‘No plans to relocate embassy’

Sharren Haskel with David Southwick. Photo: Peter Haskin

THE Turnbull government has reiterated it has no plans to move Australia’s Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite a pledge by Victorian Liberals to open a trade office in the Israeli capital if they win next year’s state election.

Responding to an inquiry, a spokesperson for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop stated this week, “The federal government has no plans to relocate the Australian Embassy in Israel.”

The AJN quizzed the Foreign Minister’s office after an Israeli MK voiced hopes that Victorian Liberal-Nationals leader Matthew Guy’s promise to set up a trade office in Jerusalem if the state Coalition wins next November’s election might spur its federal counterpart into an historic embassy shift.

Asked by The AJN last week whether Guy’s pledge could have a knock-on effect in Canberra, Likud MK Sharren Haskel, in Australia for the Victorian Opposition’s announcement, cited developments in the US, where she said state legislatures had begun an initiative to move Israel’s embassy to Jerusalem, a policy now sitting on President Donald Trump’s desk, with the US leader expected to make an announcement this week.

“Maybe the embassy of Australia could move [to Jerusalem] together with the embassy of the United States,” said Haskel.

But regardless of its federal impact, Guy’s pledge has drawn plaudits in Israel and locally. Some of Haskel’s Knesset colleagues were “very excited” at the Victorian Coalition’s plans and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has told her a Victorian trade office would greatly boost a growing high-tech hub in the capital.

Haskel was invited to Guy’s launch of the policy, where the Liberal leader was joined by shadow Treasurer Michael O’Brien, shadow Education Minister Tim Smith and Caulfield MP David Southwick, in unveiling their blueprint to Victorian Zionist organisations.

Drawing applause, Guy pledged that “if we come to government at next November’s election, the Liberal and National parties will open Victoria’s first government business office in Israel, and it will be in Jerusalem”.

“We are sending a message to every other Australian government, state, territory and national, about the importance of that [Australia–Israel] relationship,” said Guy, describing the planned office as being “in the right location, in the capital city, in Jerusalem”.

PETER KOHN