HE arrived in Jerusalem minutes before, on his first visit to the Holy Land. Before him lay the majestic beauty of the Old City, on a bright summer morning, and the promise of an exciting day ahead.
And then all hell broke loose. A fatal terrorist attack on two Druze police officers at Lions’ Gate shut down Jerusalem. Like everyone in the vicinity, he went into lockdown, with nowhere to go. He had no family or friends in the country, and was accompanied only by a couple of work colleagues.
But he’s no regular tourist. His name is Matthew Guy and he is the Leader of the State Opposition, visiting Israel on a Victorian Parliamentary delegation.
Much has been said and written about the symbolic importance of the Australian Embassy relocating from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. But Mr Guy’s brush with terrorism during his recent visit to Jerusalem has now demonstrated a very practical reason why an Australian consular presence there is vital.
This is the question I put to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, during her recent visit to our Beth Weizmann Community Centre. I noted the importance of a safe place in Jerusalem for Australians to congregate and debrief; where they could be accounted for, where phone calls could be made and received, where messages could be sent back home – especially for non-Jewish Australian tourists with no family connections in the country, and no experience coping with the daily scourge of terrorism, that Israelis take in their stride.
An Australian consulate could logically be co-located with like-minded countries, to more efficiently pool security requirements and logistical resources. Surely suitable premises in West Jerusalem exist. And there can be no controversy about locating an Australian diplomatic mission in West Jerusalem, which has nothing to do with the Palestinian peace process. As Dr Dvir Abramovich, Chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission has stated: anyone that objects to siting embassies in West Jerusalem does so because they reject Jewish sovereignty over any part of Israel.
Like many Jewish community members, I am pleased that the Foreign Minister has agreed to look into the matter. Indeed, Ms Bishop has repeatedly demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the strong relationship between Australia and Israel.
Our nations share common values and an enduring friendship that stretches back a century, to the Battle of Beersheba – the pivotal moment in history that directly lead to the Balfour Declaration, and later the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Australia was the first country that voted in favour of Israel’s creation, contrary to many Commonwealth countries.
Over the decades, we have stood with Israel, united by values, mutual respect and the dedicated efforts of the Israeli Diaspora and the wider Australian Jewish community. Today our relationship grows from strength to strength, demonstrated by the recent visit of Prime Minister Netanyahu, the first sitting Israeli Prime Minister to visit Australia. Later this year a large Australian delegation, led by Prime Minister Turnbull, will head ba’aretz to commemorate the centenary of Mivtza Moshe.
It is an exciting time for the relationship between our nations, with a double-tax treaty nearing completion and numerous collaborative business and cultural initiatives underway, including the Landing Pad in Tel Aviv for Australian entrepreneurs and start-ups seeking access to the Israeli high-tech sector. Hopefully a free trade agreement is not far away either.
And yet despite all of this, despite the close relationship between our nations, Australia’s embassy is not located in Jerusalem – the eternal capital city of the Jewish people, and of the sovereign and democratic State of Israel.
At the Liberal Party’s State Council earlier this year, I was honoured to move a motion which called for Australia’s embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem. I was overwhelmingly supported by the more than 1000 delegates present. It was a powerful symbolic moment.
But what recently happened in Jerusalem that sunny morning has now given a largely symbolic debate an important practical dimension. Australians visiting Jerusalem, the capital city of the State of Israel, are reasonably entitled to the expectation a safe consular place to turn to; of a place in Yerushalayim to call home.
KATE ASHMOR is a lawyer, company director and community volunteer.