SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – Jewish leaders welcomed the appointment of Australia’s first female prime minister, who has been supportive of Israel.
Julia Gillard was elected unopposed in a Labor Party caucus meeting Thursday after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd agreed to a leadership ballot triggered by a slump in the polls.
Gillard, from Labor’s left faction, was widely considered an unknown quantity on Israel when she was elected deputy leader in 2006.
But she “stood like a rock during the Gaza incursion [in 2009], reiterating again and again that Hamas began the conflict by rocketing Israel,” said Michael Danby, a Jewish lawmaker in the Labor government.
Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, agreed.
“Having been to Sderot, unlike so many of Israel’s critics, she understood and defended Israel’s right and need to defend its civilian population against repeated and indiscriminate missile attacks from Gaza,” Rubenstein said.
In a congratulatory letter issued Thursday, Executive Council of Australian Jewry President Robert Goot praised Gillard’s “principled stands” and “close understanding” of Jewish issues.
Gillard, who first visited Israel in 2005, led the Australian delegation in June 2009 to the inaugural Australia Israel Leadership Forum, a high-profile bilateral conference organized by the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange. She met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak in Jerusalem, and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in Ramallah.
Rudd, a staunch supporter of Israel, recently had come under fire from Jewish leaders for expelling an official from the Israeli Embassy in Canberra over the Dubai passports affair. Gillard stayed largely silent on the controversial affair.
An election is likely later this year.