Slouching towards Jerusalem: Australia as an Israeli apologist

Jun 6, 2021

“The Australian government has become an apologist for Israeli war crimes and a wrecker of sacred international humanitarian law principles.”

The above jeremiad by Professor Ben Saul, Challis Chair of International Law, University of Sydney in 2014 was in response to the Abbott government’s attempt to throw doubt on international law deeming Israeli settlements on the West Bank illegal. Australian governments have staunchly supported Israel since our Doc Evatt succeeded in his United Nations campaign for the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel in 1947.

The Abbott government took solidarity up a notch or two, but the Morrison government has reached undreamt of new extremes. As Rawan Arraf, principal lawyer for the Australian Centre for International Justice, said recently: this is “the most pro-Israeli government that we have seen in Australian history.

The evidence came thick and fast, starting a few short weeks after Morrison took office in August 2018, when he proclaimed that his government would now recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and that the Australian embassy would move there forthwith, thus blithely breaking 70 years of bipartisan agreement that Jerusalem’s status should be left to final peace agreements.

There were political motives behind this astonishing move, but according to Morrison’s Pentecostal beliefs God’s law trumps mere human law, and the Bible says that Jerusalem must be restored to the Jews as a prelude to the millennium and the Second Coming ( Rev. 6:12), when “the Jewish people would embrace Jesus as Israel’s King- Messiah.”

To quote the popular US televangelist Jerry Falwell, “There’s not going to be any real peace in the Middle East until the Lord Jesus sits down upon the throne of David in Jerusalem.”

 The thrilling religious significance of Morrison’s Jerusalem announcement, following a similar move by Trump, would not have been wasted on his fellow Pentecostals and other evangelical Christians; a reminder that designs on Jerusalem have been obsessive since the days of the Crusades. For good measure Morrison also announced that he would instruct Australia to vote against a motion for the Palestine Authority to  chair a meeting of the Group of 77 –  developing nations affiliated to the UN.

In that vote, out of 146 countries only three voted against: Australia, the USA and Israel. This only seems petty to those failing to understand that the Palestinians are tools of Satan and obstacles to God’s plan for the Holy Land.

 Morrison wanted Australia to join only two other countries defying international law by moving their embassies to Jerusalem: Trump’s American Embassy and that of Guatemala, a little country plagued by corruption and death squads and ruled by a hapless TV comedian. Uproar and threats to Australian exports from Malaysia, Indonesia, the Arab League and Muslims everywhere, plus a pause in a free trade agreement with Indonesia, resulted in Morrison’s humiliating about-face in December 2018.

But in a residual gesture of defiance to the infidels Morrison promised to set up a “trade and defence” office in Jerusalem instead –  he is also in the process of pursuing a free trade agreement with Israel, and we imported $71 million of arms and ammunition from there in 2019-20.

Now, with a cease fire holding and Gaza in ruins, the rest of the world – even including the new Biden administration – is taking baby steps in support of Palestinian rights. But Australia under Morrison goes firmly in the opposite direction, after ending up in a minority of two at the UN Human Rights Council last June, opposing three motions condemning Israel’s expansions, calling for withdrawal to the 1967 boundaries, and for Palestinian rights to self-determination.

In this we were partnered only by the Marshall Islands, the tiny US client state with a population of 58,000. There was no apparent shame at opposing the rest of the international community, as a pugnacious Morrison boasted that while Australia in the past had timidly abstained from voting on such resolutions it was now a case of  “not any more and not on my watch.” We can look forward to further undermining of our international reputation, such as it is.

It is after all well-known among Pentecostals that the United Nations is the tool of the devil, and Pentecostal pastors constantly protest at what they call UN “abuse” of Israel.

Morrison toes the line when opining that sovereign nations need to oppose “unaccountable international bureaucracy.” He even accuses the UN of anti-Semitism, saying that “The UN General Assembly is now the place where Israel is bullied and where anti-Semitism is cloaked in the language of human rights.”

Distinguished human rights lawyer Jennifer Robinson said on last week’s ABC Q&A program that she is constantly embarrassed by such biased conduct. Australia is obliged under international law to give effect to all peoples’ right to self-determination, and as she said our government should recognise a State of Palestine if it does in fact support a two-state solution, as Morrison unconvincingly proclaims.  Instead he attempted, at Israel’s request, to prevent the International Criminal Court from investigating Israeli and Palestinian war crimes. This was another embarrassing failure, but brownie points for the effort will be noted on the Day of Judgement.

