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Australian Jews Meet with Premier in Attempt to Improve Relationship

After a first-ever meeting with Prime Minister Paul Keating, Jewish leaders have declared relations with the government to be on “an even keel,” despite serious policy differences.

After months of squabbling over Australia’s new pro-Arab tilt, a six-person delegation from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Zionist Federation of Australia met to discuss a range of issues with Keating, who assumed office last December.

The Jewish representatives told Keating that Australian encouragement of the Palestine Liberation Organization was damaging to the peace process and that Australia was no longer considered a committed supporter of Israel in international forums.

The prime minister responded by saying that the central principle of Australia’s Middle East policy is Israel’s right to exist behind secure and recognized boundaries.

These are “the principles, and it is principles that count,” he said, and described the other Jewish concerns as “details” which in no way affect Australia’s attitude toward the Jewish state.

The meeting with the prime minister came the day after Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans told a public meeting in Melbourne that he remained a firm friend of Israel but stood by his past criticisms, which, he said, had much to do with the attitude of the Shamir government toward the peace process.

The prime minister told his Jewish visitors he supports Evans and that they should have faith in “the government’s common sense, of which we have much,” regarding its dealings with the PLO.

‘STILL MANY DIFFERENCES’

Gerry Levy, acting president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, welcomed the reaffirmation of the principle but said that “there are still many differences of central importance between the Jewish community and the Australian government.”

The meeting was the first step in rebuilding a damaged relationship, he said.

Zionist Federation President Mark Leibler was more upbeat, and told reporters at a press conference after the meeting that the Jewish community’s relationship with the Australian government had been restored to its former position, although he said he disagreed with Keating’s position on PLO contact.

During their meeting with the prime minister, the Jewish representatives also made an impassioned appeal to the government to act on its commitment to combat racism and anti-Semitism, including Holocaust revisionists and direct incitement to anti-Jewish violence.

Keating said that his government was still looking at a number of proposals for new changes in legislation.

The government’s continued failure to approve an application by El Al for landing rights in Australia was also pursued by the delegation.

The Jewish representatives told Keating that there are no direct routes between Australia and Israel and that discriminatory obstacles have been placed in El Al’s way.

World Jewish Congress co-chairman and co-leader of the delegation, Isi Leibler, said that the Jewish community was far from satisfied with the position of the government, particularly as it related to the PLO and to Australia’s stance in international forums.

He told the prime minister that the Jewish community is “sensitive and aware of Middle East policies and that this constituency must be considered in the development of our relationship with the Middle East.”

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