During a recent interview, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, Danny Ayalon, spoke of the close relationship between his country and Australia. "We see Australia ... as ... a very good friend and ally which has historic ties here in Israel", he said.
Australia can indeed boast strong links with Israel. In Palestine during the First World War an Aussie soldier, Lieutenant-Colonel Eliezer Margolin, led in succession two Jewish volunteer regiments; his ashes lie buried in Rehovot, where there is a memorial to him. Australian jurist and politician 'Doc' H. V. Evatt, President of the UN General Assembly during 1948-49, took a key part in negotiations that led to the creation of Israel.
In 1965, owing to the indefatigable efforts of the well-known Jewish leader Isi Leibler, then of Melbourne and now of Jerusalem, Australia became the first country in the world to raise before the United Nations the plight of Soviet Jewry. And in 1991 Isi Leibler's brother Mark, at that time President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, played no small role in getting the UN General Assembly to rescind its shameful Resolution 3379, passed in 1975, which declared that "Zionism is a form of racism".
The outstanding support for Israel of Aussie prime ministers Bob Hawke (Labor) and John Howard (Liberal) is legendary, while today Liberal Opposition leader Tony Abbott seems as staunch a friend of Israel as his immediate predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull. In May, when Kevin Rudd's Labor government expelled a Canberra-based Israeli diplomat in retaliation for the use of four Australian passports by the team wanted over the assassination in Dubai in January of a ruthless Hamas arms dealer, Abbott's deputy, Julie Bishop, who had been a minister under Howard, accused the government of over-reacting and pointed out that Israel had not been definitely implicated in the affair; she added that in any case 'It would be naive to think that Israel is the only country in the world that has used forged passports, including Australian passports, for security operations', and suggested that Australia itself had done so. Abbott, who shared her view that the expulsion was unwarranted, resisted furious demands from the government benches that she be sacked.
There are hopeful signs that Australia's new Labor Prime Minister, Julia Gillard (pictured with Bibi Netanyahu, whom she met in July last year when she led the Australian delegation to the inaugural Australia-Israel Leadership Forum in Jerusalem), will be a firmer friend of Israel than was the ousted Rudd. She is on record as saying that she looks forward to fostering ties between Australia and Israel at various levels: political, business, scientific, and social, and that Australia has much to learn from Israel in the high-tech field.
A supporter of a two-state solution who has called on Israel to freeze West Bank settlements in pursuit of peace, she has no illusions about the terrorist nature of Hamas. During Operation Cast Lead she defended Israel's actions, a view she has since reiterated: "We made it clear ... that we understood Israel's need to defend its people .... I think we do need to remember that this was an Israeli response to continued rocket attacks out of Gaza into civilian areas. There was no pretence that the rockets coming out of Gaza were heading for strategic targets or military targets; they were aimed at civilians. And in those circumstances obviously a nation state is going to respond to the continued shelling of its people."