Australia-Israel relationship a ‘mateship’ based on trade, trust and mutual values

July 8, 2020 by Eliana Rudee -
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At the 43rd session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that recently concluded, Australia was the only country to vote against all five anti-Israel resolutions, including the notoriously biased Agenda Item 7.

Australia’s Ambassador to the Israel Chris Cannan lays a wreath at the British war cemetery in Jerusalem on ANZAC Day in 2019, where Australian soldiers who took part in World War I are buried. Source: Chris Cannan via Twitter.

In Australia’s position paper explaining the votes last month, it noted, “Australia has been consistent in its principled opposition to biased and one-sided resolutions targeting Israel in multilateral forums. We have reiterated this position before this Council every year of our membership. Our position has not changed. It is our firm view that the Human Rights Council’s disproportionate focus on Israel—through an unmatched five single country, targeted resolutions every year—damages its credibility. These resolutions do nothing to contribute to lasting peace and stability for Israelis and Palestinians.”

The perfect voting record, according to Australian leaders, underscores the vital relationship between the two nations.

“Australia regards the biased and one-sided targeting of Israel in multilateral forums as unhelpful to efforts to build lasting peace and stability,” Australian Ambassador to Israel Chris Cannan told JNS. “Australia has been consistent in its principled opposition to the singling out and unfair targeting of Israel, and one-sided resolutions, in the HRC,” he said. “It remains Australia’s firm view that the HRC’s agenda Item 7—the only standing agenda item that focuses on a single country situation—expresses this bias and is inappropriate.”

He said of the bilateral relations: “Australia and Israel have a close, long-standing and bipartisan, bilateral relationship.  … Our contemporary relationship is at a high point; with reciprocal prime ministerial and head of state visits having taken place in the past three years.”

Still, he noted, “Our support for Israel has always been accompanied by a commitment to a two-state solution, negotiated directly between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Today, posed Cannan, “Australia is continuing to contribute to Israeli and regional peace and security through our contribution to the Multilateral Force and Observers in the Sinai and the U.N. Truce Supervision Organisation.

In terms of business and shared resources, Australia has backed up the expanding trade relationship with resources, including through an Australian innovation “Landing Pad” in Tel Aviv for early-stage Australian start-ups, and the opening of an Australian Trade and Defence Office in Jerusalem. “We are also increasing our national security cooperation, including on defence and cybersecurity,” he said.

“If Australia does express its concern with Israel applying sovereignty, it will be measured.”

Cannan further noted that the Australia-Israel relationship is based on values. “Australia is a close friend of Israel. It is in our national interest to see Israel succeed as a liberal democracy in the Middle East, and Australia continues to strongly support its right to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders.”

Arsen Ostrovsky, an international human-rights lawyer and Israel Affairs Director at the Zionist Council of New South Wales, similarly told JNS that “Australia is a reliable and trustworthy ally of Israel, showing in word and deed that [it] stands out and speaks out, supporting Israel against the relentless one-sided resolutions that exist in all U.N. forums.”

He maintained that “there’s a word in Australia—‘mateship’—a friendship based on the values of loyalty, courage and respect. In terms of this Australian government and prime minister, who stand with Israel when it counts even if it means going against so many other nations, I don’t think Israel could ask for a better mate and ally. Australians stand up for their mates, and certainly in the U.N.”

Originally from Sydney but now living in Tel Aviv, Ostrovsky explained that the Australia-Israel relationship is centuries old, with Australian engagement in the region dating back to the Sinai-Palestine campaign during World War I, including the iconic victory in the Battle of Beersheva in 1917. Hundreds of horsemen from Australia and New Zealand were brought by the Australia New Zealand Army Corps to Israel, making history as they liberated the city of Beersheva on behalf of the British—a key milestone towards the U.N. partition plan.

Australia voted in favour of the plan on Nov. 29, 1947, despite pressure from the United Kingdom to abstain, having left the region after the British Mandate period. That vote of countries worldwide led to Israel’s independence on May 14, 1948.

Since then, the nation has played an important role in the world body, calling out the council for condemning Israel under the guise of human rights.

Tensions did occur at the time of the Yom Kippur War in 1973 under the short term of Labor Party government of Prime Minister Edward Gough Whitlam. Issues also centred on the “Zionism is racism” debate; the lack of support for the Likud Party and building in Judea and Samaria by former Prime Minister Bob Hawke in the 1980s; and an existing BDS movement within the country.

But that is in the past, and the two nations look towards the future.

“Australia understands that Israel is a small democracy, surrounded by enemies.”

While Australia has not commented on Israel’s planned application of sovereignty in Judea and Samaria, Ostrovsky said the country has been clear that it supports two states. It admittedly has concerns with the settlements while also recognizing Israel’s challenges—not least of which is Palestinian terror, incitement and payments to terrorists, which led Australia to stop its direct payments to the Palestinian Authority, he added.

“If Australia does express its concern with Israel applying sovereignty, it will be measured, and I hope they’d reiterate their support for Israel and the greater context of the challenges Israel faces from the region,” he said.

Politics aside, posed Ostrovsky, the relationship is based on economic interests and innovation: “There is an increasing number of Israeli countries on Australian stock market, and a lot to be gained in the future, from cybersecurity and tech to water security.”

Today, the two countries work together and share best practices with a small group of nations, including Austria, Denmark, Cyprus and New Zealand, to combat the spread of the coronavirus.

An interest in innovation

Paul Israel, CEO of the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce, told JNS that the trade relationship between the two countries is meaningful for both nations. Israeli exports to Australia, especially in innovation, high-tech, agritech and medtech, are relevant for large Australian enterprises because of their quality, robustness and scalability.

The Chamber, which has offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Auckland and Tel Aviv, often hosts delegations from Australia to learn about Israel’s ecosystem and sustainable high-tech industry. “Innovation is relatively new to Australia, and Australia is in love with what Israel has built,” he said.

More than that, he explained, “there has been a consistent and well-documented history of bipartisan support from Australia to Israel, which has been consistent ever since. Australia is a pioneer in standing up for Israel in the United Nations, rooted in the dynamic, strong and vibrant Jewish community in existence since [the arrival of the Europeans] in 1780s, and based on values of democracy and freedom of speech.”

Ostrovsky agreed, saying that “Australia understands that Israel is a small democracy, surrounded by enemies.”

It is a “no-nonsense country that doesn’t tolerate bullies or intimidation,” he added. “Standing up for your friends is the definition of mateship—and that’s what Australia is doing.”

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