Shake-up in Canberra Government Could Bolster Ties With Israel

In aftermath of botched coup to overthrow Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, things are looking up for Jerusalem as it seeks to patch up relations strained over Prisoner X scandal.

Sydney, Australia − Israel’s most vocal supporter in Australia’s federal parliament has been promoted to junior minister in a cabinet reshuffle.

But the move, triggered by a botched coup to overthrow Prime Minister Julia Gillard, may do little to keep the Labor Party leader in her post. A poll last week showed Liberal Party chief Tony Abbott, a staunch supporter of Israel, poised to win the September election with 58 percent of the vote compared to Labor’s 42 percent.

Meanwhile, the swearing in of Jewish MP Michael Danby last Monday as Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts should be welcome news to officials in Jerusalem trying to patch up strained relations with the Labor government, most recently over the Prisoner X scandal.

The Canberra government virtually imploded on March 21 when Gillard threw open her job to challenge by Kevin Rudd after senior figures of her Labor party called for Rudd, the man she deposed in 2010, to come back and replace her. Gillard’s call for a leadership ballot, known as a spill in Australian politics, ended in an anti-climax when Rudd refused to run for the prized post. As a result of the debacle, all the major polls show Labor faces a crushing electoral wipeout on September 14, which coincides with Yom Kippur.

A Newspoll published in The Australian newspaper last week revealed a coalition government led by Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott, a staunch supporter of Israel, would win the election with 58 percent of the vote compared to Labor’s 42 percent after the preferences of minor parties were taken into account.

Danby, who has been a strong advocate for Israel since he was first elected to Canberra in 1998, told Haaretz that Rudd’s no-show in the leadership ballot meant Gillard’s authority is “strongly enhanced.”

“If we lose the election it will be because of elements in New South Wales Labor who are strongly associated with the radical Arab/Muslim cause, which poll after poll [has shown] is very unpopular with traditional working-class Catholics in Sydney,” he said.”Gillard’s pro-Israel supporters in and outside the party were most satisfied by the result.”

But Joshua Frydenberg, the sole Jewish MP in the opposition Liberal Party, said the botched coup was an “absolute debacle.”

“Under an Abbott Government Australia’s relationship with Israel will only get stronger as we have seen an overt distancing in the relationship during the foreign ministership of Bob Carr.

“In this respect Abbott will be heir to John Howard’s legacy,” Frydenberg said, referring to the 11-year tenure of the former Liberal leader who was the last Australian PM in office to visit Israel, in 2000.

Indeed Abbott echoed Howard’s sentiments during an address at Central Synagogue in Sydney last year, when he said: “When Israel is fighting for its very life, as far as I’m concerned, Australians are Israelis.”

Frydenberg’s reference to Bob Carr comes as the Foreign Minister again called for a full explanation from Jerusalem on the scandal surrounding the arrest, imprisonment and suicide in December 2010 of Melbourne-born Mossad agent Ben Zygier, known as Prisoner X.

“Australia’s got ... an objection to Australian passports being used by dual citizens who are off working for a foreign intelligence agency,” Carr told media in Washington last week.

Although Carr was a founding member of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel group in the 1970s and has been broadly supportive of the Jewish state, some of his decisions have angered Jewish leaders, including his successful campaign to abstain from the UN vote on the status of Palestine last year.

In an opinion article in The Australian earlier this month, foreign editor Greg Sheridan wrote that Carr and Rudd were “completely wrong” to believe that Australia’s reputation would be damaged by supporting Israel at the UN.

“Israel is Australia’s friend and ally. The Labor Party used to know this and care about it. Joining in the popular kicking of Israel is not a sign of moral courage, though it will win plaudits from the usual suspects at the UN and in conventional international relations think tanks,” he wrote. “But it is an immoral position that betrays fundamental political, moral and ethical values that Labor used to understand pretty well.”

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