House debates

Wednesday, 20 February 2019


70th Anniversary of Australia's Formal Diplomatic Relationship with the State of Israel

11:12 am

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

What a momentous 70 years it's been, particularly with the Australia-Israel relationship. As the Leader of the Opposition noted yesterday, it was the first foreign policy decision of Australia in the post World War II world where Australia struck out independently from Britain in foreign policy. Of course, the British abstained on the partition of Palestine and Australia strongly supported it. In fact, Dr Evatt and the then foreign spokesman of the Labor Party led the charge internationally. We in Australia supported, as we do now—both political parties—a two-state solution to the Middle East.

Dr Evatt was very far-sighted back then and his policy was endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech in the House the other day. There were some correct points made by the Prime Minister, too, on the obsession there seems to be with this situation at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. It is incredible that the UN has resolution after resolution—tens of resolutions—dealing with issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but the 300,000 people in concentration camps in North Korea, the million people in prison camps in Xinjiang and East Turkestan, the Muslim people of Darfur in Sudan and the many much worse situations around the world get little mention.

It is interesting, too, that the very day the Leader of the Opposition moves that supportive resolution recognising Australia's longstanding relationship with Israel is the very day that the British Labour Party splits over this issue. Some of the people in the British Labour Party—including my friend Luciana Berger—as correctly characterised in The Times of London today, were driven out of the Labour Party by anti-Semitism because, unfortunately, the leadership of the British Labour Party can't distinguish between legitimate criticisms of a state and obsessive criticisms of a people in a state. That led the British Jewish community and great Labour MPs like Luciana Berger to say that their party has been overtaken by bigotry. What a terrible thing for a social democratic party to have happen to it. It's incredible, when you think of the British Jewish community, who have not been the most assertive political group in the United Kingdom, with 250,000 of them amongst some 80 million Britons, that they have to stage demonstrations outside Westminster that say, 'Enough is enough.'

Recently, in Warsaw, countries from all around the world gathered to evaluate what was happening in the Middle East. If you looked at it from an Israeli point of view, the Arab nations, Asia and Africa all seemed to be creating a positive experience and worked together. Israel's relations with Asia and Africa seemed to be particularly productive. They all identified—particularly, very interestingly, Israel and most of the Sunni Arab states—that the threat to order in the Middle East is terrorism in Lebanon with Hezbollah, in Syria with Iran's support of the Assad regime and in Yemen, where it is providing long-range missiles to the Houthis. That is the existential threat not just to Israel but to peace in the Middle East. Unfortunately, when Iran resumes its nuclear weapons program, I'm afraid that Saudi Arabia and various other countries are going to go nuclear as well.

If one's looking at the situation of Israel 70 years after its declaration, it's an amazing story. From 600,000 people at the time of independence, it has a population exceeding eight million now. In the long history of the Jewish people, the destruction of six million Jews in Europe during the Shoah, the Nazi mass extermination, has been responded to in historical terms by there being amongst the Israeli population—20 per cent of whom are Arab-Israelis, who have equal rights—at least six million Jews. So there's a really symbolic victory in the re-establishment of the Jewish commonwealth in that part of the world.

In demography, it's very interesting to see too that its future seems guaranteed by its own population, something I think we need to focus on in Australia. It's a very unfashionable point of view, but I think the truth is that demography is destiny. Israelis seem so satisfied or happy with their lives that people, even secular people, have on average 3.3 children per family. That's very different to other Western societies. Australia is relatively better than other comparative societies. We have 1.9. It shows a confidence in your own society. Amongst the Arab-Israeli population, interestingly enough, as their economic prosperity has advanced, their population growth has gone down to 3.6 from about six or seven. As populations economically prosper, the traditional pattern is for their reproduction to decrease. It's not the case in that country. People in what's called the happiness index seem to be doing very well.

The productivity of that society is seen in the huge contribution that it makes in technology, in its economy and in the number of doctors it has, say, compared to people in surrounding societies. It's interesting that its GDP per head is now in excess of US$45,000 per capita. There are still great inequalities there that need to be addressed, but compare that to Egypt, which has US$3,000 per capita, or Jordan, with US$9,000. It is interesting that the Israeli economy, from an Australian trade point of view, is bigger than the combined economies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria—eight million people, with their incredible high-tech production and a productive society. It shows you the benefit of transparent, open democratic societies compared to authoritarian countries where there isn't that type of transparency.

There will be an election in Israel on 9 April. Elections are always a good, cleansing democratic experiment for the soul and for the population. If I were an Israeli voter—and I am not—I would think that perhaps the current Israeli government has had its time. It is always good to have change; we can feel that in our bones in Australia as well. I might not be voting for Mr Netanyahu, although, from a security point of view, I would have to concede that he has done a very good job. From the point of view of the economy, he has done a very good job. From the point of view of ignoring the hatred of his country from societies in Europe, he has turned to Africa and Asia, which seems to have borne great fruit. However, given the fact that the Arab countries are relatively sympathetic to Israel, now seems to be the time to seize the day and grab the Arab peace plan and negotiate with them including to try and solve the Palestinian issue along the formula that Australia has long supported—a two-state solution.

Of course, you have Palestinian intransigence; as the late Abba Eban used to say, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The Americans are offering them a huge aid package if they agree to a state alongside Israel with clear and recognised borders. All of us know, as President Clinton did when he negotiated with Arafat back in 2000, what the formulation is going to be: you can keep most of the Israeli people across the green line by including those settlements in land swaps. Let's hope for that positive and forward-looking society, that scientific and technological nation, that they have a good election and their future is bright alongside the people next to them. (Time expired)


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