Senator Simon Birmingham – in support of Senator Wong’s motion

photo of Senator Simon Birmingham
October 16, 2023

The coalition is unequivocal in the belief that, in exercising its right to self-defence, Israel has the right to remove the threat that Hamas presents to the Israeli people. Hamas, which stands only for bloodshed and terror, is not only a threat to Israel but presents a permanent blockage to any pathway they could lead Israelis and Palestinians towards a more peaceful future.

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:42): The attacks by Hamas against Israel just over a week ago were amongst the worst examples of terrorism in the modern age. That word, ‘terrorism’, speaks of horror. It speaks of violence. It speaks of instilling fear in a people to achieve a political or ideological aim. Until Saturday a week ago most of us could not have imagined just how abhorrent the imposition of terror could be on innocent people—women, the elderly, mothers and grandmothers, children and, the most innocent of all, babies.

As rockets rained down on populations in Israel’s south, the terror that is Hamas unleashed the most inhumane attacks on innocent civilians. It was bloody and brutal murder, of more than 1,300 people, carried out with animalistic savagery that has no place in our world. No reasonable person could not be affected by the horror we saw unfolding in Israel, beginning with the wholesale slaughter of young people who had simply gathered in a field to enjoy music and dance. Could the horror be worse? Sadly, what followed were unimaginable reports of rape, torture, beheading and kidnapping. Still, hostages are being held by Hamas. They should be released unconditionally. Many of the reports are haunting, for none more than those with family and loved ones in Israel. What they are enduring is beyond our comprehension, especially for those still waiting for confirmation of whether their worst fears for loved ones become a grim reality. We can only try to imagine and empathise for the pain felt by those directly affected. That pain reverberated around Australia even before we knew that an Australian grandmother was among those murdered. To the family, friends and loved ones, both here in Australia and in Israel, of Galit Carbone, who sadly became the first Australian to be confirmed to have been killed in Hamas’ attack, the horror became deeply personal. Words are inadequate but we offer our sympathies to Ms Carbone’s family and loved ones. But whether or not this horror directly affected a relative, friend or acquaintance, it is still deeply personal for Australia’s Jewish community. It is personal because they can relate. In those who have died, they can see themselves, their loved ones or, perhaps most painfully of all, their forebears.

In the history of humanity, many people have suffered persecution at the hands of others. However, the Jewish story of persecution stands out in its horror, its scale and its still relative proximity. The Holocaust was less than 100 years ago and took six million lives. The horrors of the Holocaust continue to be deeply felt by the generations who have followed. The attacks of Saturday a week ago are deeply personal for Jewish people because they go to their personal identity. As they see it and feel it, the victims could just as easily has been them or their loved ones just because they are Jews. The brutal unprovoked murder of Ms Carbone and so many others seeks to deny not only the right of Israel to exist or of Jewish people to a homeland but threatens the very right of Jews to live. That there remain those who would pursued genocide as their objective should send a chill down the collective spine of decent societies around the world.

Australia, along with all like-minded nations, must support efforts by Israel to defend itself and its people against this and the risk of future atrocities. The coalition believes that through this motion the Australian parliament is telling the world, especially our Jewish friends here in Australia, that we stand with you and that we will support you in your moment of greatest need since the darkest days of World War II.

Hamas’s brutal attack has led to the largest killing of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust. What is more difficult to comprehend is that such targeted slaughter—that is what it was, slaughter—should lead to scenes of jubilation amongst those who support the twisted ideologies of Hamas. What great shame can befall a nation than to be the focus of such scenes of jubilation. The gross antisemitic scenes on the steps of the Sydney Opera House stain our nation in shame. These abhorrent actions have instilled fear in Australia’s strong and proud Jewish community deepen that shame.

Last week I was in Brussels and Berlin, and to be asked unprompted by members of other parliaments in nations far away about those scenes on the steps of the Sydney Opera House was not only embarrassing but disturbing. Is this Australia in 2023? I would hope not. While we defend the right to protest, there should be no effort spared to prosecute any who crossed the line through words or deeds to incite violence or further terrorism. Such sentiments have no place in Australia. The racist bigots who attracted this international attention do not reflect what I know the overwhelming majority of fair-minded, decent Australians stand for.

Australia’s Jewish community has made an enormous contribution to Australia’s multicultural, modern, tolerant, peaceful, respectful society. It is a community that is welcome here, a community that belongs here, a community of Australians, of Jewish Australians. If the events in Israel and the reverberations we saw on the steps of the Opera House make us shudder, as they should, then when David Adler, the President of the Australian Jewish Association, says he has had reports of mobs driving around Sydney saying they are ‘looking for Jews’, then we need to act. We need to act when this is not an isolated event but the manifestation of what seems to be a dangerous creeping wave of antisemitism. When 21-year-old Benji van der Plaat, who spoke in The Age last Wednesday, chillingly summed up the fear of many of his faith when he said, ‘I am Jewish but I am currently scared to show it,’ then we need to act. When businessman Oliver Friedman is told to stay away from his workplace in the heart of Sydney in Martin Place unless he can make himself look ‘less Jewish’, we need to act. When parents are afraid to take their children to schools which reflect their faith, when those very schools have for so many years had to employ security and now had to increase that security, then we need to act. These actions require unequivocal condemnation. They require action across our security agencies at federal and state levels to ensure our Jewish community feel and are safe in their homes, their schools, their workplaces and their daily lives.

