A Lesson in Remembering That Israel Could Learn From Australia

Even in Sydney's well-to-do neighborhoods, there are people who make sure to show their appreciation for the 'original custodians of this land.'

SYDNEY - On Sunday afternoon, after the end of the event at the local community center, it was hard to find a table at any of the cafes scattered along the length of Watsons Bay, one of Sydney's countless escapist venues. Parties, villas, cars, yachts and money (primarily money) are the favorite topics of conversation of the residents of the eastern suburbs that overlook white-sailed boats in their berths.

What do these privileged folks have to do with any troublesome, heretical thoughts about the sins of their forebears who came from faraway places? The teeth of the tanned young men zipping along in Mercedes convertibles seated beside smiling, blonde young women are as a white as can be. No wonder that young Israelis fed up with war and misgivings in a hard country to live in are attracted to this distant place.

However, at the modest little community center nearby, we had an opportunity to meet a different Australia, the one that sparks jealousy. Several dozen people crowded around simple wooden stalls displaying a selection of items from the culture of the aborigines, the original inhabitants of the area. A volunteer offered pins and small flags showing appreciation for the community, half of whose 500,000 members (the ones not wiped out by the whites and their alcohol) live in the greater Sydney area.

There is a large selection of books on the history of the children, including a study on the white man's exploits and stories about the abduction of aborigine children. In another spot, a selection of berries, traditional baked dishes and kangaroo meat franks were being offered. One guest, an older Jewish man, said the municipal council initiates and funds extensive activities to increase awareness of the aborigines' connection to this land. Jewish organizations sponsor scholarships to promote education among this weak minority community, the man added.

Amid the information sheets and the menus featuring traditional aborigine dishes, I found a small gift, a yellow bookmark from the organization of eastern neighborhoods working toward reconciliation in Australia with the following written on it: "In the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney we acknowledge the original custodians of this land, the Cadigal people." The organization suggests an opening line for speakers at public forums: "I acknowledge that we are here today on the land of the Cadigal people. The Cadigal people are the traditional custodians of this land and are part of the oldest surviving continuous culture in the world. I pay my respects to them."

And the connection to us: Yesterday Australia released the Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, detailing a new government plan to establish closer ties with neighboring Asian countries and deepening and broadening cultural ties with them. The plan includes reinforcing Chinese language studies, encouraging trade with Asian countries and opening new consulates in major countries. Conservative party leaders criticized the Labor government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, arguing that the government budget for the program isn't big enough.

For many years Australians saw themselves as an inseparable part of the Western, white world. Until the 1970s they talked of the "yellow peril" and "the white Australia policy" and developed anxieties over the Chinese giant. Today they are increasingly looking toward their Asian neighbors who are being absorbed en masse in the local business world, in the services industry and in higher education. The Australians who lose sleep over the number of people with narrow eyes in the country would not dare mention the phrase "demographic problem." They just suffice with talking about the "illegal immigrants."

An American collaborator

Who said Iran and Israel don't have any political common denominator? Look, both of them voted a week ago to elect Australia a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Both of them helped make it so that over the next two years, Canberra will join the list of places eagerly courted by the two enemies. Even so, they both criticized the investment of $25 million in the campaign to join the exclusive diplomatic club. The budget was designated primarily for courting African and Arab countries.

Whatever Iran's reasons for supporting Australia, Israel certainly had a good reason to support such a step: Rarely do Australian governments disagree with their American friends when it comes to votes on Middle East affairs. An Australian commentator wrote in recent days that membership in the Security Council obligates the Canberra government to break away from Washington, including on the matter of the war in Afghanistan.

During the two-year tenure of the Australian ambassador at the UN, he may have to vote in favor (or against? ) stiffening the sanctions against Iran. If the Palestinians decide to submit their request to upgrade their status to the Security Council, it is possible that Australia, which supports the establishment of a Palestinian state (and opposes the settlements ), will face a tough dilemma: Should it deny its position and present itself to the whole world as the Americans' poodle, or should it display its independence and leave its big brother alone in the fight?

We're on the map

A small theater in an out of the way alley in Sydney is showing a moving play, "Between Two Waves," by and starring Ian Meadows. The play focuses on the complex relationships between a neurotic man named Daniel and his photographer wife, his good friend and an insurance agent. It is hard to imagine a plot more removed from our own reality. Until the friend tries to persuade Daniel that he should bring children into the world, and to illustrate what a hard time he had when he tried to put his two small children in their car seats, he says with a sigh: "It was harder than resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." Whoever tries to run away from the conflict, the conflict pursues him to the end of the world.