Speech by The Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP
Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency
Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innovation
I would like to respectfully acknowledge the traditional owners and custodians of the land on which we meet today, and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.
Thank you for inviting me here tonight to speak.
I can see from tonight’s Agenda that there’s a lot to get through, including the awarding of the Jerusalem Prize to the very deserving Sam Lipski, so I will keep my comments focussed on the Australian Government’s enduring support for Israel.
The Australian Government’s Support for Israel
I am going to start with something that you have heard before. And that is that the Government of Australia supports the State of Israel, and that we do so one hundred percent.
Since well before the birth of the modern State of Israel Australia has had deep ties with the Zionist dream. Whether it was the bonds of personal friendship forged between Australian Diggers stationed in British Mandate Palestine and the Zionist halutzim of the kibbutz movement, or the compassion that Australians from all walks of life felt for the victims of the Shoah, Australians have long felt a tie of kinship with Israel that transcends the cynical calculus of politics.
Australia is not merely an ally of Israel.
Australia is a friend.
I am always proud to remember that it was Foreign Minister Evatt, one of the intellectual luminaries of the Labor Party, who was the first to vote in the General Assembly in favor of the establishment of Israel under United Nations Resolution 181.
And while the Jewish people’s claim to Palestine was well established long before the United Nations was even dreamed of, it is important to remember that with the passing of Resolution 181 the community of nations made a clear, unequivocal and irrevocable statement of Israel’s right to exist under international law.
And as I am sure many of you know, Dr Evatt went on to be President of the United Nations General Assembly, and was prominent in the negotiations that led to Israel's formal creation after its War of Independence, a war Israel fought against those who rejected the will of the United Nations and with it, the international rule of law.
And in 1949 the Chifley Government ensured that Australia was among the first nations to formally recognise the new-born State of Israel.
I am always moved when I recall the comments of Abba Eban, who in acknowledging the Australian Government’s contribution to the recognition of Israel declared that ‘the warmth and eloquence with which you welcomed Israel into the family of nations have earned for you the undying gratitude of our people.'
I am deeply proud that Australia has these important historic links to the creation of the State of Israel.
And I am equally proud of the enduring friendship that our nation has built with Israel in the 64 years since its creation.
In more recent years the Gillard Government has continued our support and our commitment to Israel. Indeed, when Julia Gillard was still acting Prime Minister in December 2008, our now Prime Minister voiced her unambiguous support for Israel’s right to take military action to stop the relentless attacks from Gaza by Hamas. And following that conflict, the Australian Government voted against a General Assembly Resolution to refer the one-sided, and now discredited, Goldstone Report to the Security Council.
I will say more about the Australian Government’s ongoing support for Israel in a moment.
Australia, Israel and the Community of Nations
Tomorrow may well mark another important day in the history of Australia’s friendship with Israel.
In 1947 there were only 56 member states of the United Nations. And with a vote of 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions and 1 absentee, the vote to establish Israel was passed.
Today the UN has 193 member states, and tomorrow those states will vote on which nations will take five of the ten non-permanent seats on the United Nations Security Council.
I don’t want to talk down our chances, but I do want to be clear: it is going to be tough to win.
Australia is part of a Group called West European and Others. Only two seats are allocated to that Group, and we are up against Finland and Luxembourg, both of which have been campaigning for a seat for years longer than us.
I want to make two brief points about the vote tomorrow.
First, there has been some recent partisan commentary from certain members of the Opposition in an area that has traditionally been seen as too important for political point scoring. I won’t descend to point scoring now by highlighting what was said and by whom. But l do want to make absolutely clear that in campaigning for a seat on the Security Council, the Gillard Government has never compromised our steadfast support for Israel.
For example, while the Gillard Government has been running this important campaign, we have also been holding the line against attempts by some in the international community to push for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. While the Australian Government supports a two-state resolution of the conflict, we oppose and will continue to oppose attempts to unilaterally declare a Palestinian State in the absence of a negotiated settlement. As the Prime Minister wrote last year:
“… the only durable basis for resolution of this conflict is negotiation. However hard it may be, it is only through negotiation between the two sides that final status issues such as borders, security and Jerusalem can be solved.”
For the same reasons, in October last year the Australian Government voted to oppose the admission of Palestine to UNESCO, despite strong pressure from many in the international community, and of some in the domestic community, to support that untimely admission.
The second point I would like to make about our Security Council bid is that if we do win that seat, Australia will use that position to continue our steadfast support for the State of Israel and our commitment to a two-state solution. This is a time when Israel, more than ever, needs its friends to rally around it to ensure its security. This is a time when the region truly needs a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The Security Council is the effective executive of the United Nations, charged with the role of maintaining international peace and security, and with exclusive jurisdiction to authorise the use of military force. Given the many threats that Israel now faces, to have another loyal and trusted friend on the Security Council would provide an important support to Israel in meeting the challenges that lie ahead.
I would like to repeat something that our Prime Minister said in awarding the NAB Yachad Scholarships in December last year:
“A just and secure Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people is an indispensable part of a just and secure world… We are two countries separated by distance, but united by values. Liberal democracies that seek freedom and peace.”
The Australian Government supports wholeheartedly the State of Israel, and we will continue to do so with loyalty, with integrity, and with conviction.