AIJAC’s submission to the Australian Government’s Soft Power Review

Dec 19, 2018 | AIJAC

Australian peacekeepers assist in a range of troubled regions around the world.
Australian peacekeepers assist in a range of troubled regions around the world.


Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Soft Power Review



This document forms the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) submission to the Australian Government’s Soft Power Review. AIJAC wishes to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the opportunity to make a submission.

This submission will:

  • Present a case-study of contemporary Australia-Israel relations to illustrate the strengths of Australia’s existing expression of soft power;
  • Highlight ways in which aspects of soft power, which have been used most effectively in the relationship between Australia and Israel, can be applied more widely to build stronger relationships between Australia and other nation-states.

AIJAC is the premier public affairs organisation for the Australian Jewish community and conveys the interests of the Australian Jewish community to government, media and other community organisations.

AIJAC takes a strong interest in Australia’s position in the region and beyond, particularly in the Middle East. AIJAC seeks to further Australia’s development as a tolerant and harmonious multicultural society and identify, expose and combat extremism in its various hues. AIJAC also participates in international human rights activities and interfaith dialogue and seeks to increase understanding of Israel in Australia.


Case study: Australia-Israel relations

As stated on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s own website, “Australia has a warm and close relationship with Israel, which is supported strongly by Australia’s active Jewish community.”

The relationship between Australia and Israel is multifaceted and more than just the result of a strong and passionate diaspora community. It is based on shared values and the pursuit of shared interests and is a noteworthy example of the effectiveness of soft power.

Both Australia and Israel have relatively short modern histories. The Australian Commonwealth was formed in 1901 and Israel was declared a state in 1948. Both modern states were democratic from their inception and both have relied heavily on migration to become the vibrant, cohesive societies they are today.


Values and institutions 

As outlined in the Foreign Policy White Paper, one of Australia’s soft power strengths is its “institutions, systems and standards”.

It was in this vein, that Australian diplomat H.V. (Doc) Evatt – a one-time Australian attorney- general and foreign minister, and later president of the United Nations General Assembly – ushered the modern Jewish state into being through his activities at the UN. Evatt took a leadership role in a respected international institution on behalf of a faraway community that was determined to create a new liberal democratic outpost in the Middle East. Evatt’s contribution has provided an excellent foundation for a bilateral relationship that next year will enter its 70th year.

While their ethnic compositions vary, both Australia and Israel are migrant societies which have successfully integrated millions of people born elsewhere.  These waves of migration have assisted both countries to build strong, diversified, outward-looking economies. As an important country to people of Jewish, Christian and Muslim and other faiths, Israel respects and promotes religious freedoms within its borders.

Australia too has a long history of respecting religious freedoms. These shared experiences and values allow Australians and Israelis to relate well to each other in a respectful and meaningful way.

People-to-people links between Australia and Israel are also strong. These links have been built thanks to the ties of the 120,000 strong Australian Jewish community to their ancestral homeland, and also due to the work of private and communal organisations in fostering these connections, including AIJAC. AIJAC has brought Israeli and Australian political, civil society and student leaders together over many years. This has fostered a mutual understanding of both countries and allowed influential Australians and Israelis to consider and build on the shared values and interest of their respective countries.

Identifying and drawing on shared values and interests is a valuable way of exercising soft power. In his seminal piece on soft power, Joseph Nye writes “proof of power lies not in resources but in the ability to change the behaviour of states”. By identifying and then appealing to shared values as a motivation for influencing behaviour, soft power can be effectively exercised.



In his recent speech to the Lowy Institute, Australian businessman Sir Frank Lowy encouraged Australians to look to Israel for examples on how to develop native high-tech and defence industries. “It would benefit both our security and prosperity,” Sir Frank said.

As detailed in the iconic book Start-Up Nation: The story of Israel’s economic miracle, Israel – a country with few, if any, natural resources – was able to draw on the know-how and risk-taking attitude of its population to develop a successful culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Australian Government has already seen the value in aligning its stated priority of creating more jobs with Israel’s strength in innovation, including in technology, by establishing the Landing Pad-Tel Aviv through AusTrade. The objective of the Landing Pad program is to expose Australian start-ups to five global innovation hubs – Tel Aviv included – to help grow their businesses.

As well as Landing Pad-Tel Aviv, the Victorian Government has established a trade and investment office in Tel Aviv to drive commercial opportunities between Victorian and Israeli businesses, particularly in the areas of medical technology and research – a shared strength.

From its side, Israel has an Israel Trade Commission office in Sydney to “promote, enhance and facilitate trade, investment and industrial R&D between Australia and Israel”. The Commission works closely with the private Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce.

