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Australia and Israel: A Relationship That Goes Back a Long Way

The warm relationship between Israel and Australia today takes its beginnings from World War 1 in the Ottoman-controlled territory of Palestine.

In October 1917, hundreds of young Australians from the legendary Light Horse Brigade made a daring mounted charge on the city of Be’er Sheva engaging with the Turkish army who were defeated.

Just one week later, the joint forces of British, Egyptian and Australian soldiers captured the Gaza Strip and these crucial battles became the first steps in the collapse of the Ottoman rule in Palestine.

Divine Intervention

Yet, the braveness of the young Australian horsemen in paving the way for a British victory in Palestine had a far deeper implication.

On virtually the same day as the victory in Be’er Sheva, the British War Cabinet gave their approval for the Balfour Declaration stating ……. “they view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

Although Lord Balfour was fighting for the Zionist Movement and had no connection with Australia, the timing was remarkable.

What was the connection between Britain, Australia and Lord Balfour?

We should look at the Book of Proverbs 19:21.

“Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Perhaps there was divine intervention, but to this day Australia and Israel have always shared a mutual desire for democratic values, liberties, freedom and human rights.

The Partition of Palestine

un resolution 181
United Nations General Assembly partition vote, November 29, 1947 (GPO)

Let us turn our attention to more modern times.

On 29 November 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted in favor of Resolution 181, which called for the partition of Palestine into two states, one a Jewish State, the other an Arab State.

The Australian Minister for External Affairs, Dr. Herbert Evatt, represented Australia at the General Assembly.

Australia clearly understood the need for the Jewish State to be formed as a means of protection for the Jewish people.

Following World War 2, some 27,000 Jewish survivors from the Holocaust migrated to Australia, where they were welcomed. In fact, Australia accepted the highest number of survivors per capita after Israel.

Behind the scenes, Dr. Evatt lobbied strongly for the Resolution to be approved. When voting commenced Australia was the first country to vote YES.

As we know the State of Israel was formally created in May 1948. To this day the Arabs have refused to form their own state.

Prime Minister Bob Hawke

CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

In 1986, Prime Minister of Australia Bob Hawke moved a motion in the House of Representatives in Canberra.

“This House resolves that United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379 equating Zionism with racism recommends the Government lend support to efforts to overturn Resolution 3379 in the United Nations.

I have moved this motion from a conviction which I believe will be shared by all Australians who value truth, fairness and tolerance that the equation of Zionism with Racism is profoundly wrong, disruptive and unacceptable.”

The motion was passed unanimously.

In 1987, the first ever sitting Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawke, visited Israel.

His admiration for the way Israel had developed economically and socially impressed him deeply.

As a former leader of the Trade Union in Australia, he would have been impressed how the Kibbutz Movement was managing to resurrect itself following financial difficulties, leading to economic growth.

But the way Israel had recreated a new Jewish spirit after being nearly decimated during WW2 left a lasting impression.

To honor his advocacy for Israel and the Jewish people, in 1988 the Jewish National Fund in Australia planted the Australian Friendship Forest in the Galilee, dedicated to Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Prime Minister John Howard

Australian Paralympic Committee, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Shortly after being elected Prime Minister of Australia in 1996, John Howard was invited to address a Jewish community function in Australia.

Howard had earlier visited Israel in 1962 and had championed the Jewish State since that visit.

“The personal affection I have for the State of Israel, the personal regard I have for the Jewish people of the world, will never be diminished.

It is something I hold dearly, something I value as part of my being and as part of what I have tried to do with my life.”

On 31 October 2017, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the occupation of Be’er Sheva by the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZACS), the Be’er Sheva Anzac Memorial Center was opened in Be’er Sheva and dedicated to honor the long-lasting friendship between Israel and Australia.

The project, a joint venture between the two countries, was attended by both Prime Ministers.

The Memorial Center is an education facility promoting values of heritage, patriotism, identity and knowledge embodied by the ANZAC spirit of their stories and bravery.

It is true not all Australian governments have lent unqualified support to Israel since 1948, primarily on political matters.

Yet, the firm partnership between the two countries will survive differences of opinion.

Countries that believe in the democratic way of life and freedom for its citizens have too much in common to think differently.

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