Loyalty is an important Australian value. It means we can always be counted on in times of crisis, that we show courage under fire, and we stick by our mates when times are tough. That’s why we have been such valued partners abroad: because our word has always been our bond.
That is however, until our government flip-flopped on Australia’s hitherto unwavering support of Israel by abstaining on the United Nations resolution for granting the Palestinian Authority observer status, and then summonsing the Israeli Ambassador to Bob Carr’s office for a dressing down and a please explain.
Our good friends the Canadians don’t behave like this. They conduct their foreign policy like we used to when John Howard was Prime Minister.
The Canadians have stood shoulder to shoulder with us more often than not. They have suffered greater losses than us in Afghanistan, but remain committed to that cause with the steadfast acknowledgement that old democracies must safeguard the world so new ones can survive, as is the case with Israel.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in my opinion the leading centre-right leader in the world, sees foreign policy as the political extension of his nation’s values. In 2010 he commented on his government’s support of Israel:
The easy thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israeli rhetoric, to pretend it is just being even-handed, and to excuse oneself with the label of ‘honest broker’. There are, after all, a lot more votes, a lot more, in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But, as long as I am Prime Minister, whether it is at the UN or the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are, in the longer term, a threat to all of us.
In 2010 Harper was prime minister in a minority government, just like Julia Gillard. It would have been very easy for him to cut and run on tricky issues such as Israel. But he did not compromise his values in fear of a backbench revolt or losing his cross-bench supporters. That is what our Prime Minister did, and Australia’s reputation is the poorer for it, after she decided Australia would abstain during the UN vote. This decision was against the wishes of our friends the Americans and the Israelis; Canada was one of only nine nations to vote against the resolution. John Howard called it correctly; it was a ‘pathetic’ decision by our government. Not as pathetic as the Kiwis, however, who voted with the mob for recognition.
We don’t like to assert moral absolutes anymore. Polite society suggests it’s simplistic or gauche to speak in such terms of right and wrong, black and white, friend or foe. But you can’t run semantic arguments of relativism with regard to Israel. It’s quite simple. As Harper said: ‘Israel is the only country in the world whose very existence is under attack and is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation.’
You either support Israel or you don’t.
Every time a Western democracy tacitly supports those nations and peoples which seek the destruction of Israel, we debase the legitimacy of our own democracy, because we undermine democratic government’s absolute moral superiority.
Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East. It is the only country where woman, gays and minorities are protected by law, whose people vote in free and
fair elections, and where the rule of law is sovereign.
The Europeans would do well to remember this. They are the worst example of hypocrisy and relativism as they financially sponsor Israel’s enemies and then lecture the rest of us about human rights. Now the Australian government has thrown in its lot with the fence-sitters and hypocrites of Europe, to the detriment of our relations with our friends and allies in North America and the Israelis themselves.
We used to make support of like-minded democracies a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Steadfast support of Israel was key to this. This support was thought to be bipartisan, and an important aspect of our policy in the Middle East and particularly our alliance with the United States.
Calling in the Israeli Ambassador was a serious diplomatic move designed to create as much adverse publicity for Israel in Australia as possible. This plays into the hands of Israel’s enemies on the far left of Australian politics, such as those lunatics in the Greens who support boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, in an effort to de-legitimise and stigmatise the Jewish state, while whipping up the bitter scourge of anti-Semitism right here at home.
This is not how you treat a friend. If you have differences, a private conversation will suffice, not the public humiliation Carr heaped on a good friend of Australia, Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem.
One day I hope the foreign policy of this country will again represent its proud values of loyalty, trust and irrefutable defence of democracies when they are imperilled. With Bob Carr at the helm, the only values being represented in our foreign policy are those of the soft left, pandering to populism. Bob Carr would do well to listen to the wiser heads inside the Labor party who support Israel and understand that a fairweather friend is no friend at all.
Tim Smith is a former mayor of Stonnington in Melbourne and has a Master of International Politics from the University of Melbourne.