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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1266

Senator FORSHAW (1:31 PM) —I rise to express my support for the motion that was carried in the House of Representatives last Wednesday congratulating the state of Israel on its 60th anniversary. That motion was moved by the Prime Minister and seconded by the Leader of the Opposition. Since that motion was carried there has been criticism and there has been support. There has been a lot of comment in the media and elsewhere regarding the appropriateness of the motion. I believe it was an appropriate motion to move at the time, and I support it wholeheartedly.

On that day there was an advertisement published in the Australian newspaper which criticised the fact that the motion was going to be moved. I want to respond to some of the arguments that were put in that advertisement because it contained outrageous allegations and distortions of historical fact. Let me deal with a couple of issues first.

It has been argued that this motion is inappropriate for the parliament to pass because we should not single out one country to congratulate them on a particular anniversary. It has been said that it was not done in previous years on the 50th anniversary of Israel or the 40th anniversary of Israel so why should we do it now? Firstly, the fact that it has not been done in the past does not of itself mean that it should never be done. Secondly, there is precedent in the history of the parliament for similar motions of congratulations noting specific anniversaries or events to be put and carried by the parliament. For instance on 14 September 1976 the then Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, moved:

That this House records its sincere regret at the death of Chairman Mao Tse-tung, expresses to the people of China profound regret and tenders its deep sympathy to his family in their bereavement.

That was supported by Mr Whitlam, the Leader of the Opposition. There were others who spoke in favour of the motion. I also note that Mr William Charles Wentworth—Billy Wentworth—opposed it.

If you read the speeches—I do not have time to go through them in detail—you will see a lot of wonderful words said about Chairman Mao, his leadership of China and the great things he did for that country. Others, including I know Senator Mason, would probably think that we should hasten slowly when we do these things because we should remember the effects of the Cultural Revolution on the people of China.

But there have been other motions, not necessarily moved by the Prime Minister or supported by the Leader of the Opposition, and other occasions where particular events and anniversaries have been noted. For instance, in June 1999 the member for Fowler, Julia Irwin, spoke on a report of an Australia-China Parliamentary Friendship Group that had visited China and Tibet in the 50th anniversary year of the National People’s Congress of China. The delegation had gone to China at the invitation of the People’s Congress in that anniversary year.

A similar motion was moved by Peter Coleman on the 30th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. There was a speech on the 100th anniversary of independence of the Philippines by Roger Price, a speech by Senator Mark Bishop on the anniversary of Solidarity and a speech by Mr Somlyay on the 50th anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution. And they are just a few. So I do not believe it is inappropriate at all for the parliament to do this. I believe it is appropriate that on a significant event such as this the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were the mover and the seconder of the motion.

It is also appropriate in the special case of Israel because Israel is one nation that was actually established by the United Nations back in 1947-48. Australia did play a major role at that time through Dr Evatt’s participation in the work to bring about the ultimate decision of the General Assembly for the establishment of two states—Israel and Palestine—living side by side. It is also particularly significant because today I think Israel, maybe more than ever, is constantly vilified around the world, including at the UN.

The remarkable thing is not that this parliament has recognised the 60th anniversary; the remarkable thing is that there actually has been a 60th anniversary of Israel. If many had had their way, Israel would never have had a first anniversary in 1949. Of course we recall that at the time the Israelis accepted the resolution for a partition of Palestine and the Arab nations did not. They invaded Israel in an attempt to destroy the fledgling state at birth. That was not done in the cause of protecting the Palestinian population or promoting the concept of Palestinian nationhood; it was purely and simply to prevent the establishment of a Jewish state, a Jewish homeland.

The allegations that are contained in this advertisement that I referred to—that this really is a celebration of the triumph of racism and the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians since the al-Nakba catastrophe of 1948—are gross distortions. It has been a catastrophe for the Palestinian people, because there is no Palestinian state. But that is not Israel’s fault. The real attempt at ethnic cleansing was the attempt at that time to drive the Jews out of Palestine, just as they had largely been driven out of most Arab and Islamic countries in the region and just as they had been driven out or murdered in the Holocaust in many parts of Europe. Those who constantly claim they are standing up for the plight of the Palestinians by denigrating Israel conveniently ignore the facts that, at the time of its establishment, Egypt, Syria and Jordan sought to occupy and control parts of Palestine with the intention of incorporating them into their own countries. Indeed, Jordan itself annexed east Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1950. They did not move to establish a Palestinian state. It is a modern miracle that Israel celebrated its 20th anniversary in 1968 and its 25th anniversary in 1973, given that in both of those years it was forced to defend itself against its neighbours. The Arab invasion in 1973 almost succeeded in destroying the state of Israel. Today, that ambition is carried on by the terrorist groups supported to different degrees by other countries in the region.

