SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australia’s prime minister met Jewish leaders to bolster bilateral relations following the government’s expulsion of an Israeli diplomat and its reaction to the Gaza flotilla deaths.
Kevin Rudd, joined by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, hosted several senior Jewish leaders June 3 at the prime minister’s residence in Canberra a week after Australia dismissed an Israeli official from the embassy in the capital. The government had found there was "no doubt" that Israel had doctored Australian passports used in the assassination of a senior Hamas leader in Dubai in January.
The meeting also came just days after nine activists on a Gaza-bound flotilla died during clashes with Israeli naval commandos. Several Australians were on board.
Rudd told the Jewish leaders he had called his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, to express his "deep concern" at the loss of life and urged him to allow an independent inquiry into the military operation.
"We are friends," Rudd told Parliament this week. "At times, however, the role of friends is to speak plainly and that is what Australia has done."
Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said in a statement that "It was quite clear to all present that the Prime Minister and his Government remain fundamentally committed to and supportive of Israel and the special relationship between Israel and Australia."
Goot added that the meeting "gives us great confidence that the relationship between the Jewish community and the Government will continue to be close."
Jewish lawmaker Michael Danby, who was joined by the only other Jewish lawmaker, Mark Dreyfus, said that "Australia is supporting an independent Israeli inquiry into the flotilla fracas. Australia does not support another U.N. Goldstone ambush. Australia’s policies are considered more friendly than other governments by the Israelis."
Danby added that "Australia supports humanitarian assistance to Gaza, but they have not called for the end of a military blockade preventing shipments of Iranian or other armaments."
Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets in Australia’s major cities following the activists’ deaths.