Labor: friends with Israel despite 'passport affair'

Issue 

Just in case anybody thought the episode involving mild criticism from Labor parliamentary leaders over Israeli involvement in forging Australian passports was going to lead to a change in Australia's craven support for Israeli apartheid, foreign minister Stephen Smith has put the record straight.

On March 17, Smith hosted a special ceremony to publicly receive a report prepared by the Australia Israel Leadership Forum that recommended "enhancing" the "Australia-Israel relationship".

The report's proposals include that Australian military staff colleges host Israeli officers. A free trade agreement between Australia and Israel is also proposed. The report also recommends auditing and "giving life" to existing bilateral agreements that have become "moribund" over time.

Smith told the gathering: "The friendship between Australia and Israel is longstanding and it is enduring, and that will continue.

"Despite recent events, which have been the result of public commentary between Australia and Israel, that friendship will endure … Our support for Israel … is ongoing and our strong commitment to that will not, in any way, waver."

The recent events include not only the passports affair, but also Israel's announcement of plans to buils 1600 new illegal apartments in East Jerusalem just as US vice president Joe Biden was arriving in Israel.

Then, Smith made the most mild rebuke: "I share the view that this is a bad decision at the wrong time and it's not a helpful contribution to the peace process."

Like elite US and Israeli commentators, Smith criticised the timing, not the substance, of the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

A few days before Smith's pro-Israel ceremony, Israeli company Elbit Systems won a $349 million contract to supply command, control and communications systems to the Australian army.

Australia should take a different approach. We should end government support for Israel's ongoing oppression of Palestinians, exemplified by the war on Gaza over December 2007-January 2008, in which 1400 Palestinians — mostly civilians — died.

Instead, we should support — at government level — the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. A similar campaign was successful against apartheid South Africa.

[Alex Bainbridge is the Socialist Alliance candidate for Perth, now held by Stephen Smith.]

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