Embassy location: Australia is on the wrong side of history

Jared Kushner (right) speaking at the opening ceremony of the US Embassy while US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman looks on. Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

IN recent days, we celebrated the 51st anniversary of the unification of Jerusalem in the final battles of the Six-Day War.

Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day – is a day that resonates with Jews throughout the world. I was born exactly a year to the day after the State of Israel was established and I remember well the day that Israel assumed control of the holy sites of Jerusalem for which the Jewish People had longed for millennia.

Until that day the cobbled streets and limestone buildings that formed the very heart and soul of the Old City, where so many generations of my people had left their mark over the ages, were simply closed to Jews.

The Jordanian authorities who had occupied the eastern half of the city since the War of Independence had turned the Jewish Quarter into rubble and allowed the area in front of the Western Wall, where Jews had previously always been allowed to pray, to become a dirty alleyway.

The prospects of peace will be well served by taking a stand that puts beyond any shadow of a doubt that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of the State of Israel in any negotiated settlement.

In the years that followed, Israel’s Basic Law proclaimed that which Jews everywhere held as an article of faith. “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel.”

Under Israel, freedom of religious worship is guaranteed and the holy places are accessible to all.

The official opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem was a delight to watch, but the delight was tinged with regret that our own country, Australia, has chosen not to take the opportunity to be on the right side of history and indicate its intention to finally locate our embassy in Jerusalem.

The refusal of most nations that have diplomatic relations with Israel to respect Israel’s right to determine its national capital is an act of profound disrespect and a highly politicised one at that.

Jerusalem is and always has been the capital of the Jewish nation – its beating heart – for over 3000 years. Although we were forced into exile by the Romans nearly 2000 years ago, there has always been a Jewish presence in Israel and for the vast majority of that time a sizeable Jewish community in Jerusalem itself. Jews made up a majority of the city’s population for a century before the modern state of Israel was formed.

In November 1947, Australia was the first country to cast a vote in favour of the United Nations resolution which partitioned the old British Mandate of Palestine into two states – one Jewish and one Arab. Jerusalem was declared the capital city of the new Jewish State of Israel when the Mandate ended and for the 70 years since Jerusalem has been the seat of government, the location of its Supreme Court and the residence of the President and the Prime Minister.

Last week ,and on behalf of the Zionist Federation of Australia, I wrote to our Prime Minister and enduring friend of Israel, Malcolm Turnbull, to ask him to seriously consider moving Australia’s Embassy from its current location in Tel Aviv, to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem.

There will be some in our community that consider that we should just let this issue rest; that it is too political and at best a conversation for another day. Our Foreign Minister does not consider moving the embassy a priority and one could reasonably argue that the expenditure involved could be better directed to Australian missions in other parts of the world.

This approach, however, fails to acknowledge that Australia’s decision to locate its Embassy in Tel Aviv is consist- ent with the “neutral” decision of most countries to locate their embassies there in order to avoid any possible censure for pre-empting the final status of Jerusalem. Far from being neutral, this stance is in fact an act of denial of Israeli sovereignty, an act that was long ago recognised and rectified by the Congress of the United States and ultimately finally put right by President Trump’s refusal to renew the waiver that many of his predecessors had used to defer the relocation of America’s mission.

The ZFA considers that on this issue, its role is to clearly and unequivocally articulate the case for a change in government policy and a recognition that the prospects of peace will be well served by taking a stand that puts beyond any shadow of a doubt that Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of the State of Israel in any negotiated settlement.

The United States having taken the lead on this issue has been followed by Guatemala, and soon Paraguay will also move its embassy. Other nations will in all likelihood follow suit in the near future. Australia still has time to be in vanguard.

Australia rightly sees itself as a leader in ethical and moral behaviour, and a staunch ally of the State of Israel. Jewish communities in Australia thrive and are highly valued members of the broader multicultural society of which we are an integral part. Our shared history goes back to the First World War and we identify with Israel as a democracy with values that accord with our core values of a fair go and our desire for a peaceful and just world.

The Zionist Federation of Australia trusts that our great nation will reaffirm its strong historical commitment to the State of Israel, its sovereignty and to our common democratic values by following the lead of the United States and announcing its intention to relocate our Embassy to Israel’s capital city, Jerusalem.

DANNY LAMM is president of the Zionist Federation of Australia.

Danny Lamm.