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Agony of an ally: PM’s ‘Gaza contradictions’

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16 December 2023, The Australian, by Alexi Demetriadi

Israeli ambassador Amir Maimon has accused Anthony Albanese of contradictory messages over the war with Hamas, declared the Jewish homeland’s fight against terrorism has been held to a different standard from Australia’s own operations against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and lamented that his citizens did not feel secure in this country.

Amid another weekend of ­nationwide pro-Palestine stunts including the televised hijacking of Carols by Candlelight in Melbourne, Mr Maimon said Israel had a responsibility to toughen travel warnings on Australia and said Israelis did not feel secure in “your beautiful country.”

Following Labor’s U-turn to support a ceasefire at the UN ­general assembly this month, Mr Maimon, in a rare interview, also questioned how the prime Minister himself could support both a pause in the war and the ultimate removal of Hamas from Gaza.

“I find it hard to understand how a democratic nation like Australia has doubts about Israel’s right to defend itself and use all possible means to ensure Israelis aren’t living under a similar threat (against Hamas) in the future,” Mr Maimon said. “(And that) the Prime Minister understands that Hamas cannot be part of future governance in Gaza … yet supports a ceasefire. These are contradictory messages.”

In a viral video circulating last week, Hamas senior leader Ghazi Hamad appeared to applaud Australia’s ceasefire U-turn. Mr Albanese criticised the video as “propaganda”.

Mr Maimon said Israel was being treated differently from Western nations in its pursuit of terror groups, and made direct comparisons with the war in Afghanistan.

“I wonder what the international community’s reaction would be if, instead of Israel, it was Australia, New Zealand or the UK fighting against such an evil terror organisation,” Mr Maimon said.

“I wonder if they would be under the same pressure or calls (to lay down arms)? Or under the same kind of focus on the humanitarian situation or calls about adhering to law.

“I didn’t hear it (the same calls) when Australia was part of an international force fighting in Afghanistan … Israel is measured by a different standard.”

When criticisms of Israel’s military approach were put to him – according to the Hamas-run health ministry more than 20,000 people have been killed – Mr Maimon stressed that “Israel was in full adherence to international ­humanitarian and conflict law”, and doing its utmost to limit the death toll in Gaza.

“While I do understand some of the concerns … Israel are the victims, we were attacked,” he said.

“The war could be over tomorrow if Hamas surrender, gave up its arms and released its hostages. The pressure should not be on Israel (but Hamas).

“Israel is using its defence systems to defend its people against Hamas. Whereas Hamas is using theirs to defend their missiles and other weapons.”

On Christmas Eve, the Hamas-run health ministry claimed an ­Israeli air strike on the Al-Maghazi refugee camp had killed at least 70 people. The Israeli Defence Force said it was looking into the strike and that it had retrieved the bodies of five Israeli hostages killed in Hamas captivity from a tunnel network in northern Gaza.

After one of the deadliest days of the conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the war had come at a “very heavy price for his country” but that the Jewish state had “no choice” but to keep fighting amid reports Egypt had proposed a new ceasefire.

The Israeli ambassador’s comments came in the midst of another weekend of protests, with Melbourne’s Carols by Candlelight disrupted onstage by pro-Palestine activists on Christmas Eve. Mr Maimon said neither his embassy nor the Netanyahu government could no longer ignore a pattern of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli sentiment and language across the nation.

“We’re not talking about isolated events; they’re frequent … Personally, I feel sad that Israelis do not feel secure in your beautiful country,” he said.

The Israeli government uplifted its travel warning for Australia to “Level 2” this month, recommending Israelis take extra precautions when visiting.

Revealing his involvement in raising the travel warnings, Mr Maimon said any “responsible” government had to advise its citizens about the reality on the ground. “We had to do what every nation is doing in light of (pro-Palestine) protests and demonstrations,” he said.

The ambassador referenced scenes at the Opera House on October 9, but also pro-Palestine protesters who demonstrated at a Melbourne hotel on November 29 where relatives of Israeli hostages were staying.

“It’s not that we are advising Israelis against travelling here, but we alerted them they may encounter demonstrations and that they should be aware of it,” Mr Maimon said.

“It’s perfectly okay to support (a side), but in a respectful way, in a respectful manner.”

The ambassador – who was in Israel on October 7, and who has lost two family members in the conflict – said Israelis back home and in Australia had “never been more united than we are now”.

“I’ve been moved by the amount of events and activities led and organised by Israelis in Australia,” Mr Maimon said.

“That’s what the ‘Israeli spirit’ is all about – during a time of need, they come and show up, and that’s something very special.”

Mr Maimon said Israeli citizens had never been more disunited earlier in the year, given Israel’s domestic and political situation – something which had now been flipped on its head.

“Before October 7, there were a lot of reports on the domestic political situation, about weekly protests (in Israel) and the tension between different groups,” he said.

“But today, one of the things I’m very proud of is that – and even though people may have different views on how the government is handling the war – Israelis are all united, supportive of efforts to eradicate Hamas.”

Israeli and Arab media reported on Christmas Eve that Egypt had put forward ceasefire proposals that would be implemented in three parts.

The first phase would involve a seven to 10-day pause in which Hamas would release all civilian hostages in exchange for the release of some Palestinian prisoners, followed by a week-long second phase where Hamas would release all Israeli female soldiers in return for more prisoners and the exchange of corpses held since 7 October. In the third, month-long phase, the remaining hostages and a number of Palestinian prisoners would be released, and Israel would withdraw from the Gaza Strip and suspend all aerial activities.

Hamas’ health ministry has said more than 20,000 people have been killed during the conflict and more than 50,000 injured in Gaza. More than 1200 Israelis were killed and about 240 hostages taken during Hamas’s attacks.

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Article source: The Australian | Alexi Demetriadi | 16.12.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000