Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: Reaffirming Bipartisanship

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Colin Rubenstein


On the 21st of this month, Australians will once again celebrate our democracy by choosing who will represent us in government. And once again, the Australian Jewish community is fortunate enough to have the choice between two prime ministerial candidates who strongly defend Israel’s right to exist in peace and security. Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott continue the tradition of Australia’s bipartisan support for Israel – and for efforts to encourage a just and lasting Middle East peace. This tradition, only infrequently breached, stretches back to Israel’s very founding, and is rooted in both common values and common interests.

At a time when Israel was facing ignorant criticism from multiple fronts during the Hamas-Israel conflict in early 2009, the Australian Jewish community was immensely heartened to hear then-Acting Prime Minister Gillard so emphatically condemn the Hamas actions that led to the war, and defend Israel’s right to protect its citizens.

Tony Abbott has likewise been a longstanding friend of the Jewish state. In a speech delivered early in this election campaign, he promised a government led by him would not “overreact” to international incidents (such as the passport and flotilla affairs), and that the Coalition’s support for Israel was “unshakeable.” Recently and significantly, he has promised to withdraw Australia’s bid for a UN Security Council seat, arguing the effort was distorting our foreign policy priorities.

Australia’s modest yet morally principled bipartisan efforts to promote both regional peace and Israeli security make a difference. They are noticed, appreciated and do encourage reconciliation prospects.

Meanwhile, the next Australian government will have to make tough choices and offer a similarly principled policy example on Iran. That country’s pursuit of nuclear weaponry continues unabated, despite the international community, now led by the Obama Administration, being united in viewing a nuclear Iran as likely to impact the entire Middle East in potentially catastrophic ways.

Unfortunately, it remains unclear whether this new unity has yet translated into a united determination to act decisively enough. The UN Security Council has recently passed a further round of relatively modest sanctions against Teheran.

The US Congress and Administration have gone further, slapping autonomous sanctions against 14 Iranian financial institutions that aid and abet Iran’s illegal nuclear pursuits, and targeting entities that provide Iran with investment, technology or equipment for Iran’s all-important energy sector. The EU is expected to follow suit shortly.

We welcome the bipartisan support in June in the Australian parliament for the Autonomous Sanctions Bill, which will more easily enable Australia to apply sanctions beyond those the Security Council chooses to impose. Both major Australian parties support the limited autonomous sanctions Australia has already imposed on Iran, and we expect this pressure will need to expand in the next term of government, regardless of which party carries the day on Aug. 21.

It is worth remembering, as we Australians go to the polls in a free and fair election, that in June last year, the Iranian regime killed dozens of its own citizens who were protesting the rigged nature of the Iranian presidential election.

We strongly believe the security interests of the entire Middle East, not to mention the Iranian people, will be greatly advanced by the emergence of a reformed and more truly democratic government. Creative ways should be sought by the international community to empower and encourage Iran’s democratic opposition movement. This is a foreign policy issue on which either a Gillard or Abbott Government could lead by example.

The threat of terrorism will unfortunately remain significant during the coming term of government. Violent Islamists in the Middle East and Southeast Asia remain committed to killing whomever doesn’t subscribe to their radical, violent and politicised interpretation of Islam. Both Labor and the Coalition acknowledge the danger these movements pose, and have avoided the unhelpful tendency in some circles of evading discussion of the real ideological nature of the threat for fear of accidentally and falsely tainting all of the Islamic faith with the worldview and crimes of a small minority. Both major parties are pledged to act strongly in our own capacity and in partnership with our regional and international friends to prevent more innocents dying – including by continued efforts to stablise Afghanistan.

Domestically, we continue to believe a strong adherence to Australian Multiculturalism will best serve both the Jewish community and Australia at large. Australian Multiculturalism, with its foundation on Australia’s core values as a liberal, pluralistic democracy and encouragement for all Australians to pursue religious and cultural practices provided they don’t conflict with our core values, should remain a key feature of Australian domestic policy. Such a multicultural policy not only enriches this country, but it blunts the radical and violent ideologies that seek to undermine our democracy.

Immigration, refugees and population policy have emerged as hot issues in this campaign. We would hope that whoever wins, the Australian Government, with bipartisan support, will revert to an immigration and population policy based on the reality that policies with integrity and cohesion have provided the basis for the economic and social development that have made us such an attractive and productive society.

A key feature of our society is the bipartisan support for the independent schools sector, such as the Jewish day schools, which allow various communities to teach and preserve their culture and heritage while also gaining the skills and values to integrate fully into the life of the larger Australian community.

The recent Federal Court decision to reject the government’s efforts to extradite alleged Nazi war criminal Charles Zentai to Hungary was a disappointing setback to long-standing bipartisan Australian efforts to have alleged war criminals face trial. Despite efforts by both sides of politics to gain justice through either criminal trials in Australia or extradition, it is discouraging that not a single case, out of hundreds of alleged Nazi war criminals identified here, has successfully led to conviction and punishment. We hope and expect that whichever party wins government on Aug. 21 will spare no effort to continue to seek justice in the Zentai case, and to ensure that Australia is not a haven for war criminals from any conflict in future.

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