Senator Bridget McKenzie – in support of Senator Wong’s motion

photo of Senator Bridget McKenzie
October 16, 2023

For my part, I am a Zionist. I’ve visited Israel several times. I steadfastly and unashamedly defend the right of Israel to defend itself from the existential threat to the only genuine democracy in the Middle East.

Senator McKENZIE (VictoriaLeader of the Nationals in the Senate) (12:07): I rise on behalf of the National Party to support this motion and in particular to agree with the remarks from the Opposition leader, Senator Birmingham; also to recommit Australia’s and this Senate’s unwavering support for the state of Israel in the face of pure, unadulterated evil attacks unleashed by the terrorist organisation Hamas.

On 7 October 2023, Hamas launched a multipronged military operation on Israel that included rocket attacks, balaclava-clad fighters dropping from paragliders, ground assaults on civilians in their homes, on city streets and at a Jewish music festival. The terrorists burst through border fences without any warning or immediate provocation, landed on Israeli beaches and fired thousands of rockets into Israel early on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath and a Jewish holiday. Australians and the world witnessed an unprovoked mass murder of 1,400 Israeli men, women and children: young people at a music festival rounded up and gunned down in cold blood; Israeli mothers, fathers, children brutally beheaded and butchered in their own homes; more still rounded up as hostages. More than 150 people remain captive in Gaza in a further atrocity. Many Israelis have called this attack their 9/11. More than 1,300 civilians and soldiers slaughtered—not just killed, slaughtered—in Israel. Entire family slain; babies killed their cots.

We must call this premeditated attack, perhaps years in the planning, for what it is: absolute indescribable evil. And yet, incomprehensibly for the Jewish people, it was just yet another chapter in millennia of antisemitism and horrific acts of genocide. In fact 7 October 2023 marked the single worst day for loss of life by the Jewish people since the Holocaust, an event all humanity pledged would never happen again.

Our commitment to supporting the State of Israel is deeply rooted in our principles of democracy, freedom and justice. We firmly believe in upholding the rule of law and the rights of sovereign nations to protect their citizens from harm. We defend Israel’s right to defend itself and its duty to protect its citizens.

Hamas, which seeks Israel’s destruction, says it is defending Palestinians’ right to freedom and self-determination. But this wasn’t that.

Israel has a right to protect the innocent, to eliminate the threat to its people, to prevent future harm and to uphold its sovereignty, of which Australia has always been a supporter. Australia and Israel share a unique and profound bond, rooted in a common commitment to democratic values, human rights and the rule of law. Israel is the sole genuine democracy in the Middle East and has consistently upheld democratic values and principles whilst grappling with numerous security challenges and threats.

For my part, I am a Zionist. I’ve visited Israel several times. I steadfastly and unashamedly defend the right of Israel to defend itself from the existential threat to the only genuine democracy in the Middle East.

Australia played a fundamental role in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, in the aftermath of the Holocaust, being the first nation in the world to vote in favour of the United Nations resolution. Australia also accepted an influx of refugees after the Second World War, and those citizens and their children have made an enormous and extraordinary contribution to our nation. Most of them ended up in the capital city of my home state, in Melbourne. The close connection between Australia and Israel has continued, mostly uninterrupted, since then. Support for Israel in Australia has been bipartisan.

I acknowledge today that the Labor Party has, for the most part, been entirely supportive of Israel, and its many champions have included past leaders Doc Evatt, Kim Beazley, Bob Hawke and Bill Shorten—lifelong supporters of Israel and our Jewish community here at home. But Labor has occasionally wavered in its support. Most notably, there was Gough Whitlam’s cooling of relations with Israel during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. In very recent times, we’ve witnessed another period of ambivalence from the Australian Labor Party, as the changes in demographics of Labor electorates have meant that some Labor MPs have put principle aside in favour of their preselection and election.

I was very proud to attend on Friday an Erev Shabbat in Caulfield, organised by the Jewish community in my home state, joining not just thousands of people from the Melbourne Jewish community but also supporters from right across the state of Victoria and state and federal members of parliament. I acknowledge that Senator Paterson spoke at that event, but I was moved and struck in particular by the contribution of the Australian Attorney-General, Mr Mark Dreyfus. I just want to share some of his contribution to that event as we joined together to show our united support:

Many of us here this evening are the children or grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. I am the son of a Holocaust survivor.

And it is unbearable to comprehend how, given all we have endured as a people over our long history, this could be happening again.

Spending sleepless nights waiting desperately to hear from loved ones.

So many fearing for the safety of family and friends in Israel—including those being called up to serve.

There is no excuse for the atrocities of Hamas. There is no justification.

This was not just an attack on the State of Israel.

And it was not just an attack on the people of Israel.

This was an attack on the Jewish people.

He then went on to speak about the ‘unbreakable spirit’ of the Jewish people over time. That was the Australian Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus.

I think, when we say we stand by Israel, it is very concerning that it took days—days—for the Australian Prime Minister to get out of his ‘yes’ T-shirt and get to a synagogue, to actually stand with our Jewish community at their time of need. There was a wholly inadequate response from the New South Wales government to the protest march at the Opera House. It beggars belief that those racist, bigoted zealots were allowed to get on with their day after that appalling behaviour. The one person that got arrested was a man who peacefully was carrying an Israeli flag whilst other protesters at the Opera House cried, ‘Gas the Jews.’ This is Australia in 2023. It’s appalling, and we need to stand up against it. There were no NSC meetings called. All efforts were to downplay the significance of the event.

Language is very important. When we finished Erev Shabbat, as we all dispersed back to our Friday evening, local community members were saying: ‘Thank you for coming. I know you’re not Jewish, but thank you for standing with us.’ On Saturday night, while they were watching this and WhatsApping their families in Irael, there was silence from their own government, the Australian government, in their time of need. A woman pulled me aside and said, ‘I felt so alone.’ That is why this motion is so important. It is so important that they know the Australian parliament—not just the opposition but the government and the Australian Senate—stands with them.

We’ve seen our Minister for Foreign Affairs use very carefully chosen but deliberate words in order to placate some sections within the Australian Labor Party. Hamas is a radical Islamist organisation. It has been a constant threat to the peace and security of Israel and the region. Its repeated rocket attacks and border infiltration—kites aimed at Israeli civilians—have had devastating consequences over many years. These attacks not only violate international law but also demonstrate Hamas’s complete disregard for the lives of both Israelis and the Palestinians in Gaza whom they claim to represent. To those who have genuine concerns for Palestinians living in Gaza: do not forget that Hamas has repeatedly used its own people as human shields. This moral distinction underscores a fundamental difference between a nation that values human life and a terrorist organisation that uses it as a bargaining chip. Australia is the most successful multicultural nation in the world. We are so because there is respect and acceptance of people from all nations and all faiths. I ask those who are torn in their genuine, heartfelt sympathy for Palestinians to just imagine for one moment the same atrocity being perpetuated here on Australian soil. Would your demands for restraint and even-handedness be the same?

In the face of ongoing threats from Hamas, we stand by Israel. The brutal terrorist attack is a tragedy, and one that may change the course of the nation and the entire region. In coming months it’s going to be difficult. The consequences of his unprovoked attack fill us all with dread, but we also must recognise the truth of what has happened. Today is a day when we must clearly and unequivocally say to the people of Israel: we stand with our Jewish community; we reject with all our of hearts, all of our minds and all of our actions any threat to you and yours.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard