SYDNEY, Australia (Jun. 15)
Jewish community leaders made little progress in a tense, two-hour meeting with Australia’s foreign minister that was convened following recent shifts in government policy that have outraged Australian Jews.
The foreign minister, Sen. Gareth Evans, told the Jewish delegation that he had strongly criticized Israel because he was “distressed” at the way in which Israeli leaders have been putting their country’s “future at risk.”
Australia’s new tilt toward the Palestinians has brought the government under fire not only from the Jewish community but from government opposition leaders and the mainstream media.
Last month, Evans strongly condemned Israel’s human rights record during a two-day visit to Israel.
Three days after Evans’ remarks, Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating told a Jewish organization that “the Palestine Liberation Organization has played a more positive role in encouraging the peace process over the past six months.”
The change in Australian Middle East policy has evolved since Keating replaced Bob Hawke as prime minister in December.
In his meeting with the Jewish leaders, Evans also defended Australia’s more friendly attitude toward Iran and Syria, as well as toward the PLO, on the grounds that his public pronouncements were made against a background of “years of adulatory statements about Israel and condemnation of the Arab states.”
Evans said he wanted his anti-Israel statements to have an impact while in Israel, “even if only on the margins,” the Jewish delegation members reported.
Although Evans, a member of the Australian Labor Party, had hoped to assist his colleagues in the Israeli Labor Party, Australian and Israeli observers believe he did more to help Likud.
SUPPORT FOR U.N. RESOLUTION 194
Evans was also strongly criticized for echoing U.S. support for U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194, which calls for repatriating hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled Israel when the state was established in 1948.
The U.S. State Department has since sought to modify or dilute its statements of support for that resolution.
But Evans said that Australia stands by its December 1948 support of this resolution and would not respond to criticism that subsequent U.N. resolutions and the current peace process have rendered this measure counterproductive.
Responding to criticism that he had placed all blame for the slow progress in the talks at Israel’s feet, Evans said Israel is in control of any progress, since moderates are in the ascendancy in the Arab camp.
Responding to claims he has exhibited a total double standard, Evans acknowledged he looks to Israel for higher morals.
He also said he had criticized Iran’s record on human rights but that this had not been reported in the media.
Leslie Caplan, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said serious differences exist with the foreign minister over analysis and response to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Caplan was highly critical of the new warmth shown by the government to the PLO. He said he was amazed at how the government could characterize any signs of extremism as the work of PLO “mavericks” and at how the foreign minister seemed concerned only that PLO violence was giving the organization “a bad name.”
Mark Leibler, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, has invited Evans to deliver a major address to his group next month, to allow the Jewish community a further opportunity to present its concerns.