Unstinting support for Israel back in place

Greg Sheridan

Once again Greg Sheridan, the Foreign Editor of The Australian has written an excellent op ed  He’s onside and  even handed with his views towards Israel.

Hopefully we can now turn around the wrongs of the dreadful Bob Carr.

Tony Abbott and Julie Bishop intend to reverse the anti-Israel direction in Australia’s voting pattern in UN resolutions that Kevin Rudd oversaw as primeminister and foreign minister, and which Bob Carr continued. This is an immensely important sign of the Coalition government’s values and direction.

Canberra will revert to the voting pattern established by John Howard and Alexander Downer: less ambiguous, less apologetic, more straightforward in support of the only democracy in the Middle East.

Bishop has not issued any general voting instructions but she has made it clear she intends to restore the Howard voting pattern and to reverse the votes Rudd changed. She has also made it clear she expects to see every significant Middle East resolution. Nothing will be done by autopilot. Her view is that Australia’s vote on each resolution will be decided on its merits but that she will not support any unbalanced, one-sided or unfair resolutions on Israel. As almost all UN resolutions on Israel fall into this category, this is an important statement of principle.

Bishop has had a brilliant start as Foreign Minister, making big calls, and the right calls, on Australia’s aid program. She has had a stellar week at the UN, meeting in a few days the contacts she needs – which would have taken months or years to in the normal course of things.

This is the only benefit that will accrue to Australia as a result of its brief stinton the UN Security Council. The UN just now is fully taken up with Syria. But let’s be quite clear. Nothing of consequence will happen at the UN on Syria. The real deals are being worked out between Moscow, Washington and the main actors in the Middle East. The UN is not a bit player. It is no player at all. Bishop is too smart to get carried away by its heady atmosphere.

The government’s disposition to oppose the UN’s traditional Israel-bashing is causing some angst in the bureaucracy, specifically in parts of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. When Howard and Downer decided to change to a more explicit position in 2003, they caused similar angst. Downer was rung 10 minutes before a vote, with the relevant ambassador pleading for permission to vote with the consensus. Downer insisted the government’s policy be followed.

Similarly, in the early days, Downer would receive submissions from DFAT with three boxes: approve, not approve, discuss. A couple of times he circled “discuss” so he could explain to his bureaucrats why he was rejecting their advice. Departmental advice amounted to arguing that such an Australian vote would get some of the Arabs off side. Downer’s response was that it didn’t help the Arabs to encourage them in bad policy. The question was whether the resolution was right or wrong in principle. Mostly he just circled “not approve”. DFAT got the idea.

It’s important to understand the underlying dynamics. The UN, in its bureaucracy and voting patterns, is grotesquely biased against Israel. Every year 20 or more completely one-sided resolutions are passed against Israel, while typically nothing is said about North Korea or Iran or Saudi Arabia or any of the other paragons of human rights and democracy among UN members. Many European countries abstain on such resolutions, thinking it’s more trouble than it’s worth to oppose them outright. Typically, the US, Canada, Israel and a few Pacific countries oppose such resolutions. Under Howard, Australia did too. This was right in principle and also in our interests. It draws us closer to our best friends and makes some contribution, however small, to moving the UN in the direction of the real world.

The alleged damage to our standing by taking a principled position never really amounted to anything. In the years after Canberra became more explicit in its support of Israel we did not lose a single election at the UN, our trade with the Arab Middle East boomed and more Arab countries opened embassies here.

Nonetheless the bureaucratic dynamic within DFAT tends to be to go along with the international consensus: not to pick an argument unless it directly, and in a sense narrowly, concerns our immediate interests.

Given that we abandoned Israel on some key votes in order to curry favour for our UN Security Council bid, it is likely we will now breach undertakings made to Arab countries. Bad luck. The government has changed. The Coalition was clear in opposition that it would take a more sympathetic line to Israel at the UN. If it did not do this it would be abandoning its core values.

Some of the resolutions where Labor changed Australia’s traditional vote have innocuous sounding names but are intensely unfair to Israel and unhelpful to a settlement. Resolution 67/23 on the peaceful settlement of the question of Palestine unfairly blames Israel for everything while not mentioning any fault by any Palestinian group or authority. Notably it does not call for an end to terrorism, incitement, hatred and so on. In 2006, under Howard, Australia voted against this resolution; last year it abstained.