There are also now 17 Israel-based companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, with two more preparing to list. Their listing is not purely coincidental. ASX leaders have travelled to Israel six times in two years to court these companies and encourage them to seek investment in Australia. Among the reasons given by Israeli business leaders for listing on the ASX are our favourable regulatory environment, support for emerging companies and proximity to Asian markets.

Nye wrote of the increasing power of “transnational investments” over foreign policy and decision making, as well as the diffusion of power from government to private actors as a result of “modernisation, urbanisation and increased communication”. We can see evidence arising out of these predictions – originally made 28 years ago – in the contemporary Australia-Israel relationship.


Environment and natural disasters

Despite being different in so many ways, both Israel and Australia face challenging environmental situations including water shortages, growing populations and urbanisation, and a susceptibility to natural disasters, particularly drought and bushfire.

Israel, in the midst of a five-year-long drought, relies on desalination and waste-water treatment, as well as highly efficient ways of using water for agriculture to ensure fresh water is available. The drought, as well as Israel’s generally dry climate, has resulted in devastating bushfires, most recently in 2016, when 80,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

Large regions of Australia are also currently experiencing drought, with ramifications for both agriculture and the environment. Water management continues to be a key issue in urban and rural areas, and bushfires are an ever-present danger.

Both countries share well-developed infrastructure for dealing with natural and environmental disasters and both countries often offer, or are called on, for assistance when international disasters arise. The most recent example has been the 2018 Thai cave rescue, where Australia provided diving expertise, while communications technology – given communications were a significant challenge inside the cave system – was provided by an Israeli company.

Rendering assistance in times of need is a generous and noble action – but with the added advantage of creating soft power opportunities and presenting as a helpful member of the international community.


Soft power assets: lessons from the Australia-Israel case study

As described in the Australian Government’s Foreign Policy White Paper, Australia has a range of foreign policy partners and a suite of existing soft power strengths, many of which are evidenced in the strengthening relationship between Australia and Israel.

On face value, there are more differences than similarities between Australia and Israel. Australia is enormous and diverse geographically, Israel is tiny and mainly arid. Australia is located in the Indo-Pacific, Israel in the heart of the Middle East. Australia shares no borders and is surrounded by vast oceans, Israel is bordered by four other countries and the Palestinian Territories. Australia is flush with natural resources – mineral, timber, arable land – while Israel has had to work with next to no natural resources.

However, a range of partners, both government and non-government, have helped establish a strong and symbiotic relationship. Government-to-government connections have taken place at the highest level – with both former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paying reciprocal visits during this term of the Australian Parliament – and many MPs and MKs (Members of the Knesset) continue to travel to each other’s home country.

As outlined earlier, stronger economic links between Australia and Israel are being encouraged and developed, accelerated by start-ups from both Israel and Australia seeking opportunities in the other’s country, and by non-government institutions, such as the ASX and the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce facilitating business opportunities. These links are being supported by government trade agencies, including Austrade and the Israel Trade Commission.

The strength of the Jewish diaspora in Australia – which includes many individuals, as well as civil society groups, that have supportive feelings towards Israel as the world’s only Jewish state – fortifies the relationship by encouraging reciprocal visits, among others, by scientists, academics, industry leaders and regional security experts. These visits have led to the establishment of joint biomedical research projects, defence and intelligence cooperation and academic collaboration.

A strong suite of shared interests also assists the bilateral relationship, including a mutual commitment to liberal and democratic values – such as freedom of religious practice, association and speech – a strong and continuing commitment to welcoming and integrating migrants, and a willingness to share expertise when others are in need.

Modern diplomatic relationships require creative thinking – something in which both Australia and Israel excel. In seeking closer relations with our Asian neighbours, particularly those with emerging or high-tech based economies, Australia should be using its strong ties to Israel as a soft power asset. Australia should act as a conduit for Israeli know-how into our region. This has the dual benefit of promoting regional development and building goodwill towards Australia as it incubates new relationships and promotes mutually beneficial associations. Australia could partner with Israeli experts to share solutions to problems also confronting our Indo-Pacific neighbours, for example, water efficiency in agriculture, cyber-security, high tech manufacturing or developing and fostering entrepreneurship.

As correctly noted in the Foreign Affairs White Paper, Australia is in “a position close to the top of global surveys of soft power”. Its soft power assets are significant but are best deployed in a strategic manner. Australia’s strategic relationship with Israel has created an important partnership in the Middle East with the region’s only truly democratic nation. It has provided Australian businesses with another foothold into an important economic region and it allows opportunities for Australia and Israel to advance universal interests and collaborate in the resolution of global problems.

This model can – and should – be replicated with other countries with whom Australia shares interests. Drawing on our outwardly focussed economy, strong liberal values and vibrant diaspora communities, Australia has the chance to become even better at deploying its significant soft power assets and reaping the concomitant dividends.




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