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New Government in Australiaraises Some Concern in the Jewish Community

Labor Party leader Bob Hawke’s new government, sworn into office last Thursday, has raised some concern in the Jewish community that changes in Australia’s Middle East policy may be in the offing.

Although Hawke’s pro-Israel sympathies remain strong, some Jews fear that Australia’s newly acquired membership in the United Nations Security Council might lead to efforts by the Foreign Ministry to placate the Third World governments which voted for Australia’s admission.

That would mean, they say, that on critical votes affecting Israel, Australia might abstain rather than vote with the United States which is almost always supportive of the Israeli position.

ANOTHER ISSUE CITED

Another issue that may arise during the Labor government’s second term in office is the future of the Australian contingent of the multi-national peacekeeping force in Sinai.

Foreign Minister Bill Hayden said earlier this year that the Australian forces which consist of a helicopter survey unit and a back-up logistics team, would be permanently withdrawn early in 1986. Israel, Egypt and the U.S. have tried to persuade Australia not to set any definite date for withdrawal.

The troop commitment will be reviewed by the new Defense Minister, Kim Beazley, who may recommend that the Australian unit remain in Sinai because it is gaining valuable experience.

These are some of the issues discussed at the annual conference last week of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the umbrella body of the Jewish community. The Israeli Ambassador, Yissaehar Ben-Yaacov, addressed the conference. He spoke of Israel’s future relations with the United States, the current negotiations for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from south Lebanon and Israel’s economic problems.

Hawke’s Labor Party was returned to office for a second term in the national elections December 1, but with a decreased majority rather than the forecast landslide victory. Its only Jewish member, Minister for the Arts and Environment Barry Cohen, was absent from the swearing-in ceremonies in Canberra because of illness. He is expected to resume his duties after a vacation.

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