WAKIM: Dangers of G’day visit to Israel June 17, 2009

by Joe Wakim

The Canberra Times

Joe Wakim

A true friend will tell you the truth, without fear. But in Realpolitik, read the word ”friend” as ”I owe you a favour”. Such is the perception of Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s delegation to Israel this week as part of G’Day Shalom Salam Israel, an event organised by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange.

The delegation includes leaders from politics, science, academia, business, the media and art. There is no obvious relevance between Gillard’s portfolio and this visit, unless as Minister for Social Inclusion she can see any parallels between Australia’s ”fair go” and Israel’s policies, which Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former United States president Jimmy Carter have both compared with South African apartheid.

The timing appears oblivious to the fact that the United Nations has established a fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international human rights during Operation Cast Lead, when Israel’s collective punishment and bombardment killed 1400 Gazans five months ago.

Oblivious to the Knesset approving a proposed Bill to outlaw commemorations of the Palestinian Naqba on Israel’s Independence day. Oblivious to a Bill by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman that compels all Israeli citizens, indigenous or immigrant, Jew or Gentile, to swear allegiance to the state of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist and democratic state. This would have been akin to requiring Jews under Nazi occupation to swear allegiance to Germany as an Aryan state.

Oblivious to US President Barack Obama, who sought a ”new beginning” in his Cairo speech, and has put the newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on notice that it is time for these settlements to stop. Oblivious to the slap in the face given in Netanyahu’s speech last Sunday, when he insisted on continuing the natural growth of settlements in occupied West Bank. With one hand, he calls on Palestinian neighbours to begin peace negotiations immediately, without preconditions. But with the other hand, he lists the pre-conditions: recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, no right of return by displaced Palestinian refugees, no compromise on undivided Jerusalem and no Palestinian army.

Oblivious to a recent national poll by Roy Morgan Research that showed that Australian sympathies lie more with Palestinians. As Peter Manning concluded: the Federal Labor Government is out of step with public opinion when it cuddles up to Israel. Oblivious to the fact that her own Labor colleagues, such as Julia Irwin, have criticised this public relations exercise while other world leaders are distancing themselves from Israel.

What can be louder than these political alarm bells to the ears of Gillard?

The answer may lie in the clinking of champagne glasses at the gala dinner to be held at Jerusalem’s prestigious King David Hotel. After our delegation attends the Australia Israel Leadership Forum on June 25-26, there will be a festive celebration that showcases Australia’s finest music, films and food. While nationalistic art is appreciated and applauded, while Australians and Israelis dance and dine, Semitic cousins on the other side of the apartheid wall in the West Bank and Gaza continue their diet under constant checkpoints. Like a movie scene, this is hauntingly familiar.

The forum is not intended to explore differences of opinion, but to exchange commonalities between the two countries, such as educational programs, climate change and water management. A true friend would not shy away from telling the truth. This is in line with Obama’s landmark speech in Cairo: ”As the Holy Koran tells us, be conscious of God and speak always the truth.”

Imagine if Gillard, in the spirit of cultural exchange, tells her counterpart about Australia’s own landmark sorry speech and the annual Sorry Day on May 26. Imagine if she reciprocated her statement that Israel is a country with much to teach us. Imagine her own speech: ”G’Day, Shalom, Salaam, Israel. As an honest friend, who cares for your future, and understands the crossroads and the consequences, I must share with you the profound and positive effect of our public apology to our own indigenous people. This is something I urge you to adopt for your own indigenous people, whose plight and narrative has undeniable commonalties with ours. As our Prime Minister stated, step one is bring home the facts the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth facing it, dealing with it, moving on from it.”

After all, this is what democracies do: listen to the majority opinion, not acquiesce to the loudest sounds.

Joseph Wakim is founder of the Australian Arabic Council and a former Multicultural Affairs Commissioner.

LINK: http://www.canberratimes.com.au/news/opinion/editorial/general/dangers-of-gday-visit-to-israel/1543379.aspx?storypage=0

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