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Australia’s New Prime Minister Says His Government Will Support Israel

Australia’s newly elected Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, has declared that his government will strongly support Israel in the Middle East conflict. “We would want to make more plain our commitment to the survival of Israel.” he said in his first major foreign policy statement over the weekend. Fraser rejected the claims of the defeated Labor government led by Gough Whitlam that it had conducted “an even-handed” policy on the Middle East. He described it as a pro-Russian policy.

Fraser spoke on a Radio Australia interview in which he attacked the Whitlam government for having neglected Australia’s traditional friends over the past three years. The Fraser government would try to strengthen relations with Australia’s traditional friends which have “a clear philosophical commitment in common with Australia,” he added.

The first signs of a shift in policy came last Friday when Australia joined Israel, the United States, Canada and eight West European nations in a walk-out protest at a UNECSO conference in Paris. The walk-out followed the conference’s adoption of a resolution “noting” the UN General Assembly’s recent-equation of Zionism with racism.

JEWISH COMMUNITY ENCOURAGED

Fraser’s strong declaration of support for Israel, which follows similar commitments made during the recent election campaign here, has encouraged Jewish communal leaders. But they are waiting to see how the Fraser government will react when it will have to make decisions on more specific issues, such as allowing PLO representatives to come to Australia.

Another aspect which is being closely watched is the degree to which the Fraser government’s pro-Israel and anti-PLO position could weaken if the United States modifies its own stand against the PLO. As the new government in Canberra is anxious to follow a Washington line in the United Nations and move away from the Whitlam government’s identification with the Third World, much will depend on the lead given by the U.S.

While the Dec. 13 landslide win for Fraser’s Liberal-National Party coalition is expected to produce a more sympathetic understanding of Israel’s position by the new government, Israel lost some of its friends in the Parliament.

PRO-ISRAEL SPOKESMEN SWEPT OUT

The anti-Labor swing–the Fraser government will have a minimum 55-seat majority in the 127-sent Parliament–swept two outstanding pro-Israel spokesmen from federal politics. The Minister for Environment in the Whitlam government, Joe Berinson, lost his seat as did the Minister for Housing, Joe Riordan.

Berinson, a leading member of Perth’s Jewish community, was a brilliant and articulate pro-Israel advocate who often found himself in conflict with his own Prime Minister. Riordan, who is not Jewish, but represented a heavily Jewish electorate, was a moving force behind the Parliamentary Labor Friends of Israel.

On the other hand, Australia’s most outspoken supporter of the PLO and an extreme left-winger Bill Hartley, failed in an attempt to win a place in the Senate on the Labor ticket for the State of Victoria. A widespread campaign against Hartley was mounted within the Jewish community by both Labor and non-Labor supporters. The Board of Deputies took the unprecedented step of calling on all Jewish voters, regardless of party, to reject Hartley.

In the new Parliament, which will commence its session next February, there will be four Jewish parliamentarians. For the Labor Party, Dr. Moss Cass, the former Minister for the Media, retained his seat in Melbourne as did Barry Cohen in New South Wales. For the Liberal Party, Senator Peter Baume retained his seat in New South Wales while his cousin, Michael Baume, won a seat for the first time in the House of Representatives.

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