Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister of Australia between 1975 – 1982, coinciding with the period when I was President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the umbrella organization representing Australian Jewry. During that period he was a great supporter of Israel but in recent years underwent a dramatic political transformation, embracing the far left and aligning himself with anti-American and anti-Israeli causes.
It should be noted that since 1948, with only one exception, successive Australian governments of all political persuasions have been amongst Israel’s staunchest supporters. The previous Prime Minister John Howard who held office for over a decade was considered one of Israel’s closest friends – akin to Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada today. The Labor Government headed today by Julia Gillard is maintaining this tradition.
Fraser recently published an op-ed in the The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age titled “It’s now time for the West to recognise Palestinian statehood“. The following is my response which was published in newspapers throughout Australia.
I RETAIN fond memories of my genuinely warm association with Malcolm Fraser when he was prime minister and I headed the Australian Jewish community. Our relationship was based on shared values and my appreciation for his inestimable assistance on behalf of Soviet Jewry, ensuring that, while I was in Moscow, the Australian embassy provided support for my efforts on behalf of Jewish dissidents.
I also recollect that in those days he was enthralled with Israel and he would spend hours discussing and enthusiastically lauding the achievements of the Jewish state.
In Jewish mystical folklore we relate to a dybbuk – a malevolent spirit capable of dramatically transforming a person’s entire outlook. I am tempted to attribute Malcolm Fraser’s dramatic reversal of attitude to a dybbuk.
In his recent Age column (4/10), Fraser repeated his now standard portrayal of Israelis as villains and Palestinians as noble underdogs.
But on this occasion, the numerous demonstrable falsehoods he expresses impel me to respond from my vantage here in Jerusalem.
For example, he says that in 1948 the Israelis ”pushed out” the Palestinians, omitting to mention that Israel had accepted the UN partition plan but that it was the Palestinians, supported by five Arab armies, who invaded the new Jewish state with the objective of destroying it.
He repeats the mantra that settlements over the green line are at the core of the Arab-Israeli problem. But he conveniently omits to mention that the PLO indulged in terrorism before 1967 when the first settlements were established, and that even today they represent less than 5 per cent of territory beyond the 1949 armistice lines.
Fraser also repeats the canard that ”Israel refuses to talk substantially about realistic boundaries”, ignoring the fact that two Israeli prime ministers, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, had offered the Palestinians 95 per cent of the territories formerly occupied by Jordan. But they were rebuffed.
What I regard as even more offensive and perhaps pathetic is the praise that Fraser extends to Hamas, the evil Islamic fundamentalists who share much in common with al-Qaeda. He says that Israel should be negotiating with them. Is Fraser aware that the Hamas charter calls explicitly on the faithful to murder all Jews and that their Islamic faith prohibits them from engaging in any form of compromise because the Jewish state must be utterly destroyed?
He even makes a bizarre observation that the thousands of rockets and missiles launched by Hamas terrorists against Israeli civilians ”caused little damage” and did not justify Israel’s response. I wonder how Fraser, as a prime minister, would have responded if residents in his neighbourhood were forced to live with their children in shelters for extended periods of time because their neighbours were lobbing missiles at them. Not to mention dispatching suicide bombers to target them in shopping malls.
He enthusiastically supports Palestinian efforts to bypass UN resolution 242, endorsed in 1967, which called for direct negotiations to resolve the territorial conflict. But even after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an unprecedented move, froze all construction in the settlements for 10 months, the Palestinians refused to negotiate. Furthermore, in his recent speech at the UN General Assembly, the intransigent Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected compromise on any issue, reiterated his determination never to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and even denied the historical association of the Jewish people with the Holy Land. He hypocritically accused Israel of ”ethnic cleansing”, employing terms against them such as ”racist” and ”apartheid” without retracting his earlier proclamations that not a single Jew would be permitted to live in a new Palestinian state.
Netanyahu has made clear he is willing to compromise and make major sacrifices for peace by ceding land, but will not endanger the security of his citizens. If the Palestinians had accepted this 10 years ago, they would already have a state. They can have one tomorrow if they display a willingness to accept Israel as a Jewish state and are willing to peacefully coexist with it.
Netanyahu accepted the latest Quartet call to negotiate without any preconditions. Abbas refused. Many believe that he is not seeking a settlement and even if he were, he would not have the political power to implement it, especially having reiterated his determination to reunite with the genocidal Hamas.
I am truly saddened that the Jewish community has lost the friendship of Malcolm Fraser and hope that, in the course of time, he will adopt a more rational and open-minded approach.