Resolution 67/24 on Jerusalem condemns any Israeli presence in the Old City of Jerusalem at all, a grotesque position. In 2006, Australia abstained; last year, Australia voted in favour. Various resolutions call for the Geneva Convention to apply to Palestinian territories. These resolutions fail to acknowledge that Israel already voluntarily observes its humanitarian provisions, but also imply Israeli war crimes. In 2006, Australia abstained; last year it voted in favour of these resolutions.

Resolution 67/158 seems harmlessly to call for the right of Palestinians to self-determination, but it recognises no similar right for Israelis and is unbalanced on the question of settlements. In 2006 Australia abstained; last year Australia voted in favour.

There are a slew of other resolutions where Australia voted against under Howard and abstained under Labor, or abstained under Howard and voted in favour under Labor. We can expect that if these resolutions come back in their regular form this year, the Abbott government will reverse Labor’s voting record.

Australia shouldn’t grandstand on the Middle East, where we often have marginal influence. But we should be absolutely clear about our values, and our friends.

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21 comments

  1. Just a healthy reminder that Australia does contain divisive ideologies and some of them (!!) are seriously attached to dangerous philosophies. Labor are not just another alternative, they are pernicious dogmatists in pin stripe suits and have mastered the degenarate art of misleading the normally indiferent Aussie BBQ political devotee excited only about the intellectual values of a cold VB, burping pub wity one- liners equallly idiotic about ANY politician………….. At least this time around ,luckily, the electorate ganged up in larger numbers against the vicious, vitriolic unpalatable fratricide mess political hedonism defined Labor.

    A fairly lone voice in the media world,Greg has been a beacon of wisdom and loyalty to the right causes, a real consistent friend.

  2. Otto, as a former Labour supporter, I suspect you are right, that Labour are, and have always been, pernicious dogmatists. Many of us were naive enough to believe that they cared for ordinary people, for the underdog, whereas the Liberals were only concerned with the wealthy. The reality is that it is Labour who are the elitists, whereas the Liberals are more in tune with ordinary people.

    Thank goodness we have a government that has a moral compass and will support a country with democratic values like our own, rather than totalitiarian regimes, whether Marxist or Islamic.

    • Pam even my father, who as you know was a staunch Communist, woke up to the fact that the Left were not what they purported to be. He always believed Labour was for the ‘worker’, once calling me a traitor to my class.

      He started to turn when Whitlam was PM. He was very disillusioned with the Hawke government and then Keating finished him off altogether

      He never voted again again. He could never bring himself to vote Liberal

  3. Shirlee, you surely cannot overlook Andrew Bolt!

  4. Too true, Andrew Bolt, Gerard Henderson, who writes a lot in the daily media and Piers Akerman deserve to be added to the objective, well informed and fair commentators.

    • Imre Salusinszky too. Amanda Devine.

      Imre I met in Newtown when he was covering John Nemesh’s trial over the Marrickville debacle.

      It was great to see a Magistrate who was pro-Israel.

  5. It’s really great to see all posts agreeing for a change. I wonder where the trolls have disappeared to? All is now clearer in such a short space of time, regarding where Australia stands on Israel/Middle East/Arab matters. Strong and decisive at last! I feel safer with our new government at the helm – people who know how to run things in a business-like fashion and not live on the fantastic plastic, as has been the case for the last almost seven years. This government is composed of people who have strong moral convictions and who are not afraid to take a stand against a foreign government’s hypocritical waffling about their sovereign borders, while allowing the very same thing to happen to OURS! Julie Bishop is going to be an excellent FA Minister. Inscrutable face, professionally attired, well spoken, intelligent and although she is streets ahead of the late Maggie Thatcher in the looks department, she is going to be as strong if not stronger – just what we need.

