I have made many speeches in this chamber and elsewhere, and it is well known that I am a fervent supporter of the state of Israel. I will always come to Israel’s defence and speak up publicly when I think they have been unfairly vilified and criticised. In recent times in New South Wales, particularly during the state election, we have seen a big focus on the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. This is, I believe, an insidious campaign that is occurring around the world which is intended to isolate and demonise the state of Israel.
Senator FORSHAW (New South Wales) (19:41): When I came to the Senate 17 years ago, in May 1994, only a few months before the Oslo peace accords had been negotiated and signed on the lawns of the White House in Washington. Some years later, in 1999, I had the opportunity to visit Israel and travel through the country and also the Palestinian territories. During those six years there was a genuine feeling of optimism that peace would come to the Middle East—built upon the Oslo accords and leading into the year 2000 to the negotiations at the Camp David summit.
Sadly, since that time, I have followed the Middle East issues, like many other members of this parliament, and it is always depressing. Sometimes there is hope, but usually it is dashed very quickly. I look back on those early years when I was here and also those years of optimism and wonder what would have been the case if the Camp David summit, the Clinton plan, had been fulfilled—if Yasser Arafat had taken that one step to accept what was on the table. Prime Minister Ehud Barak had gone to extraordinary lengths to put forward a plan for peace and the establishment of two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side.
Indeed, just before I visited Israel in November 1999 I was in Paris at a conference. I was in a large conference hall where on the stage were Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat—their arms linked. Together with them were Tony Blair, President Lionel Jospin from France and a whole range of other world leaders. The hope and the optimism was truly magnificent. But, sadly, as I said, it has not come to pass. As former Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir once said, ‘Unfortunately the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’ I do not stand here tonight to say that all the blame belongs with them, but I do stand here for the last time making a speech on the Middle East, as I have done on many occasions, and hoping that, in the years to come, people of goodwill and commonsense in Palestine and in Israel can get around the table and finally negotiate the agreement which we all look forward to.
I have made many speeches in this chamber and elsewhere, and it is well known that I am a fervent supporter of the state of Israel. I will always come to Israel’s defence and speak up publicly when I think they have been unfairly vilified and criticised. In recent times in New South Wales, particularly during the state election, we have seen a big focus on the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign. This is, I believe, an insidious campaign that is occurring around the world which is intended to isolate and demonise the state of Israel. Sure, people can be critical of Israel’s policies, such as on settlements—as many people who live in Israel are, and as political parties in that state are. But hypocrisy and duplicity I will always condemn.
I have been to Israel, I have been in the Knesset, and I have seen the most vibrant of arguments between the different political parties, including the representatives of the Israeli Arabs. If we think that we get pretty volatile in this parliament at times, I invite anybody to visit the Knesset and see what happens there. It is real democracy in action. Sadly, when we thought democracy might have come to Palestine, what we saw after the election some years ago was Hamas, the terrorist organisation, drive out the moderate forces from Gaza—Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, who are now largely confined to the West Bank. Once again we have seen in recent days the talks between those two groups break down, and they usually break down over whether or not Hamas is ever prepared to recognise Israel.
People—particularly those who support the BDS campaign—refer to the hostilities in Gaza, when Israel finally had to take action to stop the rockets and the war ensued. But they very rarely comment upon how many Palestinians were killed during the civil war between Hamas and Fatah supporters: as many as were killed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. I find it interesting also that the blockade that was instituted last year, in May—the so-called Freedom Flotilla on the ship the Mavi Marmara—which sought to run the Gaza blockade, left Turkey. What I find particularly hypocritical is that that ship did not call into Famagusta, the port in northern Cyprus—the ghost city of northern Cyprus. Thirty-seven years ago Turkey invaded Cyprus, and it continues to occupy the northern part of that island with 30,000 troops stationed on the island. They did not call in to northern Cyprus; they sailed on towards Gaza, talking about peace, freedom and liberation in Gaza and condemning Israel—sheer hypocrisy on the part of Turkey, the Turkish government and those who were supporters of that venture.
There may be seeing some positive signs now in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Quite surprisingly for all of us, it has come out of the blue. It started with a young man in Yemen standing up for human rights and, sadly, committing suicide in pursuit of his own human rights. We have since seen the overthrow of that dictatorial regime in Yemen. It moved on to Egypt, and since then we have watched a burgeoning democratic movement, built upon the protests of ordinary people. We hope that the coming elections will produce a real democratic outcome.
When the people of Libya stood up for their rights, Colonel Gaddafi attempted to brutally crush them. If it were not for the UN establishing the no-fly zone over Benghazi, one wonders what the massacres would have been. I pay tribute to Kevin Rudd and the Australian government for the efforts that they made to help bring to fruition that decision by the UN.
Now we see what is happening in Syria. At least 1,200 or 1,300 Syrian protesters have been brutally slain by the regime of President Assad. Each of these countries—Libya and Syria—have for many years stood on the UN Human Rights Council and other forums talking about democracy and human rights and condemning Israel but now we are seeing the true colours of those countries. I hope that finally people will understand that Israel is the true democracy of the Middle East and that democracy will flourish in other countries of North Africa and the Middle East.