Pardon me. But I do not recall ever having heard of a certain David Zyngier. Yet the senior lecturer at Monash University in Melbourne was described by the ABC News as one of “a group of 60 prominent people” opposed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia.
Both the taxpayer-funded public broadcaster and Fairfax Media gave considerable coverage to the group’s statement that “Australia should not welcome the Prime Minister of Israel”. The ABC foreshadowed demonstrations against Netanyahu over Israel’s policies on its Palestinian neighbour and predicted he would be shepherded to the Sydney CBD by police. The Sydney Morning Herald’s story on the visit on Monday foreshadowed “Opposition to Israeli PM’s visit gathers pace”.
It was all a bit of a beat-up.
On Wednesday, Netanyahu addressed a luncheon hosted by Malcolm Turnbull in the Sydney CBD. Both men spoke, as did Labor leader Bill Shorten. Prominent Labor figures at the lunch included MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus.
Netanyahu and Turnbull also addressed an evening function at the Sydney Central Synagogue in Bondi Junction. This was attended by former prime ministers Tony Abbott (who extended the invitation to the Israeli PM to visit Australia when he was in office) and John Howard, along with Labor frontbencher Richard Marles.
I attended the luncheon at which both prime ministers obtained enthusiastic applause and Shorten’s comments were well received. A similar atmosphere was reported at the evening function. Clearly, most Australians did not embrace the call of their “prominent” fellow citizens to oppose the Netanyahu visit. This despite the fact that the signatories flashed their degrees and honours and what are termed post-nominals.
The line-up of the prominents included Gavan Griffith QC (former solicitor-general), The Hon Murray Rutledge Wilcox AO QC (former Federal Court judge), Julian Burnside AO QC, The Hon Melissa Parke (former Labor federal member for Fremantle), Miriam Margolyes OBE (actor) and Bishop George Browning (former Anglican bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, who scored interviews on ABC News Breakfast and Radio National Breakfast).
Neither the office of the Commonwealth Solicitor-General nor the Federal Court has any position on the Middle East in general or Israel in particular. Clearly, Griffith and Wilcox used their past appointments in an attempt to give authority to their views.
What was interesting about the petition is that so few well-known Australians who are active in the public debate lined up with Griffith and company in opposing the first visit by an incumbent Israeli prime minister to Australia. There was a senior lecturer at the University of Wollongong and the past moderator of the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Connection in Victoria. And Zyngier, of course. However, this was anything but a mass movement.
At his luncheon address, Netanyahu referred to the US and Australia being Israel’s two key friends. This was evident during the week. On Monday, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, in her first media conference, condemned the “UN’s anti-Israel bias”. She said the US “will never repeat the terrible mistake of Resolution 2334 and allow one-sided Security Council resolutions to condemn Israel”.
According to Haley, from now on the US “will push for action on the real threats we face in the Middle East”. She had in mind Iran, Islamic State, Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
At the luncheon address, Turnbull said his government “will not support one-sided resolutions criticising Israel of the kind recently adopted by the Security Council”. Earlier at a media conference, Netanyahu criticised comments made by former Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd calling for the creation of a Palestinian nation.
Netanyahu asked the hard questions: “What kind of state will it be that they are advocating? A state that calls for Israel’s destruction? A state whose territory will be used immediately for radical Islam?”
In Australia, the Coalition and Labor support a two-state solution in the land that runs between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Namely, a majority Jewish state of Israel and a majority Muslim state of Palestine. So do a clear majority of Israelis.
However, no elected leader of a democracy is going to preside over national suicide. Consequently, there can be no two-state solution unless Israel is convinced that it can survive with secure borders.
In view of the fact that Israel is not defendable on the border with the West Bank that was in existence before the Six-Day War of 1967, a two-state solution will probably necessitate land swaps. This would almost certainly involve the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.
On previous occasions, the Palestinian leadership has refused to enter into an agreement that would involve the surrender of certain land on the West Bank (including many of the settlements) in exchange for Israel handing over an equal amount of land elsewhere. Certainly, the existence of the Islamist terrorist organisation Hamas on the West Bank is a disincentive for any leader of the Palestinian Authority doing a land-for-peace deal with Israel.
In recent years, there has been growing opposition to Israel from within Labor’s Left and from the Greens.
This has been exacerbated during the rule of conservative Likud leader Netanyahu.
But the support for a state of Palestine by Hawke and Rudd, who have adopted the position of former NSW premier and foreign minister Bob Carr and former Hawke/Keating government minister Gareth Evans, indicates that sections of the Labor Right are beginning to wobble on Israel.
Yet the likes of Hawke, Rudd, Carr and Evans have not answered Netanyahu’s question. Would they support a Hamas-led Palestine, dedicated to the destruction of Israel, as part of the two-state solution? The evidence indicates that no Israeli political leader would accept such a deal.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to improve relations with India, China, even the Muslim majority Saudi Arabia. This fact was not recognised in the missive of the 60 Australian prominents whose call failed to disrupt Netanyahu’s historic visit.