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Wednesday, 20 November 1974
Page: 2574

Senator MISSEN (Victoria) -Taking this opportunity on the first reading of the Customs Tariff Bill 1 974 1 refer to a matter of which, I believe, there should be much more public knowledge in this country and more discussion in this Parliament. It is a matter which in my opinion concerns the honour of this nation. It concerns us very much because it demonstrates that the Government, and in particular the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee), are not taking a stand consistent with the long record of this country in matters of civil liberty. I refer in particular to certain matters I have raised previously in the Senate by way of question, namely, the relationship and condition of the Jewish community in Syria and the fact that Australia- the Australian Government- is unwilling to raise its voice in any way in support of that community and in an endeavour to reduce the travail it is now suffering.

Some months ago, on 1 August 1974, 1 asked a question on this subject of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I will read the question because it has quite a history to it. I asked:

Is the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware of recent documented allegations made by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and other responsible authorities concerning the persecution of the Jewish community in Syria, including numerous murders, assaults, religious persecutions, confinement to ghettos and denial of normal human rights in defiance of the United Nations Declarations on Human Rights? Has the Government made any public statement or any representations to the Syrian Government concerning these allegations? If not, will it do so at an early date.

I say in passing that, as a result of further information I have since accumulated, the allegations I summarised in that question are more than justified. The Minister at that time replied that he had read something of the matter but did not have detailed knowledge of the allegations. He said, amongst other things:

It is always a very delicate problem to know whether, if you press these people, they will not act worse than they are already acting.

He went on to say that he would seek further information. I challenge whether, in a situation like this, the pressing of these people will make things worse. It is the force of international opinion which is likely to improve the situation for people who are being persecuted.

Nearly 2 months later the Minister supplied me with a further answer. Other honourable senators would not be aware of the contents of this answer. The Minister said yes, he was aware of the documented allegations, and he referred to the International Conference for the Deliverance of Jews in the Middle East held in Paris on 3 July 1 974. He went on to say:

The Syrian Ambassador in Paris reportedly denied the allegations of official anti-Semitism and added that such matters were internal Syrian affairs in which Syria could accept no intervention.

Senator Baume - Even genocide?

Senator MISSEN - Apparently even genocide is an internal matter.

Senator Willesee - Syria said that, not me.

Senator MISSEN - Yes, I recognise that Syria said it but you, the Minister, chose to quote it. The Minister did not choose to comment on it or criticise it. I choose to reject it because I say that this type of behaviour cannot be put aside as being something about which we Australians are not entitled to express an opinion and to endeavour, by our interests, to cause some change. The Minister said that he had not made any public statement. He went on to say in further reply to my question:

The Government is always concerned with civil rights matters, both in Australia and other countries. As indicated above, it has been aware of the allegations in respect of Syria. In all such cases it has to consider a number of factorsthe difficulty of establishing the accuracy of reports and allegations, the need to avoid undue interference in what other countries may regard as their internal affairs, and what, if anything, can be done to improve the position of those whose civil rights are alleged to have been violated. Taking all the relevent factors into account, the Government does not consider that it would be appropriate at the present time for it to make representations to the Syrian Government on this matter. It will, however, keep the situation under review.

He went on to complete his answer by telling me that there was no mission in Syria but that the Australian Embassy in Beirut had reported generally on matters affecting that country.

I challenge practically everything in that statement. I challenge that we should say today there is any difficulty in establishing the nature of the allegations. I will refer extensively to the document of the International Conference for the Deliverance of Jews in the Middle East- the conference to which the Minister referred- entitled The Plight of Syrian Jewry'. This document details the various allegations and quotes from individuals who managed to escape from that country. I do not accept, as I have said already, that when these civil rights have been violated, other countries can pass the violations off as internal affairs. Nor am I satisfied with the idea that the Minister will just keep the matter under review. I must say that that type of answer is the answer of a Pontius Pilate. It represents an attitude of washing your hands of the affair because it is happening a long way away, it is happening only to 4,500 people and it is not our problem. I reject that attitude.

I refer now to the document produced by that conference. In it there is graphic illustration of what has happened in Syria. We must bear in mind that when the Six Day War broke out in 1967 only about 3,000 Jews remained in Egypt of a community that had numbered 100,000 2 decades before. There were another 3,000 in Iraq, of 130,000, and about 4,500 in Syria, compared with 40,000 in 1948. Those communities, because of the hostility of the local inhabitants, obviously had been driven from the homes they had held for hundreds of years. These remnant Jewish communities were treated by the Egytian Iraqi and Syrian Governments as hostage communities open to every kind of mistreatment.

In fact it is now only in Syria that Jews are still held as hostages in their own land. They are refused permission to leave the country. If they have managed to leave the country their relatives have been persecuted. If they are caught they often face death.

None of the 4,500 Jews in Syria, of which some 3,000 dwell in Damascus, 1,200 in Aleppo and the rest in Kamishli, a small town near the Turkish border, is permitted to depart. The conditions under which these Jews must live constitutes a permanent offence to the principles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Let me read from that Declaration two of the most relevant articles in this respect. Article 13 states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Article 14 states:

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.

These articles have been defied and denied time and again.

What is the ordinary living situation of the remaining Jewish community in Syria? As this report says, Jews must not move more than 2Vi miles from the quarters in which they live without special authorisation. They must carry special identity cards bearing the word 'Jew' in red letters. They have no rights such as that of the vote, cannot hold a job in any government office or in Syria's nationalised sector, to say nothing of the police or armed forces, be it the most insignificant. For the past 4 years no Jew has been admitted to a university. With a couple of exceptions, Jews are not permitted to have telephones, do not get driving licences, and must comply with special curfew regulations. At Kamishli, Jewish houses bear a distinguishing mark. Moslems are advised officially not to buy in Jewish shops and government and military personnel are expressly forbidden to enter them. The mail of Jews is censored, and they are under constant police watch.

