Why has Australia acted in lock step with the United States in supporting Israel’s latest genocidal war on Gaza?
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese once described himself as a “strong advocate of justice for Palestinians. He once acknowledged the daily humiliation Palestinians undergo under Israeli occupation and, in 2013, helped found the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine.
But now he blames and demonises Hamas for instigating the bloody conflict.
“There is no question that Israel has the right to defend itself against a terrorist organisation, and to take strong action against it. But we join the call from President [Joe] Biden and other partners for Israel to operate by the rules of war,” the PM said.
However, since October 7, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has blatantly flouted the rules of war with its ruthless bombing campaign that has killed at least 14,800 Palestinians — mostly women and children.
It has turned much of Gaza into rubble and displaced 1.8 million Palestinians (80% of the population).
In the first two weeks after October 7, Israel detained without trial thousands (including many children) from the West Bank, swelling the numbers of Palestinians in detention to nearly 10,000.
The gross disproportion between the alleged 1200 Israeli deaths and 240 hostages taken that day and the cold and calculated slaughter of so many more Palestinian civilians by the IDF has smashed the argument that this is in any way a justified response by Israel.
Public opinion in Australia has swiftly turned against the Albanese government’s line. A Roy Morgan poll on November 9 found that 51% want the IDF to withdraw from Gaza immediately.
It also found that 65% of people aged 18–34 and 64% of women wanted an immediate Israeli withdrawal.
According to the pollster, those wanting Israel’s immediate withdrawal cited “the disproportionate impact on civilians and the humanitarian crisis, that over 99% of casualties and deaths have been civilians, that too many innocent are being killed and that it’s time to sit down and talk”.
“The respondents said that [Israel’s armed forces] are implementing atrocities against civilians and children and that their actions are beyond cruel.
“Other proponents of an immediate withdrawal said that Israel has occupied Palestine for far too long and that Palestine needs to be free and that it is not Israeli land and that they are engaging in a genocide and that ‘war crimes are war crimes on both sides’ — the initial attack doesn’t justify the current actions of the IDF.”
Shared values or self-interest?
The US and Australian governments justify supporting Israel’s genocide in Gaza with rhetoric about “shared values” and “sacred bonds” of friendship.
But US President Joe Biden inadvertently drew attention to the real reason when he repeated the line that “if there were not an Israel, we would have to invent one”.
However, when Biden originally said this in the US Senate in 1986, he was blunt about the reasons.
Proclaiming Israel “the best $3 billion investment” the US had made, Biden then explained: “Were there not an Israel, the United States would have to invent an Israel to protect her interests in the region.”
Biden emphasised that the US’ “naked self-interest” should always guide its Middle East policy. As Professor M Muhannad Ayyash explained in The Conversation, Biden’s support for Israel derives from that.
US interests in the Middle East have commonly been simplified into one word — “oil”.
But while this is clearly one important factor, imperial interests go beyond the protection of economic resources and specific trade routes, to the protection of wider political domination.
The RAND Corporation, a think tank created in 1948 by Douglas Aircraft Company to offer research and analysis to the US military, has never been coy about these interests.
The think tank spelled these out in its 2017 paper, US Strategic Interests in the Middle East and Implications for the Army.
It defined US interests as “ensuring the free flow of natural resources and maintaining relationships with key allies and protecting them from external threats, in part to ensure access for US military operations”.
The paper made it clear that the US has no unconditional friends in the region and has no commitment to democratisation.
University of Sydney Associate Professor Jake Lynch told Green Left that Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan, once described Israel as “America’s unsinkable battleship in the Middle East”, tasked with “upholding a so-called Pax Americana, sometimes called the ‘international rules-based order’, a phrase we are used to hearing from Australian politicians”.
Protecting the powerful
What that means, Lynch said, is “a way of doing things which protects, but does not bind, the powerful, while it binds, but does not protect, the powerless”.
“It is there to perpetuate the unjust system of global relations and that is what is really at stake for the Australian military industrial complex, which is part of this war.”
By feeding data from the “joint” US-Australia military spy base in Pine Gap to the IDF to use in its bombing campaign in Gaza, the Australian state is doing its bit to protect this imperial order.
Labor has seamlessly adopted the Coalition’s plan to further integrate Australia into the US imperial military machine. It aims to grow the country’s military industrial complex to become the world’s 10th biggest arms exporter — a position currently held by Israel.
This has made powerful sections of Australia’s capitalist class business partners of the Israeli and US arms industries, cementing the strategic alliance between imperial allies.
At the political level, a well-funded machinery ensures that major party politicians remain committed to this alliance.
MPs are sent on trips to Israel and the US, and the owners of the corporate “mainstream media” regularly remind the political class which side they have to be on if they want to remain in government.
The Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) said that between June 2018 and April 2022, federal MPs received more sponsored trips to Israel than to any other country.
There were 25 parliamentary visits to Israel, with the next most popular destinations being Taiwan (17 visits) and the US (15 visits).
The corporate media justifies Israel’s genocide in Gaza in a way that also points to the imperial interests behind it.
The Murdoch media, the commercial TV channels, The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald (now owned by Channel Nine) — and, increasingly, the ABC — have shamelessly appealed to the racist double standards on the value of human lives, including those of innocent civilians.
We are expected to accept that the lives of mostly European Israelis are more valuable than the lives of Palestinians.
They play to the ugly racist legacy from Australia’s history as a European colonial settler state, as with Israel, based on the dispossession of indigenous peoples.
This racist mentality is reinforced by Australia’s membership of the self-perpetuating club of wealthy imperialist states.
“There is a clear congruence between the colonial settler states that adds to the reason why Australia is in the business of truth avoidance,” Lynch explained.
“A lot of this is cloaked in a tidal wave of euphemisms from Australian politicians, including from foreign minister Penny Wong. But people shouldn’t be distracted by that. We should focus on Australia’s complicity and demand that it be brought to an end.”