CANBERRA, Australia (JTA) – Despite dissent from a member of his ruling Labor Party and two unions, as well as a coalition of leftists who accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd led a bipartisan motion to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.
As Rudd rose in parliament Wednesday to laud “Israel’s robust parliamentary democracy,” a female heckler had to be escorted from the visitors’ gallery for yelling: “What about the U.N. resolution?”
Rudd, who twice has visited Israel, said Australia’s parliament was a poor comparison to the Knesset, “where you see the definition of ‘robust’ at work.”
“By contrast, we are a bunch of pussycats,” he quipped.
Opposition leader Brendan Nelson seconded the motion, which was initiated by Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem. Nelson said that no Australian who believed in democratic principles “should ever allow Israel to be a stranger.”
“To do so would be to diminish ourselves and our own true security,” he said.
The motion saluted Australia’s role in the establishment of Israel and commended the Jewish state’s “commitment to democracy, the rule of law and pluralism,” while reiterating Australia’s support for Israel’s right to exist and to a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict.
It was passed unanimously and received a standing ovation from the visitors’ gallery, where dozens of Jewish community leaders sat.
Just days before the vote, in a March 8 column, one of the country’s veteran political commentators accused the federal parliament of kowtowing to the Jews.
Alan Ramsey wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that parliamentarians were “ever mindful of Jewish financial support of party coffers.”
In response Robert Goot, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, blasted Ramsey’s “hate-filled rhetoric,” accusing him of reverting to the “classic anti-Semitic canards about Jews and money.”
Goot wrote Wednesday that Ramsey was guilty of making the “baseless declaration that Australian parliamentarians support Israel only to safeguard their Jewish financial support.”
One member of Rudd’s Labor Party, Julia Irwin, a staunch critic of Israel, objected to Labor’s support of the motion.
On the day of the vote, a coalition of anti-Zionist, pro-Palestinian, leftist and unionist organizations took out a large advertisement in the Australian, the country’s national newspaper, declaring that they “choose to disassociate from a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians” since 1948.
Among the names listed were members of Independent Australian Jewish Voices, an offshoot of the British group, as well as two powerful trade union groups and numerous Palestinian and Arab groups.
A small pro-Palestinian demonstration was held outside Parliament House in the capital. Later in the day Sussan Ley, a Liberal backbencher told Australia’s House of Representatives that she supports the Palestinian cause.
“Theirs is not a popular cause,” said Ley, a former chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Palestine, “but it’s one I support in part out of the knowledge that the victors in World War II, including Australia, wrote a homeland check to cover the sins of the Holocaust and centuries of anti-Semitism in Europe. But it was the Palestinians who had to cash it.”
Rudd showed no signs of backing away from the pro-Israel resolution.
After the vote he participated in a reception co-hosted by the Israeli Embassy and the Zionist Federation of Australia in parliament’s Mural Hall.
“We are proud of this relationship we have fashioned with Israel,” Rudd told the crowd of about 300 senators, diplomats, Australian lawmakers and Jewish community leaders.