Australia’s Israel embassy dilemma

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (left) meeting with Scott Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

MPs and government agencies have received a letter and fact sheet from the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) about moving Australia’s Israel embassy to undisputed West Jerusalem, as debate about Canberra’s position swirls around the government, opposition and regional neighbours.

Floated by Prime Minister Scott Morrison to Jewish voters before the Wentworth by-election, the proposal lost gloss after it failed to secure ex-PM Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat, reducing the Coalition to a minority government.

The possibility of relocating the embassy suffered another blow last week when Indonesia voiced its opposition, leaving Australia’s trade deal with the largest Muslim country hanging in the balance. Morrison reportedly told Indonesia a decision on the embassy would be reached by Christmas.

Meanwhile, condemnation of the embassy proposal by Malaysian PM Dr Mahathir Mohamad, notorious for his antisemitic tirades, has fired up Treasurer and Deputy Liberal Leader Josh Frydenberg and former ALP foreign minister Bob Carr, Israel’s most prominent detractor in Australian politics.

“I can’t believe Josh Frydenberg has taken it on himself to attack Malaysian PM,” tweeted Carr, whose party opposes any embassy move before an Israel-Palestinian agreement. “What got into him? The Israel lobby must be flushed with success!”

Slamming Carr, Frydenberg said, “Does he agree with Dr Mahathir that less than six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust … that Jews are hook-nosed people … that Schindler’s List shouldn’t have been shown in Malaysia?” (Carr since told media he opposes Mahathir’s antisemitic comments.)

After issuing the ZFA primer, which explains the undisputed status of West Jerusalem, new ZFA president Jeremy Leibler said Frydenberg, who has directly criticised Mahathir, “has been supported by the Prime Minister, two former PMs, and several of his Liberal Party colleagues”.

Frydenberg “has rightfully called out Mahathir’s unapologetic antisemitic rhetoric and hypocrisy … and defended Australia’s right to make its own foreign policy decisions”.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim noted none of the 56 states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, including Indonesia and Malaysia, have a record of placing the Palestinian cause ahead of bilateral trade agreements.

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said Frydenberg “was absolutely right to point out the total inappropriateness of Australia taking its cues in any way, shape, or form from Mahathir on the Jerusalem embassy issue, given his longstanding record seething with obvious antisemitism and not just Israel bashing”.