Barrister and political analyst James O’Neill points out that one of Australia’s best-kept secrets has been our voting record at the UN on resolutions condemning military occupation of Palestinian land and human rights abuses by Israel. We join a tiny minority in “unparalleled disregard, not only for the rights of the Palestinians but also fundamental principles of international law … Australia’s much vaunted support for the “rules-based international order” is no more than empty rhetoric.”

Meanwhile during the recent conflict a bevy of younger Democrats led by four non-white women  moved Biden, a died-in-the wool supporter of Israel, to put pressure on Israel. After at least four phone calls from Biden Netanyahu cancelled plans for a triumphalist Jewish march through East Jerusalem, and postponed the evictions of Palestinian families from their homes there, while calling a cease fire which holds for now. On 16 April, Democrat Betty McCollum put forward a motion to stop spending tax payers’ funds on weapons for Israel unless conditions for Palestinians are met. This had 13 co-sponsors in the House and support from over 100 NGOs.

Biden has reinstated funds to the Palestinian Authority and after visiting the area his Secretary of State Blinken promises to help Gaza rebuild. There is no threat to Israel’s security if we join the rest of the world in moves to support the human rights of Palestinians. If Australia continues to undermine international law, we need to know why.  I’ve been reading up on Morrison’s Pentecostalism – a historian notes that “it is extraordinary how little Pentecostalism has been researched, given its global influence and growth” – and finding that unconditional support for Israel is a pillar of the faith.

Several commentators have looked at Morrison’s Pentecostal beliefs regarding items like the Prosperity Gospel (God wants good people to be rich) or climate change (coal is God’s gift to man, and global warming is God’s plan for the end times). Not so much has been written on Pentecostal attitudes to Israel, or how far Morrison’s beliefs on Israel and Palestine could account for the extreme bias in his policies.

The problem is that Morrison will not expound on how his deep commitment to Pentecostalism might affect such decisions. He fobs off queries with vague answers like “the Bible is not a policy handbook,” and refuses to be more specific.  Senior journalists like Katherine Murphy and Jacqueline Maley have been politely rebuffed in their efforts to interview Morrison and/or his Pentecostal Horizon Church on policy issues.

Understanding Morrison’s faith is most definitely in the public interest because faith burns at the heart of the man,”  wrote the Guardian’s Murphy of a leader who regards himself as the  “chosen bearer of God’s mandate.”

Morrison has at least been open about the extent of his commitment to his faith, inviting the media to film him and wife Jenny engaging in ecstatic worship, and he told journalist and presenter Julia Baird, a dedicated though progressive Christian herself, that his faith “informs his worldview”.

 But as he refuses to engage in detailed discussion, the President of the Rationalist Society, Dr. Meredith Doig, commented: “ We have a right to know what ideas guide the actions and decision-making of those who stand for public office…Far too often religious views are deemed off-limits.”

Remaining off-limits is convenient, because some Pentecostal views will seem not only bizarre but downright dangerous to many. Tasmanian author James Boyce wrote in The Monthly that “the truth is that Morrison has told the Australian public almost nothing about what his heartfelt beliefs actually are,” adding that Pentecostal gatherings “share a perspective on Christian life that is largely alien to the Western tradition.”

Pentecostals have a tradition of being “seeker-friendly” when it comes to curious outsiders and potential recruits, showing off their joyful forms of worship, uplifting modern hymns, and general good fellowship while the darker side of their beliefs in satan, end times, hell, tribulations and damnation for depraved non-believers are not advertised.

As things stand, observers are left to flail around trying to match up current policy decisions with Pentecostal doctrine, keeping in mind that Cabinet contains not one but two committed Pentecostals – the other being Morrison’s “Brother Stuie”, Stuart Robert, now Minister for Employment – from a sect that represents only 1.1% of the Australian population.

 Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is also a dedicated Christian, but before being elected he laid out the ways in which his faith might influence decisions. His challenge to Morrison to do likewise remains unanswered. Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute argues that nevertheless Morrison has not breached the division between church and state, and that “Kevin Rudd could not provide one example of how Morrison has endangered Australian democracy.”

