Australia’s support for Israel is deep and enduring. It is founded in our shared values as democratic nations and is a bond of true friendship. It is a friendship that goes back to the founding of modern Israel, when Labor’s Doc Evatt helped introduce UN resolution 181, and to when, under Labor Prime Minister Ben Chifley, Australia was the first country to cast a vote in favour of creating the modern state of Israel.
Today, the Australian Labor Party’s relationship with Israel is built on the same robust base that founded our friendship generations ago: shared democratic values and a common commitment to justice and to the rights, liberty and security of our citizens. Many of my colleagues in both major parties have travelled to Israel and the Palestinian territories to see firsthand the challenges being faced. No friend of Israel will forget that throughout both Operation Cast Lead and Operation Protective Edge prime ministers Rudd and Gillard publicly and unequivocally reaffirmed the right of Israel to defend its citizens against attacks by Hamas, a terrorist organisation that continues to reject Israel’s very right to exist. Labor also unequivocally opposes the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign, which seeks to disrupt normal relations with Israel and so only to increase the polarisation that underpins the conflict in the Middle East.
While our national political debate has become increasingly partisan, I take comfort in knowing that on many issues affecting Israel my political opponents in the Liberal Party and I are usually in agreement. This bipartisanship has not always been in place. Of the 15 Jews who have served in the federal parliament since World War II, 12 have been in the Australian Labor Party. This may be referable to a number of historical factors, including Labor’s enthusiastic support for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, while the Liberal Party under Robert Menzies opposed that historic event, and the strong personal and cultural links between the Australian Labor Party, the Histadrut and the great Israeli Labor prime ministers, including David Ben Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir and Yitzhak Rabin. However, today both major parties recognise that Australia’s interests, as well as the interests of Israelis and Palestinians, are best served by rock-solid, bipartisan support for both peoples, and for the peace process in which they are engaged. I consider it critically important that the two major parties continue to ensure this bipartisanship is maintained.
This motion, by an irresponsible backbencher, is an unfortunate exception to this bipartisanship. The tragic conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and the fraught peace process in which they have been involved for generations are not playthings for Australian politicians desperately seeking to score some cheap political points. There are sufficient divisions already in the Middle East, and no Australian MP should be seeking to import divisions to our parliament. More significantly, the peace process is a matter of life and death for both Israelis and Palestinians, and should never be the subject of cheap political pointscoring here. Labor’s position is set out clearly in our national platform. In that guiding document, we unequivocally state:
Labor supports an enduring and just two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, based on the right of Israel to live in peace within secure borders internationally recognised and agreed by the parties, and reflecting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people to also live in peace and security within their own state.
Paul Keating was the Prime Minister of Australia at the time of Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, and he issued a statement which included the following words, as true today as they were back in 1995:
The best way the world can honour Mr Rabin is to push ahead with the work that he began. For Australia’s part, we will continue to give our full support to the peace process. Our support for Israel’s right to exist in security and safety will remain a guiding principle of our policy.
And it is still our policy in the Australian Labor Party, just as it was then, as stated by Prime Minister Keating. I call on all members of this parliament who respect Israel and the Palestinians and who are genuine in their support for the fragile peace process to put petty politics aside and support those peoples in the spirit of true bipartisanship as Australian politicians united in a rare but noble common purpose.