I would like to also say a few things about the United Nations. There is always constant reference to the many resolutions condemning Israel carried by the United Nations. Kofi Annan said back in 2006:

Some may feel satisfaction at repeatedly passing General Assembly resolutions or holding conferences that condemn Israel’s behaviour. But one should also ask whether such steps bring any tangible relief or benefit to the Palestinians. There have been decades of resolutions. There has been a proliferation of special committees, sessions and Secretariat divisions and units. Has any of this had an effect on Israel’s policies, other than to strengthen the belief in Israel, and among many of its supporters, that this great Organization is too one-sided to be allowed a significant role in the Middle East peace process?

You always find that people who want to attack Israel’s existence or condemn it refer to resolution 242, which followed the 1967 war. But they only refer to one of the two principles. They only ever refer to that which speaks of the withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the conflict. There is never, or very rarely, any reference to the other aspect of it—which is the need for sovereignty, territorial integrity and peace and security for all of the states. That is conveniently ignored.

I had the great privilege and honour to be one of the two parliamentary advisers to the United Nations General Assembly late last year. I have to say that whilst there are many good things about the United Nations—and I will speak about those on another occasion—one of the constant features is the continuing attack on Israel. I note that Senator Mason is here. He had been to the UN General Assembly the previous year. At the outset of last year’s General Assembly in September, the two major issues of focus were the human rights abuses occurring in Myanmar—or Burma—and in Darfur. Those issues were addressed in debates in the Security Council and General Assembly. But very quickly the General Assembly then reverted to its annual practice: numerous speeches by representatives—often from some of the most despicable regimes and leaders in the world—condemning Israel. Accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing are thrown about with alacrity. Even the language of the Holocaust itself is turned on Israel.

One of the worst examples of this bias against Israel in the United Nations is the Human Rights Council: the body that was established to replace the former UN Commission on Human Rights because it became clear that the commission was simply not interested in tackling the great human rights issues around the world. So the UN reformed it by establishing the Human Rights Council. But the permanent agenda of the Human Rights Council that was adopted last year singles out only one country as a permanent agenda item for examination. It is Israel. Item 7 of the agenda is ‘Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories’. No other country is specifically mentioned. Zimbabwe, North Korea, Belarus and Cuba are not mentioned. Attempts to include them on the agenda were blocked. There is no reference to the appalling genocide that continues to this day in Darfur. In 2006-07, the Human Rights Council carried eight resolutions on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict condemning Israel. Only one was carried on the issues in Darfur, where every day hundreds of people are massacred, where thousands upon thousands of people have been massacred in recent years. We all recall the conference on racism that was held in Durban in 2001. It simply degenerated into an attack on Israel. There is a proposal to hold a further conference as a follow-up. Let us hope they can do better this time.

Finally, I want to refer to a statement in an article by Alan Ramsey in last Saturday’s Herald:

The truth is there is no real debate in this country about the travesty of what is happening in the Middle East, and there are those in the community who, with their money and influence, do all they can to ensure no such open debate occurs, either in the national Parliament, in the media or anywhere else.

I actually have some respect for Alan Ramsey. I think he is a fine writer. I do think that he on many occasions is biased and has a vehemence in his criticism, but he is entitled to his opinions. But he is simply wrong. This is nonsense, that there is no opportunity for debate in this parliament, in this country or anywhere else, that somehow there is a powerful lobby that prevents it. I could use an unparliamentary word, but I will not. It is just wrong. The very fact that Mr Ramsey can have almost a page in the Herald, last Saturday and the Saturday before, puts the lie to his claim there is no debate. Every member has an opportunity to stand in this place and debate this issue, as I do today. It is constantly in the news, whether it is the ABC, the print media et cetera, and debated in academic circles—everywhere. There is probably no foreign policy issue that is more discussed, more debated or more commented upon in this country than the Middle East issues. So this rubbish that is trotted out all the time, that somehow there is a lobby that prevents debate, is untrue. (Time expired)