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New Australian Prime Minister is an Unknown Quantity for Jews

Australian Jews are uncertain whether their concerns will receive the same sympathetic attention from the new prime minister, Paul Keating, as they did from his predecessor, Bob Hawke, who was replaced recently by the ruling Labor Party.

Hawke, for example, was an unequivocal friend of Israel and had close contacts within its trade union movement before he became prime minister.

As head of government, his was a powerful voice in support of the Jewish state. His grasp of the Arab-Israeli conflict was respected by Australian Jewry even when their views differed.

Hawke was also in the forefront of legislation introduced by his government to allow Australian courts to prosecute suspected Nazi war criminals living in Australia.

Keating, whose chief interest is in economics, is an unknown quantity with respect to such issues. But his supporters include some of Israel’s best friends in Parliament.

One of them, Senator Graham Richardson, told Australian Jews that Keating’s membership in the party faction known as the New South Wales Right means he will support Israel in crucial votes.

Nevertheless, there are aspects of Keating’s record that are disturbing to Jews.

In 1990, he argued in Parliament in favor of granting a Moslem preacher permanent resident status even though he had violated the conditions of his visa by publicly inciting anti-Jewish feelings.

Australia’s Moslem community is concentrated in and around Keating’s district. But Moslem moderates and Christian Arabs, as well as Jews, had been lobbying for the preacher’s deportation.

During the Persian Gulf War, Keating was part of Hawke’s inner circle, which made Australia the first country to join the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

But he has told the news media his position with respect to the Gulf war was always “cautious and considered” rather than all-out enthusiastic.

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