Australia/Israel Review

Editorial: A Mandate and a Mission

May 29, 2019 | Colin Rubenstein

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We have just witnessed the stunning re-election of the Morrison Government in defiance of almost all pollsters and pundits, who largely predicted a Bill Shorten-led Labor victory.

It was a hard-fought contest and AIJAC congratulates Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his Government on their successful campaign and wishes them wisdom and courage as they seek to govern in the interests of all Australians in the coming term.

We also offer congratulations to all those who will represent their communities in Australia’s 46th Parliament – including new Jewish Labor MP Josh Burns and re-elected Jewish MPs Liberal deputy leader Josh Frydenberg, Julian Leeser, Mark Dreyfus and Mike Freelander. And we offer our sincere gratitude and best wishes to the many parliamentary friends who have either retired or been unsuccessful at this election.

AIJAC also thanks Bill Shorten for his strong leadership of the ALP. Under him, Labor maintained its proud support for the Australian Jewish community and continued to emphasise the importance of Australia’s strong ties with Israel.

One of the first international leaders to warmly congratulate Morrison was his Israeli counterpart Binyamin Netanyahu (also recently re-elected but still facing the always difficult task of forming a governing coalition). This was with good reason: during his first nine months in the top job, Morrison’s Government made a number of policy decisions to reinforce the good ties already shared between Australia and Israel.

Particularly noteworthy was Morrison’s decision to recognise west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital because, as he said, “fundamentally it is the right of every country to determine its national capital”. He announced Australia would relocate its embassy to Jerusalem “when practical in support of… a final status determination” and, in the meantime, would look for an embassy site. The government also opened an Australian trade and defence office in Jerusalem on the eve of the election.

Also positive was the Morrison Government’s principled approach to United Nations voting. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council, Australia, under the Coalition, has publicly made a point of voting against all proposed resolutions under the separate agenda item which guarantees the Council will always unfairly single out Israel for condemnation. A similarly principled approach characterised Australia’s voting record in the UN General Assembly. 

For supporters of Israel and a just peace in the Middle East, the Greens’ lack of progress at the election was not unwelcome. Whatever one thinks of the Greens’ environmental stance, as AIJAC research has demonstrated, the party is home to some worrying stances on Israel, and indeed occasional flirtations with antisemitism.

Despite the Greens’ support for a two-state peace for Israelis and Palestinians in their official platform, some current Greens senators and candidates have been, tacitly or openly, supporting boycotts of Israel, a campaign that ultimately seeks the destruction of the Jewish state, and even attended anti-Israel rallies where demonstrators flew flags of terrorist organisations sworn to Israel’s destruction. 

Another positive is the diminished political power of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party and other far-right groups in the new Senate.

Disturbingly, this campaign was also characterised by a sharp upswing in antisemitic graffiti on campaign posters. Jewish and non-Jewish candidates from the left and the right were targetted with antisemitic tropes in a reminder that there is a global upsurge in antisemitism – and Australia is not immune from this ugly trend. 

Looking ahead, the re-elected Coalition Government will face numerous domestic and international challenges. Hopefully, once the government finds its feet, one seminal issue to be reconsidered will be Australia’s problematic stance on Iran.

Significantly, media reports suggested that PM Morrison discussed the recent escalating security challenges posed by Iran in a phone call from US President Donald Trump following his election victory. 

Late last year, the Government conducted a review into its Iran policy – and surprisingly concluded that Australia should continue to support the badly flawed Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear deal despite the US withdrawal from it, while stepping up efforts to confront Iranian rogue behaviour on other fronts. In the words of Morrison, these included “Iran’s destabilising activities in the Middle East and beyond… Iran’s proliferation of ballistic missiles and technology… activities undermining Israel’s security, and support for terrorist groups.”

The Trump conversation may have prompted Morrison to both reconsider Australia’s support for the JCPOA and to make good on his December statement at the conclusion of the Iran policy review, when the Prime Minister proclaimed: “We will keep the option of additional autonomous sanctions under active review.”

Now is incontrovertibly the time for that review process to kick into high gear. 

The JCPOA has barely contained Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the three years of its operation while lifting sanctions has allowed Iran to increase its “destabilising activities”, including arming terrorist groups and, most recently, launching proxy attacks on US and Arab Gulf State interests in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, Iran is on the brink of ending its commitment to honour the terms of the JCPOA – saying it will no longer abide by JCPOA limits on its enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, while threatening to enrich uranium to levels prohibited under the agreement. 

Tellingly, during the campaign Foreign Minister Marise Payne made it clear the Australian Government was “deeply concerned” about Iran’s latest announcement concerning the JCPOA. 

The policy environment regarding Iran has thus changed significantly since December. With a renewed mandate and a government energised by an emphatic election victory, now is the time for Australia to think again about the JCPOA and our wider efforts to confront the problem of Iranian aggression and rogue behaviour in the world’s most volatile region. 

While the new Morrison Government unquestionably confronts a testing agenda both domestically and internationally, few issues are likely to have more fateful consequences for Australia’s long-term global interests than our approach to the Iranian challenge. 


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