Australia’s Golda Meir

Yesterday, Australia appointed Julia Gillard as its female Prime Minister – not to mention it’s first redhead one (Update: Or not) – after former prime minister Kevin Rudd quit just before his Labor Party was to dump him in an internal ballot. Ear today, gone tomorrow.

Julia Gillard

Reuters

Julia Gillard had long been tipped as Australia’s first woman prime minister, but the way it finally happened has shocked almost everyone.

Only last month she said she was more likely to become a football star than replace her boss. But in a brutally efficient move driven by bad opinion polls and the approach of a general election, the Labor party dumped Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for his 48-year-old deputy. On Thursday Gillard was sworn in.

At a news conference that capped one of the most abrupt transitions in Australia’s often-bruising political history, Gillard said she accepted the job “with the greatest humility, resolve and enthusiasm.”

She immediately sought to refocus attention on the popular decisions of the government in which she served for the past 2 1/2 years, while distancing herself from mistakes attributed to Rudd.

She vowed to continue stimulus policies credited with shielding Australia from the global recession, and said she would revisit the plans Rudd shelved for a greenhouse gas emissions trading system. She sought to defuse a bitter dispute with mining companies over a proposed tax on profits.

Gillard is unlikely to change foreign and defense policies, including Australia’s 1,500-strong military contribution to the war in Afghanistan. The biggest change is likely to be in style.

With a schoolteacher’s manner and an Australian twang that betrays nothing of her Welsh origins, Gillard is considered more personable than the wonkish Rudd, a Chinese-speaking former bureaucrat with an autocratic style who led Labor to a landslide victory in the 2007 election.

Typical of Gillard’s style was her tart reply just last month when asked if she would replace Rudd. She said she was more likely to be picked to play for the Western Bulldogs, an Australian Rules football team.

Elected to Parliament in 1998, Gillard built a reputation as a formidable and quick-thinking debater in “the bear pit,” the daily question time in Parliament.

“She’s a good communicator and there’s a warmth about Gillard that Rudd never had,” said Norman Adjorensen, a political scientist at the Australian National University.

A key member of Rudd’s Cabinet, she had long been viewed as a possible future prime minister, and Rudd had repeatedly praised his deputy as a worthy successor, but always with the caveat — “later.”

Born in Wales in 1961, Gillard came to Australia at age 4 with her parents, who wanted her to grow up in a warmer climate to recover from a lung infection.

But of course, since this is predominantly an Israel-related blog, I am sure what you really want to know is her stance on Israel.

Apparently not too shabby.

Jewish leaders welcomed the appointment of Australia’s first female prime minister, who has been supportive of Israel.

Julia Gillard was elected unopposed in a Labor Party caucus meeting Thursday after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd agreed to a leadership ballot triggered by a slump in the polls.

Gillard, from Labor’s left faction, was widely considered an unknown quantity on Israel when she was elected deputy leader in 2006.

But she “stood like a rock during the Gaza incursion [in 2009], reiterating again and again that Hamas began the conflict by rocketing Israel,” said Michael Danby, a Jewish lawmaker in the Labor government.

Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, agreed.

“Having been to Sderot, unlike so many of Israel’s critics, she understood and defended Israel’s right and need to defend its civilian population against repeated and indiscriminate missile attacks from Gaza,” Rubenstein said.

In a congratulatory letter issued Thursday, Executive Council of Australian Jewry President Robert Goot praised Gillard’s “principled stands” and “close understanding” of Jewish issues.

Gillard, who first visited Israel in 2005, led the Australian delegation in June 2009 to the inaugural Australia Israel Leadership Forum, a high-profile bilateral conference organized by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange. She met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah.

Rudd, a staunch supporter of Israel, recently had come under fire from Jewish leaders for expelling an official from the Israeli Embassy in Canberra over the Dubai passports affair. Gillard stayed largely silent on the controversial affair.

Mazal tov, Madam Prime Minister.

Update: Bizarre photo of the day: Courtesy of Chabad, in an article on Gillard.

julia gillard Chabad

New Prime Minister: a friend Of Chabad

The newly elected Prime Minister of Australia, Ms. Julia Gillard, is known to be a friend Of Chabad of NSW. She has visited in the Yeshiva Centre – Chabad Headquarters of NSW under the leadership of Rabbi Pinchus Feldman, shliach of NSW, Australia and in “Our Big Kitchen” under the directorship of Rabbi Dovid Slavin (pictured above with the Prime Minister). Rabbi Slavin said that Ms. Julia Gillard is a friend of Chabad and has spoken publicly about her support for Israel and we wish her the traditional Jewish Blessing of “Mazal Tov” and much success in making Australia a good place for all Australians

Not sure why they would be protecting her identity, since millions of people around the world know what she looks like.

Alternatively, the photographer went a bit heavy on the Schnapps.

Update: More on Julia and the Jews.

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David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media