SYDNEY (JTA) – Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who expelled an Israeli Mossad agent from Canberra in 2010, was elected Labor Party leader to help the government remain in power.
Party lawmakers in a 57-45 vote on Wednesday night in Canberra backed Rudd to take control of Labor. The parliament must confirm the balloting for Rudd to be sworn in as prime minister and the government to avoid being forced straight to an election.
The federal election is scheduled for Sept. 14, which coincides with Yom Kippur.
Gillard, a supporter of Israel during her three years in office, called for a party leadership vote amid plunging polls and mounting evidence that Rudd is more popular.
Junior Cabinet minister Michael Danby, one of two Jews in government, told JTA as he was arriving for the vote that he would back Gillard.
Ginette Searle, executive director of the Zionist Federation of Australia, expressed “sincere thanks” to Gillard for being a “staunch supporter” of Israel and the Jewish community.
Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told JTA from Israel that Gillard “was outstanding in her support of Israel, most notably during the operation in Gaza [in 2009] when she strongly asserted Israel’s rights to defend itself, when she stood by Israel with the first [U.N. General Assembly] vote on the Palestinians and her attempts (ultimately unsuccessful) to retain that position last year.”
Rudd, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2010 before being deposed in a coup to install Gillard, told Jewish leaders during the 2007 election campaign that Israel is “in my DNA.”
He successfully led Australia’s bid for a temporary U.N. Security Council seat but was accused of compromising support for Israel in a bid to woo Arab votes.
A longtime supporter of Israel, Rudd said he was “not impressed” when it became clear that Australian passports were compromised in the assassination of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai in January 2010. In response, his government expelled the Mossad agent from the embassy in the capital.
Bilateral relations also were strained earlier this year following revelations that Melbourne-born Ben Zygier was “Prisoner X,” the secret inmate who committed suicide in prison in 2010 after reportedly spilling secrets to Hezbollah. Zygier allegedly also was a Mossad agent.
While many government lawmakers face defeat in the federal election, Danby is running strong in his heavily Jewish seat in Melbourne and his Jewish parliamentary colleague, Attorney General Mark Dreyfus, also is widely favored to keep his seat.