As civilian casualties climb from its brutal assault on Gaza, Israel has met growing condemnation for the carnage from human rights groups and many governments.
In Latin America, the response has been especially strong. Since Israel began its assault a month ago, El Savador, Chile, Peru, Brazil and Ecuador have withdrawn their ambassadors in protest.
Bolivia has filed a case with the United Nations against Israel’s “crimes against humanity”, with President Evo Morales saying on July 30 “we are declaring [Israel] a terrorist state”.
On the same day, the bodies of 16 people were pulled from the rubble of a United Nations school sheltering Palestinian refugees that Israeli forces had bombed. AFP said it was “the second time in a week that a UN school housing refugees has been hit, and the sixth in two weeks”.
On the same day in Jerusalem, Australia’s government sent a very different message to Israel. As keynote speaker at the Australia-Israel-UK Leadership Dialogue, Australian education minister Christopher Pyne said: “Israel is the beacon of freedom and liberty in the Middle East.”
Pyne said Australia and Israel were “two sister nations believing in the same thing ... we regard Israel and Australia as sister countries with the same value systems and we want to show our support for that system here in the Middle East”.
Pyne stressed that Australia was “good friends” with Israel and “good friends visit their friends in tough times”.
He said he was in Israel “because Australians love freedom”. But the “freedom” he has in mind does not extend to Palestinians under a near-50 year military occupation long declared illegal under international law or to Gazans subject to the longest siege in history.
Rather, Pyne offered the Australian government’s unqualified support to Israel: “Whenever there has been a congregation of freedom-loving nations versus non freedom-loving nations, Australia has always been prepared to be in the fight and always on the right side.
“And that’s how we view the State of Israel, that we are on the right side.”
Pyne’s comments are not surprising. Since it came to power last year, Tony Abbott’s Coalition government has strengthened Australia’s official support for Israel’s apartheid-like regime.
In November, the government reversed Australia’s previous opposition to the expansion of Jewish-only settlements in the Occupied Territories.
At the UN, Australia abstained from motions calling on Israel to end settlement activity and to comply with the Geneva Convention. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the change “reflected the government's concern that Middle East resolutions should be balanced”.
In June, the Abbott government announced that it would no longer refer to the Occupied Territories as “occupied”. Attorney-General George Brandis said on June 5: “The description of areas which are the subject of negotiations in the course of the peace process, by reference to historical events is unhelpful.
“The description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied East Jerusalem’ is a term freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate, nor useful.
“It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiation in such judgmental language.”
With this change, Australia became the only government outside of Israel that does not recognise the obvious: that Israel occupies Palestinian land. The position is even more extreme than Israel’s closest ally, the United States, can accept.
The Australian government’s concern for avoiding “judgmental language” and the “pejorative implications” of some words does not extend to Palestinian groups like Hamas, which is the democratically elected government of the Palestinian Territories.
Bishop announced on July 17: “The Australian government has listed Hamas as a terrorist organisation pursuant to UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which deals with the prevention and suppression of terrorist acts.”
In this case, Bishop’s rhetoric appears to contradict the government’s existing policy: until now, the Australian government had listed only Hamas’ military wing ― the al-Qassam Brigades ― as a terrorist group.
Asked by 3AW radio if the Australian government backed Israel’s ground assault on Gaza, Abbott replied: “We certainly support Israel’s right to exist. We support Israel’s right to self-defence and we deplore the attacks on Israel from Gaza ...
“All I know is that Israel is regularly rocketed from Gaza. That shouldn’t happen.”
Statements like this from Australia’s pro-Israel politicians are hardly new and echo the same, tired talking points: Israel is not the aggressor, it’s defending itself; Israel is not committing acts of terror, it’s fighting terror; Israel is not an apartheid state, it’s a beacon of democracy.
But despite the essential continuity with the line of past Australian governments, there has been a shift in attitude under Abbott. Australia now has the most fanatically pro-Zionist government in its history.
[This article first appeared at teleSUR English.]