Australian Aid Agency Sorry About Commenting on Israel

Australia’s largest overseas aid agency, AUSTCARE, has formally apologized to the Jewish community for issuing a news release during the cross-border fighting between Israel and the fundamentalist Hezbollah group that moved outside its humanitarian agenda.

The AUSTCARE program coordinator recently said that Australian leaders should “use their diplomatic efforts to push for an immediate cease-fire” in southern Lebanon and for “the withdrawal of Israel from the area.”

Israel recently made massive retaliatory raids against the Islamic fundamentalist group Hezbollah in southern Lebanon. On April 18, during the cross-border fighting, Israel shelled a U.N. refugee camp, killing at least 91 Lebanese civilians.

Diane Shteinman, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, wrote to protest the “prejudiced perspective” of the agency statement, saying that “it indicates either a lack of understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict or the adoption of a standpoint clearly antagonistic towards only one of the many parties to a complex situation.”

AUSTCARE’s national director, Eric Ellem, agreed that the statement in question “could be constructed as a political statement” and apologized for the “omission” of any “call on the Hezbollah to cease its attacks” on Israel.

He added that “AUSTCARE is appreciative of the support” it receives from the Federation of Australian Jewish Welfare Societies and from the Jewish people.

“I want to assure you and your council that the motivation for the press release and appeal was based on humanitarian reasons and was not intended to be an attack on the Israel government,” Ellem said. “I apologize for the misunderstanding.”

Major said agencies affiliated with AUSTCARE include the National Council of Churches and the Federation of Australian Jewish Welfare Societies. AUSTCARE officially represents the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees on a number of matters.

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