Julia Gillard

Australia’s new PM – a proven friend of Israel

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The ousting of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by his deputy Julia Gillard was a dramatic event. A year ago Rudd was still highly popular but his abrupt policy reversal on global climate and the environment began a decline, which climaxed when he stunned the business world by abruptly imposing a tax on mining companies engaged in mineral and energy sales to China and India. The Australian Labor Party, which holds the reins of government, was undoubtedly strongly motivated by Rudd’s plummeting standing in the polls which if sustained would probably result in a resounding defeat at the elections scheduled for next year.

The 120,000-strong Jewish community, which other than Israel has the highest proportion of Shoa survivors in the world, is recognized as one of the most Zionist communities in the Diaspora.

Jewish leaders have established a long tradition of strong public advocacy on behalf of Israel, and they can take much of the credit for the fact that successive governments have maintained a strong bi partisan support for Israel, with only one exception.

Rudd’s predecessor, John Howard, who was Prime Minister for over 10 years, was regarded as one of Israel’s greatest friends on the global scene and highly appreciated by the Jewish community.

The Rudd government initially maintained its support for Israel, but over recent months there were growing concerns that it was tilting the scales against Israel. The votes at the UN tended to increasingly identify with the Europeans, prompting the former Foreign Minister Downer to suggest that Rudd was distancing Australia from Israel in order to solicit Arab votes at the UN to support Australia’s candidacy for the Security Council.

More recently, the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat in the wake of the passport imbroglio, distressed the Jewish community. On the other hand, if Israel was involved in this issue, many found it difficult to comprehend why they used Australian passports and ignored understandings previously made, thus embarrassing one of their best friends.

Only a few weeks ago Rudd met with the Australian Jewish leadership, who left reasonably satisfied that the relationship seemed to be back on track.

The Jewish community will certainly welcome the fact that that Julia Gillard will now be leading the country.

She is a long standing proven friend of Israel, having visited the country in 2005 and again last year in May. She headed a high level, 40 strong delegation of Australians who participated in an Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange mission, which took place at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

During the Gaza war in January 2009, when she was Acting Prime Minister, she strongly supported Israel’s position, frequently making reference to Sderot which she had visited and stressed Israel’s right to defend its civilian population from missile attacks.

The Jewish community will certainly welcome the fact that that she will now be leading the country, and will also be reassured that the long standing bi-partisan policy to Israel will be maintained.

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This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post 

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