By Nour Haydar
Palestinian advocates in Australia have called on the federal government not to ignore an international report accusing Israel of committing apartheid and have expressed deep disappointment with the Prime Minister’s comments that “no country is perfect”.
- Scott Morrison says Australia will remain a “staunch” friend of Israel
- Advocates have urged the government impose an arms embargo on Israel and consider sanctions
- Federal Opposition says Amnesty’s findings are “concerning” but rejects use of term “apartheid”
In a comprehensive report released this week, human rights group Amnesty International said Israel “enforces a system of oppression and domination” against all Palestinians and argued “cruel” policies enforced by the Israeli government amounted to apartheid under international law.
The federal opposition has labelled the findings as “concerning” and said Australia has an obligation to call out human rights breaches wherever they occur.
When asked about the matter on Wednesday, Scott Morrison dismissed the report and reaffirmed Australia’s support for Israel.
“Australia has been one of the closest and strongest friends of Israel, of any nation in the world other than the United States, and we continue to be a very strong friend of Israel,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney.
“No country is perfect and there are criticisms made of all countries, but I can assure you that Australia and my government, in particular, will remain a staunch friend of Israel.”
The report calls on governments, particularly those with close ties to Israel, to use political and diplomatic tools to “bring an end to this unlawful situation”.
“Whether they live in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, or Israel itself, Palestinians are treated as an inferior racial group and systematically deprived of their rights,” Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard said.
“We found that Israel’s cruel policies of segregation, dispossession and exclusion across all territories under its control clearly amount to apartheid.
“The international community has an obligation to act.”
However, Israel strongly rejects any allegation of apartheid and has accused Amnesty of pouring “fuel onto the fire of anti-Semitism”.
“This report crosses the line because it undermines the existence of the state of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,” said Lior Haiat, a spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
Mr Morrison’s comments appear to echo those of Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, who said that “Israel is not perfect, but it is a democracy committed to international law and open to scrutiny”.
Vice-president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Nasser Mashni, said the Australian government had a record of shielding Israel from accountability.
“We know not all countries are perfect, but not all countries commit crimes against humanity,” Mr Mashni said.
“It’s really Australia’s obligation to condemn this in the strongest political way.”
Mr Mashni said Australia should heed the report’s recommendations and immediately impose an arms embargo on Israel, recall our ambassador and implement sanctions.
“We should be calling it out for the rogue regime that it is,” he said.
While Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong has urged the government not to dismiss the report, she said she objected to the use of the word “apartheid” arguing the accusation hinders the peace process.
“The report’s findings are concerning, and we expect the government to review it closely, assess the situation on the ground, and make representations about Australia’s view,” Senator Wong said in a statement to the ABC.
“Labor does not agree with the use of the term ‘apartheid’.
“It’s not a term that’s been found to apply by any international court and is not helpful in progressing the meaningful dialogue and negotiation necessary to achieve a just and enduring peace.
“To be a credible voice we must call out human rights violations wherever they take place.”
Greens foreign affairs spokesperson Janet Rice criticised Mr Morrison’s comments as “feeble and absurd” and said she would be writing to Foreign Minister Marise Payne to “urge a response to Amnesty’s powerful report”.
“The Australian Government should start by recognising Palestine,” Senator Rice said.
“The Australian Greens have called for a suspension of military trade with governments that are credibly alleged to have committed human rights violations, including Myanmar, Indonesia, the Philippines and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel.
“If we refuse to call out human rights abuses of allied countries, we have no standing in calling them out anywhere.”