IT’S a long way from Cairns to Jerusalem, but the distance is shrinking, at least metaphorically, thanks to a group of Indigenous Australians who are committed to seeking justice for Israel in the harsh courts of international public opinion.
Munganbana Norman Miller, a Cairns pastor and spokesman for a new support group, Indigenous Friends of Israel (IFI), told The AJN the organisation was formed several weeks ago and has hit the ground running – condemning a push within the ALP for unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state.
It comes ahead of a motion to that effect which will be debated at the NSW Labor Conference next weekend.
Claiming Labor powerbroker Bob Carr is “leading the Labor Party down a dangerous path” by advocating for recognition outside any framework of negotiations with Israel, Miller said he “is concerned at the incendiary language” of the former foreign minister, “while Palestinian leaders do not accept the right of Israel to exist – and support terrorism”.
“At this stage, there is no viable Palestinian state until the governments of the West Bank and Gaza sort out their difficulties,” stated Miller. “Who will the Labor Party and possibly Labor in government recognise?”
He added that a unilateral declaration of a Palestinian state “is likely to further discourage the Palestinians from coming to the negotiating table for a peaceful settlement, something they have shown great reluctance to do already”.
He also lamented the smearing of Israel as an “apartheid state”.
“As Indigenous people, we know what apartheid is,” said Miller. “Israel is a beacon of democracy in the Middle East and has Arab Members of the Knesset, and has Arabs living peacefully and working in all walks of life, enjoying their democratic freedoms.”
Initially inspired by Australia’s Jewish community as a role model for his people in the 1990s, Miller is no stranger to Israel. He and his wife Barbara will be in an IFI contingent for the centenary of the Australian Light Horse charge at Beersheva in October.
The Indigenous visitors will also take part in Sons of Abraham, a Jerusalem conference organised by the Cairns-based Centre for International Reconciliation and Peace.
Miller, a professional artist, is planning to present the Knesset with one of his works, symbolising parallels between Aboriginal peoples in Australia and the biblical tribes of Israel.
Meanwhile, Indian community organisations in Australia have also condemned the resolution proposed to the NSW ALP conference later this month which urges unconditional recognition of a Palestinian state.
Meeting Jewish bodies, the Indian and Sikh leaders stated, “pressuring only one side to make unilateral concessions, without reciprocal initiatives from the other party, will serve only to discourage both peoples against making the hard compromises that will be essential for a just and durable outcome”.
The statement referred to the Palestinian Authority’s rift with Hamas, concluding “there is no Palestinian entity which meets the legal and diplomatic criteria of a state”.
It added, “Recognition of a state of Palestine other than as an outcome of a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel would do nothing to resolve the core issues of the Israel–Palestinian conflict, in particular Jerusalem, refugees, borders, settlements, security and water.
“The complex arrangements required to address these core issues will require cooperation between the parties via detailed agreements, not grandiloquent, symbolic statements of recognition by outside parties.
“Recognition of a State of Palestine at the present time, and in the absence of any peace agreement with Israel, would therefore not only undermine the international rule of law, but would also lay the foundations for opening a new phase of the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel, rather than for resolving the conflict.”
The statement was signed by Assocham Australia, the Council of Indian Australians, Friends of India, the Hindu Council of Australia, the Australian Sikh Association, Overseas Friends of the Bharatiya Janata Party Australia (OFBJP), the United Indian Associations and community leader Dr Yadu Singh.