The Rudd government will send a 40-member delegation, led by deputy prime minister Julia Gillard, to an "Australia Israel Leadership Forum" in Jerusalem on June 25-26. The government's decision is yet further confirmation of its desire to outdo the former Howard government in blind support for Israel.
Gillard will be accompanied by Labor MPs Michael Danby, Mark Dreyfus and Mike Kelly. Liberal MPs and senators Peter Costello, Christopher Pyne, George Brandis and Guy Barnett will also attend. Scientists, academics, businesspeople and journalists will complete the delegation.
The visit has been organised by Zionist lobby group Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (AICE). The group was launched in 2002 by then-foreign minister Alexander Downer and then-Israeli foreign minister (and now prime minister) Benjamin Netanyahu.
AICE sponsored Kevin Rudd's first trip to Israel in the same year, as well as a second in 2005.
The May 26 Sydney Morning Herald said the aim of the visit was to "strengthen political, business and cultural ties" with Israel and "promote an exchange of ideas and issues common to both countries, such as water, electoral reform and education."
A token side-trip to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah has also been scheduled. However, as the SMH pointed out, "the purpose of the forum … [is] not to engage with different points of view on the Israel-Palestine question".
The delegation's visit will mark yet another milestone in the Rudd government's uncritical support for the Jewish state.
Last year the prime minister moved an unprecedented motion in parliament celebrating Israel's 60th anniversary.
This year the ALP government firmly backed Israel in its wholly disproportionate and murderous attack on Gaza. Israel's brutal war resulted in the slaughter of 1400 Palestinians and reduced much of Gaza's infrastructure to rubble.
Australia also took part in the US/Israel-led boycott of the World Conference Against Racism in April.
There has been dissent in Labor ranks about the delegation. On June 15 Julia Irwin, the ALP MP for Fowler, said: "When leaders and academics are distancing themselves from Israel following its attacks on Lebanon and Gaza, Australian politicians are taking part in this public relations exercise."
Other Labor ministers and MPs, including Tanya Plibersek, have reportedly lobbied Gillard to cancel the trip.
In addition, a petition initiated by Jewish anti-Zionist academic Ned Curthoys calling on Gillard to cancel her trip has been signed by more than 170 prominent Australians. The signatories include journalists Antony Lowenstein and John Pilger and Kevin Rudd's nephew, artist Van Thanh Rudd.
The petition declared: "We consider this trip a dreadful affront to the many Palestinians left maimed, wounded, traumatised and homeless by Israel's devastating assault on the Gaza Strip in late '08, early '09.
"We reject the oft-touted cliche that Israel is a democracy like Australia; rather we remind those intent on strengthening cultural and political exchange between Israel and Australia that Israel is not a state for all its citizens but a state that explicitly advances the interests of one ethnicity alone, a state of affairs that is simply unthinkable in modern Australia.
"Every parliamentarian ought to think seriously about the moral implications of Australia normalising relations with a state that is still under investigation for war crimes committed during Israel's Cast Lead operation."
A June 11 Roy Morgan poll, commissioned by Sydney's Coalition for Justice & Peace in Palestine (CJPP) and Adelaide's Australian Friends of Palestine, found that a majority of Australians now support the Palestinians.
CJPP convenor and academic Peter Manning said: "The national poll shows the federal Labor government is out of step with public opinion when it cuddles up to Israel … 42% of Australians found Israel's actions [in Gaza] 'not justified' whereas only 29% found them 'justified'. The rest said they 'couldn't say'."
At a time when former US president Jimmy Carter, a recent visitor to Gaza, has declared that the Palestinians are "treated more like animals than human beings" and that "never before in history has a large community like this been savaged by bombs and missiles then denied the means to repair itself", Gillard's visit to Israel simply cannot be justified.