Ground zero bad miss for Wong
16 January 2024, The Australian, Editorial
Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s Middle East trip should be an indication that the Albanese government finally has understood the imperative of doing what Australia’s key allies did weeks ago when they rushed special envoys to Israel following Hamas’s barbaric October 7 massacre of Jews. But it would be wrong to be overly optimistic about any real change of attitude in view of Senator Wong’s controversial decision not to visit the sites of the attacks in southern Israel.
The decision is causing concern among Israeli government officials and has dismayed Australia’s embattled Jewish community, Yoni Bashan wrote in Monday’s paper. A visit to “ground zero of the worst anti-Semitic attack since the Holocaust would have been an important show of solidarity with Israel and Jewish Australians”, as Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler says. He is not alone in his views. Australians whose loved ones are being held captive by Hamas or were killed on October 7 have called for Senator Wong to change her plans. As Joanna Panagopoulos reports on Tuesday, Nikki Perzuck – whose 19-year-old cousin, Naama Levy, has been held by Hamas for 100 days – said Senator Wong “had an obligation and a duty” to Australia and to the families of the hostages to visit the massacre sites, a 90-minute drive from Jerusalem.
Senator Wong intends to meet survivors of the massacre and families of the hostages.
That, as she said, is important. But it does not make an excuse of “time constraints” more valid. Her decision appears to be another indication of the extent to which the Albanese government is at odds with key allies over Israel and Middle East policy. As Mr Leibler says, Australia’s stance on Israel contrasts with that of Britain, the US, Canada and Germany. All have strongly backed Israel against allegations of genocide made at the International Court of Justice, while Australia has been embarrassingly silent. The Albanese government also turned its back on the US, Britain and Israel at the UN and voted for a ceasefire in Gaza that made no sense. That UN vote was a seminal event in our relationship with Israel, which has been close for more than 75 years.
The decision by Senator Wong not to go where countless others have gone since October 7 – including opposition counterpart Simon Birmingham, EU top diplomat Josep Borrell, British Foreign Secretary David Cameron, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European parliament president Roberta Metsola and former US vice-president Mike Pence – is no less significant.
Labor Friends of Israel co-founder Mike Kelly, in an article co-written with Strategic Analysis Australia senior fellow Anthony Bergin on Monday, said he believed it was incumbent on Senator Wong to visit the kibbutzes: “She would gain a close, personal appreciation of the brutal, sadistic savagery and genocidal regional Islamist agenda of Hamas. Having this perspective should help form a sound position on Israel’s right and need to prosecute the war against Hamas and to ensure Israel, and the wider world, is never again subject to this kind of evil.”
On Monday, Anthony Albanese refused to support Senator Wong’s decision not to visit the sites. He said he did not keep a “precise itinerary of all my ministers”. But he needs to be better informed about visits of such importance by the Foreign Minister, whose announcement pointedly said she would be travelling to “Jordan, Israel, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the UAE”. If Senator Wong is to get Australia’s relations with Israel, the Middle East’s only functioning democracy and the West’s only dependable ally in the region, back on track she needs to do better.Article link: https://todayspaper.theaustralian.com.au/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=434384a1-6bfc-47e6-a378-58527f63d4cc&share=true
Article source: The Australian | Editorial | 16 January 2024