However it can be argued that he has endangered Palestinian and Israeli lives, and Australian interests and reputation by taking a leading role in an international campaign to defy international law and kill any lingering hope of a settlement to the conflict.

Australians should be aware that Pentecostal support for Israel is after all “biblically mandated.” From the very beginnings of the Pentecostal movement in the 1920s, influenced by evangelical predecessors, support for the “restoration of Israel” became as much of a focus as their international missionary work. Morrison’s church is a branch of the leading Pentecostal group, the Assemblies of God (AG), whose original “Statement of Faith” in 1927 anticipated “the salvation of national Israel.”

This is a necessary prelude to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, who will not appear until the Jews have been “ingathered” to Israel and converted to Christianity.

The settlement of Jews in Palestine and then the creation of the Jewish state is the first step in God’s plan, and the next step must be the expansion of Israel’s territories to encompass the land from the Nile to the Euphrates, as promised to Abraham by God.

In 1934, the US Pentecostal journal “Pentecostal Evangel” envisioned  that “the Promised Land would have a geographical area at least ten times greater than that of Palestine, and would blossom as the rose.” So it will probably be futile to expect Morrison to give meaningful support for the two-state solution.

A Pentecostal theologian, Allan Anderson, comments on the fate assigned to the Palestinian people, writing that Pentecostalism now “ includes a particularly undiscerning approval for biblical prophecy relating to Israel. This is sometimes called Christian Zionism and sees Israel’s occupation of the Holy Land as the fulfilment of end times prophecies and the oppression of Palestinians as the logical, justified outcome.”

Arab uprisings are seen as “the work of satan,” dating back to the biblical epic of Ishmael versus Isaac.

According to an early Pentecostal preacher William Mac Arthur “God would judge all nations that abused Israel …Zion would be restored, Jesus would return and launch the millennium, His thousand year reign.”

In 1983, a leading US Pentecostal, Amos Millard, stated that “ God has declared his purpose to restore both national and spiritual Israel. In essence, that is what the Pentecostal movement is all about !”

It’s not only the rapidly growing worldwide Pentecostal churches that preach the imminence of the Second Coming in Israel – they overlap with other Evangelicals in this solemnly held belief. Prophesying the End Times is a very old occupation, dating from the Crusades, with repeated disappointments rapidly deleted from collective memory. The failure of most Jews to convert is regarded as a temporary problem only. An AG text book on bible doctrine states that “ even though they have profaned His holy name”  God’s plan will one day reveal an “Israel, restored, cleansed, filled with God’s Holy Spirit.”

Despite a huge income from evangelical tours to the Holy Land, Israelis tend to resent plans to convert them and in 1989 “Messianic Jews” (Christian converts) were excluded from the right of all Jews to “return” to live in Israel as per the 1950 Law of Return.

Reading doctrine can’t give the whole story. Morrison apparently became a passionate convert to Pentecostalism in his teens, and so it’s interesting to glean some clues on attitudes to Israel from the memories of a couple of youngsters brought up in the faith.

Corinna Elaine has written of her group’s focus on “anything relating to Israel and God’s chosen people,” and she recalls that the rebuilding of the Jewish Temple was a goal, involving the destruction of the Dome of the Rock mosque on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. Any emergence of a “one world government” was believed to signal the end times, and “whether we are raptured before the Tribulation or mid-Tribulation isn’t clear, but it will happen, and the only people left on earth will be non-believers and ‘backsliders’ – fair game for the Devil.”

 Peter Speakman, son of a Pentecostal pastor, says “You heard a lot about Israel and the people of Israel in church. It’s the Holy Land and we should be thankful to the Jewish people who gave us their bible. God outlined its borders, up to Damascus and including Jordan. There will be a return to these borders. They deny that it was ever Palestinian land – Palestinians were not locals but Arabs from Syria and Egypt.” 

Speakman went to the Holy Land to seek the truth and ended up making a documentary movie challenging Pentecostal mythology. While interviewing Palestinians in East Jerusalem he was able to film a rampaging gang of Jewish youths bashing the doors of Palestinian shopkeepers and shouting “ Death to the Arabs.”

I felt ashamed to be there,” he says to camera.

I rest my case.

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