That is the normal life of the Jewish community in Syria. It reminds one of the 1930s in Germany. It is very significant that the leaders of a number of these countries were very sympathetic with the German attitude during the last World War. Apart from this being the normal situation, in addition there are only 3 Jewish schools left in the country and they are under the direction of Moslems who draw up vexatious limitations of all kinds. The few synagogues are constantly threatened and constantly damaged.

The Syrian Government has seen fit to place many Palestinians in the Jewish quarter so constantly there are cases of assault and robbery. Quite apart from this, many examples are given in the report of the extent to which people have been murdered and injured as a result of the violence of the local inhabitants. The report states:

Certain recent attempts by Jews to flee, given Syrian repression and unflexibility, have brought still more persecution. Should a Jew manage his escape, the Syrians take vengeance on his family. In March 1 974, eleven Jewish mothers of Aleppo were tortured for two days and nights as the Syrians sought the names of persons who had helped their youngsters leave the country.

Then appears one of the most graphic examples and it has been mentioned even in our Press. The report continues: In March of this year three young Jewish women of Damascus by the name of Zebah and a friend of theirs named Saad slipped out of Damascus together with 2 Moslems supposed to guide them across the Lebanese border. Instead, they were forced into a cave, robbed, raped and killed. Apart from the deaths there was the humiliation caused to their families and the inhumanity shown by the Syrian Government when some days later the Syrian authorities delivered the bodies of the girls to their families in a sack for burial. Demonstrationsdangerous demonstrations in that countrytook place among the Jewish community and the result of them was that the Syrian Minister for the Interior alleged that the murderers and smugglers who had confessed, so he said, had been arrested. They arrested 2 respected members of the Jewish community, one of" them being a brother-in-law of one of the victims. The Syrian authorities accused them of murder and they are to stand trial before a State Security tribunal. We can imagine what sort of justice will be obtained in that case.

Those are some of the examples which are given in this publication of incidents which are known, I should imagine, to many members of the Government and these examples should indicate that we as a free community ought to take a view on these matters. In the publication I have quoted are examples and illustrations of the type of pass, showing the holder's Jewish faith, which persons in that country have to carry around and produce. Also there are lists of businesses that are boycotted by the local Syrian authorities.

I say to members of the Labor Party present and to the Foreign Minister that they have some duty to express a view on this matter. They should have a view, I suggest, because, apart from anything else of what has been said by the Federal President of the Australian Labor Party,

Mr BobHawke. In an excellent article which he wrote and which appeared in the 'Herald' on 18 November, he had a lot to say about the allegations which Mr Hartley, one of the Federal Executive members of the Labor Party, had previously made. Mr Hawke drew attention to facts concerning the Jewish Arab situation which surely must be known to all members of the Labor Party and said:

Looking around them at the institutions and practices within the Arab states which have sought to destroy them and which Mr Hartley so mightily extols ('the spendid militancy of socialist Libya and Irak'- the latter which has ruthlessly suppressed its Kurdish minority and invited its citizens to come and enjoy the feast' on January 27, 1969, when it publicly hanged \9 Jews in the squares of Baghdad), the Israelis should have nothing but the utmost dread at the thought of being handed over to the tender mercies of these people.

He also quoted President Sadat of Egypt, a leader in the Arab community, and said:

President Sadat of Egypt could not have made it any clearer when he said on 25 April, 1972: 'The Jews must be relegated to a position of humiliation and misery'.

I am not today talking about the whole situation or of the whole threat to Israel. I am not talking about the very massive persecutions of Jews which still occur in the Soviet Union but which have been lessened somewhat through the force of world opinion and through the influence of countries which are prepared to express hostility to this type of action because the Soviet Union is sensitive to world opinion. What I am saying to members of the Labor Party here is that if their Federal President is capable of seeing the problem, the Foreign Minister and Government supporters also should see the problem even though it concerns only 4,500 people obviously persecuted beyond any hope of redemption, save the effect of world opinion.

There are 3 things which I hope to achieve by making these facts known today. I want to know what inquiry the Minister has made. He said that the Government was going to keep in touch. I want to know what has been found out about this. Is the Minister satisfied with these allegations which are put forward by a highly respectable World conference, chaired by the President of the Senate of France and comprising people from all over the world? I have referred to their publication. Is the Minister satisfied that this persecution is occurring and is he also satisfied that he can make some statement on this matter? Secondly, I hope to achieve today by mentioning this matter some further rousing of world opinion, something which might affect the sensitivity, if not the conscience, of an Arab country like Syria and which might lead to some lessening of the persecution of the people who live there.

Thirdly, and importantly, I hope that Australia's national honour will be improved. I do not know whether Australia is silent because of hope for funds from Arab sources or because of hope for positions we might obtain in the United Nations as a result of Arab votes. I do not know what the reason is that we stay silent on the subject, but I urge the Foreign Minister and the Labor Party to remember that this is an important area of conscience. The Government should act in accordance with the position that Australia has taken and the way in which it has many times expressed its view about other countries and persecutions. In respect of South Africa, Chile, Greece and other countries we have expressed views. I am not concerned today to examine them in detail, but we have on other occasions made our feelings felt. We have expressed our belief in the civil liberties of the people of the whole world. I urge the Foreign Minister to stop this course of saying nothing and come out and express the views which I am sure the Australian people hold strongly in this matter.

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