    • Julia

      my non-sexist impression is that Ms Bishop is a gentle soul par excellence. Her manner is of humorous disposition with very well pondered pause before replies/provocations. She is not aggressively asseretive, without being excessively “elegantly” shy. I found it amusing that, on the news only last nite, when shown chairing the Security Council, she struck the gavel ever so gently after which she look to her left at what must have been a more experienced “hand” in the place, checking with a smile if she used the implement correctly. It was really cute, that if the Security Council allows for”cute” in the room !!!!
      Otherwise, quite diplomatically, she knows how to avoid complicating issues, specially those she is not in full command of. ( I am implying, of course, that she is comfy with being human above being “the” omniscient political dickhead )

      • Julie Bishop is a delightful person, highly intelligent, with a very quick wit, but she can bite where necessary. I met her a couple of years ago.

        Henry taking his time posting comments is what is losing him readers. He won’t have it, so it’s his loss. He is not observant, so I don’t see why he won’t post on shabbos (sabbath) or chags (holidays)

        When I did a presentation a couple of years back at Limmud Oz, Peter Slesak came into the hall. There was quite an audible boo. A couple of people said that if he didn’t leave they would. He didn’t, so they did. The worst part of it all was that I had no written presentation, it was all ad lib and I had a terrible time trying to concentrate becasue he was straight ahead of me and I couldn’t see anyone else.!!

  6. Hi Shirlee, before the election, no matter which site you happened to be visiting, when someone made a pro coalition post, the pro government trolls just had to have their dig. It’s so nice for people to be able to post without the vitriol and uninformed rhetoric. No-one on here!

    • In a way I wish there were at least a couple of people with a different point of view, because they’d get taken down a peg or two.

      Welcome it’s nice to have anther voice around her. I wish more people would comment. We’re not short of readers, I wonder if people are afraid?

  7. The other kettle of fish, called Peter Slezak, is being wrongly disenfranchised by the Jewish community. Peter is very approachable, a genuine intellectual who can be engaged in a controversy. Also a few years ago, also at Limud Oz, he was developing certain tendentious notions. When interpelated with valid points he replied with academic dignity, without being impertinent or patronising. When I pointed out to him that he misinterpreted a certain Platonic dialogue, he just retorted that both, his and my interpretations can be derived. When I further corrected him that Wittgenstein may not be regarded as a Jew abandoned by his Jewish community for not following Judaic philosophical principles for the simple reason that he was born and died a Catholic, third generation, he did not contend that point at all. At a much later date, I run into him in Double Bay and he was remarkably gentle and modest about his own unfortunate conflict with the Jewish community. In spite of all these aspects, he is a devout pro Palestinian Jew, something we can talk about a lot longer than this space ( and its mistress) allows………………….

    • Give me a break Otto. I thought you had more sense than that. He is an abomination. Another member of ‘Australian Jews for Palestine’

  8. Shirlee, I agree with you that Slezak is an ideological abomination regarding Israel and the palestinians. He is not, however, an impregnable mind. I would go as far as saying that you, yes you, could have an interesting and maybe fruitful discussion with him, something maybe you should contemplate. After all, you have all the data and the prowess of intellectual persuasion sufficient to make an impact.

    This has been my brake !

  9. There is no such thing as a devout pro Palestinian Jew except if you would say about a devout pro NAZI Jew. Intellectuality in this area is a floating mind in the never never land. Peter Slezak is in such world.

  10. Leon Poddebsky

    Some years ago the Australian Dept. of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a publication regarding Australian trade with the Middle East. The publication contained a map, but guess which country’s name DFAT omitted from that map even though Australia’s relations with Israel have never impeded that trade.
    Even Arab states have for decades been trading with Israel under the radar despite the official (and illegal, you know, Bob) Arab League boycott of Israel.

  11. hi Shirl, I would comment more if (a) everything hadn’t already been said, and (b) I had an extra 20 hours per day, over & above what I already spend reading as much as I can absorb (and would you believe, working my 40+ hours a week day job). Not that I don’t love the discourse that usually follows each post .. if I felt I had something meaningful to contribute I would, otherwise I just keep stum and learn as much as I can.

    • Rach, I know you are busy. I am about to send you an email too. I am exhausted with all this election stuff.

      You should comment, because it’s good to create dialogue and I KNOW you have a lot to contribute.

      See you on Wednesday.