The idea of banning academic, government, sporting and cultural exchanges with Israel is simply a nonsense and political stupidity by the Marrickville Council. We welcomed the outcome of the 19 April vote by the Marrickville Council to reject support for international boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (20:56): Australia and Israel share a close relationship and deep friendship based on our historical support for Israel and our shared commitment to freedom, security and democracy. It is a country of 7.4 million people and 22,000 square kilometres, less than four times the size of my electorate of Blair. During the dark days of the Cold War, Israel was firmly in the pro-Western camp. Israel is a friend of Australia and Australia is a friend of Israel. Israel has been a liberal democracy in a region where despotism, authoritarianism and Islamic fundamentalism are all too common. It has been surrounded by countries committed to its destruction. From Metula in the north, where it is attacked by Hezbollah, to Sderot in the south, where it is attacked by Hamas, Israel has been surrounded by those hell-bent on its destruction. We in the federal Labor government are firmly committed to Israel’s security.
Our support for the state of Israel goes back to the creation of Israel in 1948, when the then Australian Minister for External Affairs, Dr HV Evatt, played such an important role in the negotiations leading to Israel’s creation and presided over the historic May 1949 vote admitting Israel as the 59th member of the United Nations. Australia was the first country to vote in favour of General Assembly resolution 181 in 1947 to establish the Jewish and Arab states. Our relationship is underpinned by the 90,000 members of the Jewish community in Australia. Indeed, post World War II we admitted 35,000 Jewish refugees fleeing from the remnants of the Holocaust and the tragic experiences they had in Europe. The Jewish community has made a significant contribution to Australia in many fields. Trade between Israel and Australia amounted to $740 million in 2009-10.
We in the federal Labor government are strongly committed to the security of Israel. We want a negotiated two-state solution that allows a secure and independent Israel to exist side by side with a secure and independent future Palestinian state. Violence has no place in a peaceful Middle East in the future. Australia continues to support negotiations to be undertaken in this regard. Violence and actions which undermine trust and treat people as inhuman simply because they come from a different race or a different religion have no place amongst people of goodwill.
One of the largest impediments to peace in the Middle East has been the ongoing refusal of Hamas to recognise the right of the state of Israel to exist and its relentless bombing of Israelis in southern Israel. Another has been the dysfunctionality of the Palestinian leadership. After Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip we saw a civil war break out between Hamas and Fatah, which meant that people were killed and there was no voice and no effective partner for peace for Israel for so many years. We on this side of the House have called for cessation of settlement construction by Israel on the West Bank. Personally, I welcome the comments of President Obama in his broad terms and as a constructive pathway for peaceful negotiations.
The Marrickville Council should have a good look at itself. Pathways and parks and rates and rubbish should be its focus, not foreign policy. The truth is that this federal Labor government is committed to the Palestinian people. We have provided $160 million since 2007 to support the Palestinian people. And during his visit to Ramallah in March, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Kevin Rudd, outlined a significant increase in Australia’s assistance to the Palestinian people—a five-year development partnership with regular budget support and a further A$18 million to the UN Relief and Works Agency, which we announced in December 2010.
We do not support boycotts that impede legitimate trade between states, including between Israel and Australia. The Marrickville Council should never have passed that resolution in the first place. The idea of banning academic, government, sporting and cultural exchanges with Israel is simply a nonsense and political stupidity by the Marrickville Council. We welcomed the outcome of the 19 April vote by the Marrickville Council to reject support for international boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. We hope that in future they concentrate on what is their principal role in local government. I simply repudiate those opposite who want to make political capital out of this issue and say that they should stand with us in rejecting the stupidity of the Marrickville Council’s initial decision. (Time expired)