We need longer term action too. Whilst in Germany, in light of the horror unfolding in Israel, I changed my program to visit the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Here, as elsewhere across Germany, I was struck by the honest acknowledgement of wrongdoing and how comprehensively those lessons of intolerance and antisemitism have been learnt. No Australian child, regardless of their school, should have anything less than a comprehensive understanding of these dark moments in history and why it is so important to stand against the ideologies, beliefs and actions that enabled them.

The Liberal and National parties once again, in concert with virtually all Australians, stand against all forms of antisemitism. We were proud, in government, to lead Australia’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of ‘antisemitism’. To our Jewish friends who are hurting or are fearful, I say this: you are a much loved and intrinsic part of our Australian family. What you and your loved ones are enduring, both here and in Israel, is what this parliament today must denounce in the strongest possible terms—endorsed, I hope, by all parties and individuals.

Australia and Israel are democracies. We argue for rights and the rule of law. Australia was the first country to vote in favour of the UN partition plan in 1947, and we became one of the first countries to formally recognise the state of Israel in 1949. The strong bonds between our nations continue to this day and underpin our recognition of Israel’s absolute right to defend itself, its right to exist and its right to protect its citizens from terrorism. The coalition is unequivocal in the belief that, in exercising its right to self-defence, Israel has the right to remove the threat that Hamas presents to the Israeli people. Hamas, which stands only for bloodshed and terror, is not only a threat to Israel but presents a permanent blockage to any pathway they could lead Israelis and Palestinians towards a more peaceful future.

The removal of Hamas from any position of power or influence is a prerequisite not just for security but for any hope of long-term peace. The former coalition government officially recognised Hamas as a terrorist organisation, as have many other nations. We have all known of its evil motivations for too long. There is a lesson when we look at global events like Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year or Hamas’s attack on Israel this year. The lesson is that those who act in bad faith don’t get better with time. Many will rightly ask whether more could or should have been done when Putin invaded Crimea in 2014 or, in the same year, blasted hundreds of innocent lives out of the air, including 27 Australians. Equally, they may ask what more could or should have been done when Hamas took power in Gaza in 2007 or kidnapped and murdered teenagers in 2014, or any of the countless other atrocities it has undertaken over the years.

We cannot always bend the arc of history towards a better outcome, but we should be ever vigilant about trying to do so. Right now, that should cause the world to cast its eyes towards Iran. While most of the Arab world has been normalising relations with Israel, Iran is known to have been arming Hamas. While much of the Arab world has been opening up to the world, Iran has been doubling down on the murder and oppression of its own people, especially women and girls. Iran spreads evil ideology. It funds or empowers proxies like Hamas or Hezbollah, the latter having seized upon Hamas’s violent acts to join in its own attacks on Israel.

Let us not be asking, in five or 10 years time, what more could’ve been done to prevent Iran unleashing whatever atrocity its regime might commit, including the threat of a nuclear one. Instead, let us take every principled step we can right now to prevent that from happening, including calling Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps what it is: a terrorist organisation. Right now Australia, along with all like-minded nations, should support efforts by Israel to defend itself and its people against the risk of future atrocities. The coalition believes that Australia should be willing not to just stand with Israel but to help Israel.

We’re already witnessing that the battle to disarm and disempower Hamas will not be easy. The politics of this region are complex—the history even more so. There is great compassion for the Palestinian people, which, if anything, has only grown in recent years. Earlier this year, I finished reading a booked called Apeirogon. It was given to me by two fathers who are members of the Parents Circle, a peaceful group bringing together Israelis and Palestinians who have lost children in conflict. Apeirogon is a book like no other that I’ve ever read, intertwining history, analogy and the tragic stories of Smadar, killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber at the age of 13, with that of Abir, killed by an Israeli rubber bullet at the age of 10. The forgiveness shown by these parents, as they hope for a peaceful future, is the best of humanity. I suspect they would disagree with many of the conclusions I’ve drawn from recent events, but, in Hamas, their cause for peace confronts the worst of humanity.

Be under no mistake: Hamas has brought Israel’s response upon itself, and, in doing so, it has tragically exposed to danger the very people they falsely claim to stand for. Hamas are responsible for the current loss of Israeli, Palestinian and other innocent lives. The task being undertaken by Israel is not one that any of us would envy, especially with the moral dilemmas it presents. Nobody wants to see other innocent lives lost, least of all those of other children. They deserve care and support too, which is why the coalition supports properly targeted humanitarian assistance. However, let us not be led into false equivalences. In attack, Hamas acts with surprise and with intent to brutally kill women and children. In defence, Hamas acts with cowardice by using women and children as shields.

Israel, in contrast, provides public warnings to minimise civilian losses, acting in defence to target the weapons, capabilities and perpetrators of terrorist acts. As difficult as this situation becomes, let us be unflinching and unwavering in our support for Israel removing Hamas terrorists from power. Let us hope that, in removing this mighty obstacle to progress or peace, Israel and genuine representatives of the Palestinian people may eventually find a pathway to live alongside one another in peace.

To live in Australia is to live in a multicultural society that respects all traditions and heritages, asking only that they also respect one another. Both Australia and Israel ask our citizens to respect one another, to respect diversity and to respect the rights and responsibilities that come with living in a liberal democracy and market economy. We as nations, Australia and Israel, are more inclusive, compassionate and successful societies than any governed by Hamas or its supporters such as Iran. That is why, at this historical turning point of Hamas’s evil acts of war against Israel, we stand with our Israeli and Jewish friends, together and resolute in defence of Israel.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard