Australian opposition leader woos Jewish vote


SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) — Australia’s opposition leader accused the Labor government of weakening the country’s longstanding bipartisan support for Israel.

Tony Abbott, in a bid to woo Jewish voters ahead of the federal election scheduled for Aug. 21, told an audience of the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne on Monday that the Liberal Party’s support for Israel’s security was "unshakeable."

Abbott, who once trained as a Catholic priest, fired the opening salvo in the election campaign, saying a Liberal government would "never overreact" to international incidents — apparently referring to Australia’s criticism of Israel’s handling of the flotilla affair and Labor’s decision to expel an official from the Israeli Embassy in May following an inquiry that left the Labor government in "no doubt" that Jerusalem was behind the fraudulent procurement of four Australian passports used in the assassination of a senior Hamas official in Dubai in January.

Conceding that the Israeli government from time to time makes mistakes, Abbott added, "We appreciate that Israel is under existential threat in a way that almost no other country in the world is. Australians should appreciate that a diminished Israel diminishes the West; it diminishes us."

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who replaced Kevin Rudd in a political coup on June 24, has been under attack on the Israel front since she became the nation’s first female prime minister. A former Australian ambassador to Israel, Ross Burns, accused Gilard of being "remarkably taciturn on the excesses of Israeli actions in the past two years."

Gillard has visited Israel twice and was staunchly supportive of Israel during its showdown with Hamas in Gaza in early 2009, when she served as acting prime minister.

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