Aussie Jews Fight Over Role of Israel's UN Ambassador

Dan Goldberg
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Dan Goldberg

SYDNEY – A Jewish parliamentarian in Australia last week launched a scathing broadside against Jewish National Fund officials for their handling of a visit by Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.

After the JNF denied MP Michael Danby's request to bring Ron Prosor before the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Labor Party veteran slammed the organization as “unprofessional,” and said its decision “disrespects Australia.”

“Of course he should have come to Canberra [the Australian capital] – especially an ambassador of his rank who has not previously met the Canberra hierarchy,” Danby said. “Too many leading Israelis let themselves be beguiled by earnest but essentially petty Jewish community groups. It also underestimates the importance of Australia, a member of the G20 and the twelfth largest economy in the world.”

The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade is made up of 34 parliamentarians and senators. It is parliament’s largest and most prestigious committee, according to Danby, who chairs it.

“It really does seem a shame that when important representatives of Israel are in Australia that their program seems so badly coordinated,” Danby said. “We have had two Palestinian representatives before the committee and two pro-Israel spokesmen recently – Professor Daniel Pipes and Yaakov Katz. But we have not had an official representative of Israel for quite a while.”

The timing of Prosor’s visit – just after Australia was elected to a two-year term on the United Nations Security Council and with the nuclear showdown between Israel and Iran inching closer– makes an address in Canberra all the more important, said Danby.

“It seems a strange set of priorities,” he said.

A senior Jewish leader agreed, telling Haaretz it was “outrageous” that Prosor did not address parliamentarians in Canberra.

“He’s coming from the United Nations – put him in front of people who matter,” he said.

But a spokesperson for the JNF dismissed the allegations as “nonsense.”

“He's here privately. This is not an official visit, he never came here for that purpose,” the spokesperson said. “The bottom line is the guy is here to address JNF functions. He’s not meeting anybody privately.”

He added, “The Jewish community has received him with acclaim.”

A knowledgeable source said Prosor had no intention of addressing diplomatic issues in Australia, because that is the role of Israel’s ambassador to Canberra, Yuval Rotem, who was also present at the JNF functions.

A spokesperson for the ambassador would not be drawn in, but Prosor’s itinerary is believed to have been exclusive to the JNF.

Israel’s permanent envoy to the UN also declined to give media interviews during his visit to Australia.

Prosor – who was appointed to the UN in 2011 and was this year elected vice president of the General Assembly – addressed a crowd of about 800 JNF supporters in Melbourne last Wednesday night and a similar-sized crowd in Sydney on Monday night.

In his addresses – attended by the likes of Tony Abbott, the leader of the opposition Liberal Party, and Bruce Wolpe, Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s liaison with the Jewish community and formerly a senior advisor to Democratic Congressman from California Henry Waxman – Prosor said the campaign to “delegitimize and demonize Israel” meant the Jewish state was fighting in “a completely different battlefield” that he said was “tougher than any battlefield we have witnessed in the past.”

“They’re trying to brand Israel – and the Jewish people too – as a pariah state,” Prosor said. “We have to go on the offense because defense here is not enough.”

He also blasted the “triple standards” of the UN, which he said focuses excessively on Israel while ignoring the human rights abuses perpetrated by other nations.

“There is one standard for democracies, another standard for dictatorships and a special standard for Israel,” Prosor said.

His speeches drew standing ovations from the audiences in both cities.

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor (left) with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.Credit: Shahar Azran
Australian MP Michael Danby last week accused the Jewish National Fund of being "unprofessional."