Australia vote good news for Jerusalem

By Dan Goldberg, September 12, 2013
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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott celebrating his election victory with his family in Sydney last week (Photo: Getty Images)

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott celebrating his election victory with his family in Sydney last week (Photo: Getty Images)

Israel once again has a staunch ally in Australia following the landslide election of the conservative Liberal Party.

The Labour government was swept from its six-year term on Saturday as London-born Tony Abbott stormed into office pledging to upgrade bilateral relations between Canberra and Jerusalem.

Mr Abbott — an Oxford-educated father of three, surf life-saver, volunteer fire-fighter and one-time trainee Catholic priest — is expected to lead a government of about 90 seats against Labour’s 50-plus seats in the 150-seat parliament.

Three Jewish MPs were returned.

The electoral rout will be welcomed by officials in Jerusalem, who have experienced turbulent diplomatic relations under Kevin Rudd, including the expulsion of an Israeli agent from the embassy in Canberra following the 2010 Dubai passports affair.

Mr Abbott also signalled his intent to ban more terror groups, block financial support for organisations that support the boycott Israel campaign and make visa applications for Israelis faster.

And he also wants to return relations to the era of former Liberal leader John Howard, an unashamed and unapologetic supporter of Israel.

“But the international context has changed since the Liberals were last in government,” said Philip Mendes, a Melbourne-based lecturer in social policy and co-editor of Jews & Australian Politics.

“They like to work closely with the Americans, and it is no longer the very pro-Israel George W Bush but rather Barack Obama, who is trying to put some pressure on the Likud-led Israeli government to make concessions on West Bank settlements to progress the peace process.

“Given this context and the apparent willingness of even Netanyahu to consider concessions, the deck chairs have moved on what it means to be pro-Israel, and the Liberals may have to fall into line,” Mr Mendes said.

The settlements issue is “the contradiction”, he said. “Even the Liberals still say they support two states, so most of the settlements will have to go to achieve that.

“But if it comes to the crunch — either the settlements or two states — the Liberals will have to choose. And Obama and even Israel’s strongest friends amongst the Europeans clearly want two states.”

The settlements issue was central to the showdown between Jewish leaders here and the previous Labour government, with foreign minister Bob Carr infuriating Jewish leaders last month. “All settlements on Palestinian land are illegal under international law and should cease,” he said outside Australia’s largest mosque.

The Liberals’ victory means Australia and New Zealand are now both ruled by conservative, pro-Israel governments, with John Key, the son of a Jewish refugee from Europe, in power in Wellington since 2008.

Julia Gillard will probably be remembered as a pro-Israel PM during her three-year term until she was dumped just weeks before the election, but Mr Rudd will likely be recalled for overseeing a government that sacrificed support for Israel at the UN.

Last updated: 10:45pm, September 12 2013