Rudd impresses on Israel, but
some MPs not happy

by Naomi Levin

Jewish News

13 March 2008

ON a special day for the Australian Jewish community, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd impressed the Israeli Government and pleased Jewish attendees at a special reception for Israel’s 60th anniversary.

Rudd’s Parliamentary motion, which received bipartisan support when he delivered it on Wednesday, was commended by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in a phone call to Rudd on Thursday morning.

It has not been all smooth sailing though, with MPs on both sides of the House expressing their opposition to the motion, which was put forward by Rudd and supported by Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson.

At the reception, organised jointly by the Israeli Embassy and Zionist Federation of Australia, Rudd spoke to about 150 guests, including members of Australia’s Jewish community and MPs from across the political spectrum.

He commended Israel saying: “It is no small thing to create a nation state. It is an even greater thing to see such a nation state survive and prosper for that, the people of Israel are to be congratulated”.

He also told of a personal connection he has with the land of Israel through his late father Bert’s military service in Palestine during World War II.

“It surprises me to this day, given he spent such a period of time in that part of the world at that stage, why neither two-up nor Australian Rules are your national sport given he was a great exponent of both,” Rudd joked.

The Prime Minister went on to explain that his knowledge of Israel began at a young age with stories from his father. It continued as an adult and he has since visited Israel twice and plans to visit again.

Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem and Mark Leibler joined Rudd on stage, and a video message from Israeli President Shimon Peres was played.

Peres said he was “moved” by Rudd and Nelson’s initiative to congratulate Israel, a sentiment that was whole-heartedly backed up by Rotem.

“My country is not often spoiled by events like this,” Rotem said. “We enormously appreciate it, thank you.”

Peres also spoke of Israel’s future and explained that: “Our greatest achievement is not to win a war but to win peace”.

Leibler added that Wednesday’s bipartisan motion “foreshadows the prospect that the best is yet to come for the relationship between Australia and Israel”.

Meanwhile, two MPs and a Senator have expressed their opposition to the motion.

Liberal MP Sussan Ley, from the rural New South Wales seat of Farrer, raised the issue in private member’s business on Wednesday evening.

“My purpose tonight is not to diminish the achievements of the State of Israel but to note the interests and legitimate aspirations of the people of Palestine,” Ley, the chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, told the House.

She argued that the motion should have been considered in the context of the current situation in the region including the “crushing economic embargo [on Gaza] that feeds fury and resentment”.

She added that the challenges facing Israel ought not to be simplified and used the example of peace in Northern Ireland to show how these types of situations can be resolved. She also called on Australia to renew its efforts to help bring about peace.

Labor MP and noted supporter of the Palestinian cause Julia Irwin did not attend Parliament on Wednesday while the motion was read. While Irwin was not the only MP absent from the chamber at the time, she later told several media outlets that she had deliberately chosen to avoid the motion.

Greens Senator Kerry Nettle also criticised the motion, which she mistakenly wrote in a press release was honouring Israel’s 50th anniversary.

“The Greens are concerned that today’s motion and speech given by the Prime Minister in honour of the 50th (sic) anniversary of the declaration of independence of the State of Israel insensitively ignored the plight of the Palestinian people,” Senator Nettle said.








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