Australian moral failure on Gaza

May 27, 2024
Waving flag of Israel and Australia.Image:iStock

For Australia, the urgent challenge is when will we act independently and not be associated with war crimes and genocide.

With unaccustomed speed, the international courts have risen to the occasion, responding to global outrage at Israel’s devastation of Rafah and its Defence Force’s murderous assaults on Palestinians. But Australia has not.

This week, Western nations including Ireland, Norway, and Spain joined others elsewhere in supporting a two-state solution, and say they will recognise a State of Palestine on 28 May, as have Belgium, Malta, and Slovenia. South Africa’s multiple applications to the International Court of Justice and to the International Criminal Court have been endorsed by an overwhelming majority of UN member states. [See map]. France and Belgium have stated their intention to arrest the two Israeli politicians or three Hamas leaders named by the ICC if they travel to those countries. So even has Germany, second only to the United States as a fervent supporter of Israel.

Australia has made no such commitments, even though the ICJ requires its signatory states to do so in response to a determination by the court. Prime Minister Albanese says he won’t be rushed into making an ‘independent, sovereign’ decision on Palestinian statehood either. His Foreign Minister has tried to put Australia’s position more positively, saying recognition is ‘not if but when’, and has supported this month’s UN General Assembly resolution urging the UN Security Council to reconsider full membership for Palestine. Neither she nor Albanese has explained how a two-state solution can be achieved while only one state is said to exist. Unlike other nations’ foreign ministers, Penny Wong has not recalled Australia’s ambassador from Tel Aviv, nor expelled Israel’s from Canberra, nor offered to arrest Israeli or Hamas leaders accused of war crimes. Both she and Albanese are keeping Australia dithering in a holding bay, out of touch with global opinion.

Remember: that’s where Australia was six decades ago, failing to condemn apartheid in South Africa until Prime Ministers Whitlam, Fraser, and Hawke stared down their British and American counterparts and did so, shaming them into following suit a few years later. What’s more, Australia now has no hesitation in accepting that President Putin is a war criminal for invading Ukraine, while our leaders can’t bring themselves to apply the same standard to Benjamin Netanyahu. Australia this week followed the US in listing Yemen’s Houthis as terrorists, along with Hamas and Hezbollah, yet the acts of the IDF and statements by Israel’s leaders clearly reveal their terrorist intent and effect. When will an independent, sovereign Australian government get on the right side of history and say that if the three Palestinians named by the ICJ were terrorists on 7 October, the two Israelis also named for their subsequent acts were too?

For decades, while Israel’s illegal settlements were spreading cancerously into the West Bank, and its bantustans in Gaza were being crammed with Palestinians, Australia went on digging a deeper hole of unquestioning support for Israel. What are now called agents of foreign influence must number thousands of Australian political, economic, and academic leaders invited to visit Israel over the years.  The latest publicly to mention her appreciation of the guided tour of the region’s ‘only democracy’ is former athlete Nova Peris. On them has been lavished a full soft power performance that few countries can match.

What about foreign fighters, who break Australian law if they join wars in other countries, such as Iraq and Syria? Are Australian Israelis who do the same charged with any offence? For Australians accepting such trips to China now, the story would be different, as it is for Dan Duggan, who went before China became our enemy.

Of more urgent importance is the referral of our Prime Minister to the ICC under Article 15 of the Rome Statute. Forming a large group, lawyers in Australia have cited his responsibility and that of some ministers for rhetorical support for Israel (in statements and speeches) and providing material support to Israel’s government and military forces. He is the world’s first prime minister to be referred as an ‘accessory to genocide’.

Although the ICC’s process will take time, what may come out of it is what support Australia has been providing to Israel, including intelligence from Pine Gap, F35 parts, and collaborators from the Australian Defence Force (whose location is unknown). Penny Wong stated last November that defence exports to Israel had ceased that month, but both the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Richard Marles claimed in April – following the death of an Australian aid worker in Gaza at the hands of the IDF – that there were no exports of weapons from Australia to Israel and had not been ‘for many, many years’.

In May, Australia sided with global opinion in voting to extend full UN membership to Palestine, which was already a non-member Observer State. Some reports don’t explain that the Palestinian State has been recognised by a majority of the UNGA since 2012. The only blockage exists in the Security Council where the US can be expected to reject it, as it does the ICC and the ICJ. For Australia, in this and other matters involving our great friends and allies, the US and Israel, the urgent challenge is when will we act independently and not be associated with war crimes and genocide.


Article updated May 28, 2024.

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