Israel. But that has come under challenge recently in a few different ways. We’ve had the madness of the global BDS movement. We’ve had the rise of the Australian Greens, which I don’t think helps the cause. And we’ve also had a very insidious global push to seek to de-legitimise the state of Israel. It’s insidious because it takes all sorts of forms, it creeps around, it sneaks around, it comes in so many manifestations, all of which seek to de-legitimise Israel.
The analogy which I find the most offensive and disturbing is when people liken Israel to apartheid South Africa. It’s hard to think of two countries as different as Israel and apartheid South Africa. Everyone has a vote in Israel. The rule of law applies in Israel. There is opportunity for everyone in Israel. Apartheid South Africa was truly a divided nation where not all of its citizens had equal rights. So I really find it offensive when people refer to Israel as an apartheid state, because it is not. You’ve got two groups Palestinians who are seeking statehood and the nation of Israel. Most people today are comfortable with concept of a two-state solution. So the analogy, I think, is pretty poorly drawn.
There are two tests coming up of the character and the depth of Australia’s support for Israel. The first of those is the Durban III Conference, and the other is the impending possible vote in the UN General Assembly on the unilateral establishment of a Palestinian state. These are two very important tests.
First, the Durban III Conference. I never cease to be amazed by how the hard left make things that are quite evil sound pretty benign. I had to write this down the name of the Durban III conference. It is formally called the tenth anniversary meeting of the UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance. It’s a conference against these things, unless, of course, you’re talking about Israel, in which case it’s a free-for-all. At the last Durban Conference, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivered an incredibly anti-Semitic tirade about Israel. These conferences are disgusting. Australia has absolutely no place being there. I hope that the Australian Government decides ultimately not to attend, just as the United States and Canada have.
The other test is the UN vote on Palestine whether it should be recognised as a state. As I said earlier, I think most people are relaxed about the concept of a two-state solution. But you can’t recognise a Palestinian state when some of the key elements of the Palestinian political infrastructure have yet to recognise Israel’s right to exist. For me that is a fundamental pre-requisite to there being a formal recognition of a Palestinian state. I think that Australia must vote against this when it comes up in the UN.
The current Government have been, I think, a little disappointing on these two scores. They have been equivocal. The Government has not made an unequivocal statement, as yet, that they will vote against recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN. The current Government have not yet unequivocally declared that they will not be represented at Durban III.
There is a reason for these equivocations. I don’t think that the current Government has lost its support for Israel, or that its support of Israel has become weaker. What I think is happening is that the pursuit of an Australian seat on the UN Security Council has skewed Australia’s diplomatic priorities. I do not believe that a temporary seat on the UN Security Council is worth skewing our diplomatic priorities, and I don’t think it’s worth betraying Israel.
These are tests, as I said earlier, of the character and depth of the current Government’s support for Israel. We’ve seen some good pictures in the papers recently of Members of Parliament having coffee at Max Brenners. That’s a good thing to do to support a business that has been a target of the BDS campaign. But it’s easy to sit and have coffee for a photo op. To be frank though, it counts for nothing if you’re not prepared to vote in the UN against the recognition of a Palestinian state before Israel’s right to exist has been recognised by the Palestinian leadership, and it counts for nothing if you’re not prepared to come out early and hard against the Durban III Conference. So these tests form a pretty critical juncture in Australia’s public support for the state of Israel.
This seminar which AUJS has organised is terrific. It’s incredibly important that each and every one of you – whether it be through the political party of your choice or whether it be as an activist citizen remain engaged in the political debate and in political discourse. There are not enough young Australians who seek to do that, who seek to involve themselves. If you’re someone who believes in a pluralistic society, if you’re someone who is a strong supporter of Israel, you really don’t have the option of standing on the sidelines when it comes to this debate. You’ve got to engage, you’ve got to be involved, and you’ve got to develop those skills while you’re on campus. Campus is a great environment to develop those skills. University life is really where you first come up against the contest of ideas, and you need to be involved in it because it’s a great way of skilling you up to take part in these debates now and into the future.
Over the next few days you’ll no doubt hear from a range of perspectives, and I’m sure there are a range of political views around this table – and that’s a good thing. But there’s one thing that everyone around this table embraces and that is recognising that the state of Israel and the Jewish people really are like the canary in the coalmine. When Israel is getting a fair go and when the Jewish people are getting a fair go, then our political culture is pretty healthy. But when Israel is copping it, and when Jewish people around the world are copping it, you know that our political culture is under stress. We need to make sure that we keep fighting for our values, and I’m so pleased to see today so many of you here to learn how to do that.
I’ll conclude my remarks with one piece of advice be ceaseless and relentless in your support for Israel. The most successful lobbying campaigns are the ones in which policy-makers cannot turn around without running into someone who wants to tell them about their policy goal. It’s so important that you stay engaged and make your views heard. Israel needs that support now more than ever.