Senator Eric Abetz – Estimates question about Governor-General’s visit to Israel

photo of Senator Eric Abetz
March 5, 2020

Questioned the Governor-General’s travel itinerary which combined commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz and a visit to President Abbas.

I will move to His Excellency’s visit to Israel to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which I believe His Excellency was invited to. The invitation was issued to him directly as head of state. After that, he paid a visit to President Abbas. Was that of His Excellency’s volition, or was that suggested to him by the department of foreign affairs?

Whole interaction with Dr Angela Macdonald (First Assistant Secretary, Middle East and Africa Division, DFAT) and Ms Frances Adamson (Secretary, DFAT) during Senate Estimates (Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee, Foreign Affairs and Trade Portfolio).

CHAIR: Thank you. I will move to His Excellency’s visit to Israel to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, which I believe His Excellency was invited to. The invitation was issued to him directly as head of state. After that, he paid a visit to President Abbas. Was that of His Excellency’s volition, or was that suggested to him by the department of foreign affairs?

 

Dr Macdonald : The Governor-General’s program is, of course, a matter for Government House. Our post in Tel Aviv did make some recommendations on options for his program, including a suggested meeting with President Abbas.

 

CHAIR: So that came from the department of foreign affairs. Correct me if I am wrong, but President Abbas has a doctorate. Is that correct?

 

Dr Macdonald : I would have to check. If you say so, yes.

 

CHAIR: His doctorate was a thesis on bringing together Nazism and Zionism. Is that also correct?

 

Dr Macdonald : If you say so. I don’t know.

 

CHAIR: Can you check to make sure that that which I am asserting is in fact correct? And as part of his thesis to become a doctor, he asserted ‘only’—I stress that I’m putting the inverted commas around ‘only’—one million people were killed in the Holocaust rather than six million. Can you check up on that? What was the thinking, after having celebrated the liberation of Auschwitz, to send His Excellency the very next day to basically a Holocaust denier and somebody who makes the outrageous claim in his doctorate thesis of linking Nazism with Zionism? I would have thought that, in all of the circumstances, it is inappropriate, especially after he’s just been to the celebration of the liberation of Auschwitz.

 

Ms Adamson : I will perhaps add that the Governor-General was, as we would say, in good company in making that visit with Prince Charles.

 

CHAIR: I know other people in the world went along as well.

 

Ms Adamson : With President Macron and President Putin. He was, of course, as you would have expected him to be, fully transparent with his Israeli hosts, with President Rivlin, who asked the Governor-General in fact to convey his regards to Dr Abbas.

 

CHAIR: So he is a doctor; good. We’ll find out what he got his doctorate for.

 

Ms Adamson : If you were thinking that there might have been any concern on the part of his Israeli hosts, there wasn’t.

 

CHAIR: I understand the sensitivities, especially from Israel’s point of view et cetera. Why do we fete individuals like this? I think Prince Charles was there as well.

 

Ms Adamson : He was.

 

CHAIR: It seems to be one of these things, doesn’t it, that all world leaders seem to love to pay homage to these people I have questions about.

 

Ms Adamson : Well, I think the particular interest, of course, is in demonstrating the practical support for a two-state solution. That was the background against which our embassy provided the advice that they did and that was accepted by Government House.

 

CHAIR: Does Dr Abbas support the two-state solution or does he support, along with the Palestinian Authority, the abolition of the State of Israel? Do we know the answer to that? I think we do. Does Dr Abbas support the ongoing existence of the State of Israel? Does he want it wiped off the face of the map?

 

Dr Macdonald : I don’t know the answer to that.

 

CHAIR: Really?

 

Dr Macdonald : The Palestinian Authority is, of course, recognised by Israel and by others as the leadership of the Palestinian people. It’s on that basis that—

 

CHAIR: My question is: does Dr Abbas and the Palestinian Authority accept the right of the State of Israel to exist? I think we need an answer to that.

 

Ms Adamson : I think the answer to that question is that they do. The quote that you gave before was an Iranian quote, as I recall it, in terms of being wiped off the face of the earth. If you look at the responses to the US vision statement, what concerns the Palestinians is that there is little prospect remaining in their eyes for a negotiation of the final status elements which might lead to a two-state solution. But we will check with our embassy in Tel Aviv about what a fair characterisation of his position might be. I know you’re very well informed on these matters. We would like to check.

 

CHAIR: I am always willing to be corrected—

 

Ms Adamson : Of course.

 

CHAIR: in the event that I am wrong.

 

Ms Adamson : As am I.

Link to full Hansard transcript.

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