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Jewish leaders laud Bibi’s Oz visit

  • JWireBibiinAustralia
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu concluded a highly successful five-day visit to Australia last week, being feted by his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull and having an in-depth discussion with Australia’s foreign minister, Julie Bishop on a wide range of topics.
by OWN CORRESPONDENT | Mar 03, 2017

Jewish community leaders in Australia lauded the visit as a breakthrough and applauded Turnbull’s remark that his country would have voted against the controversial December UN Security Council resolution, condemning Israel’s recent moves to extend settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The reaction by the Jewish leaders to the visit was overwhelmingly positive - a once in a lifetime occasion - and called “a morale booster”.

In a synagogue meeting Netanyahu addressed more than 2 000 cheering Jewish guests.

As could be expected, the Australian media focused on the settlement issue - with the US for the first time having abstained in the December Security Council vote of censure. But the Israeli and Australian leaders discussed wide-ranging bilateral arrangements and synergies. The mood was warm and sympathetic, and Netanyahu’s warning of the “bad Iran nuclear deal” signed by the Obama administration, touched a sympathetic nerve Down Under.

Australia was one of a handful of countries to speak out against the Security Council resolution, calling it “one sided” and “deeply unsettling”.

Netanyahu praised Australia’s stance, saying: “Australia’s been courageously willing to puncture UN hypocrisy, more than once.”

The Israeli prime minister, at a joint news conference, pointed out that he was Israel’s first prime minister to officially visit Australia. “It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “It celebrates, really, a hundred years of friendship of Australia to the Jewish people and their state.”

But Netanyahu’s visit has also generated some pushback with 60 notable Australians siging a letter opposing it because of “Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians”.

Ahead of Netanyahu’s arrival last week Wednesday, some 60 business leaders, academics, members of the clergy and former politicians signed the letter saying Australia should not welcome Netanyahu, claiming his policies “provoke, intimidate and oppress” the Palestinians.

Last week Thursday several hundred pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated in Sydney against the visit, branding Netanyahu a “war criminal”.

Pro-Palestinian author and Australian lawyer Randa Abdel-Fattah told AFP: “We are here to oppose Australia’s support for Israel, for a racist apartheid nation. It’s disgusting to see that some of our Australian leaders have rolled out the red carpet and welcomed a war criminal into Australia,” she said.

“But there are so many Australians who are against this and we are raising our voices loudly and clearly today, to say to Malcolm Turnbull, and Julie Bishop: ‘Not in our name’,” she added.

On the “two-state solution”, Turnbull said Australia’s position “is exactly the same as it has been for many years”.

The goal of two states as a permanent Middle East peace solution, something Netanyahu seems to be at best lukewarm about, US President Donald Trump recently also seemed to call it into question, alluding to it as one of several options.

Turnbull added: “We support an outcome which has two states where Israelis, the Israeli people, the Palestinian people live side by side as a result of direct negotiations between them.”

But he added: “You cannot expect any Israeli government to put itself in a position where its security is at risk, where its citizens are not safe.”

Netanyahu’s visit came as Australia’s support of Israel faces increasing scrutiny domestically. Bill Shorten, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, who is also supportive of Israel, is facing pressure to declare his party’s official position as backing recognition of a state of Palestine.

In last week Wednesday’s public remarks, the two leaders highlighted the nations’ ties. Turnbull cited a new agreement on technology and innovation and work on a deal for direct air travel between the countries. Trade between the two now totals about 1,3 billion Australian dollars, or about $1 billion, a year.

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