THE last three years of Parliament have been chaotic and eventful, but Julia Gillard’s personal commitment to Israel and the Jewish community has been unequivocal.
That friendship was underlined in 2010, when The AJN was the first newspaper she gave an interview to after she was sworn in as prime minister. At the time, she said, “My interest in Israel and my support for Israel is longstanding”, a sentiment reaffirmed in December 2011 when she stated: “A just and secure Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people is an indispensable part of a just and secure world.”
During her premiership, however, there were some rocky moments. Australia’s participation in the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Tehran last August caused concern, as did Australia’s abstention in the UN vote granting Palestine non-member observer status in November. These though were driven by the Foreign Office and in the latter instance, Gillard personally pushed for a “no” vote and was forced to back down under party pressure.
And then there was the announcement of the election date, Yom Kippur, which many viewed as a slight.
Nonetheless, there were plenty of high points. When Gillard visited the Jewish Holocaust Centre last August, she pledged $500,000 to bring Australia into a small circle of nations contributing to the memorialisation of Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Last June, she became the first Australian politician to sign a petition, launched by The AJN to demand a minute’s silence at the opening ceremony of the London Olympics in honour of the 11 Israelis athletes murdered at the 1972 Munich Games.
This year has also been a big year for Gillard and the community. In April, she became the first Australian politician to sign the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism. The following month, at her request, Governor-General Quentin Bryce made Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg Australia’s first honorary citizen.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry thanked Gillard this week for her “steadfast commitment to the Australian Jewish community” and “strong support for Israel’s legitimate security concerns”.
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) executive director Colin Rubenstein also thanked Gillard for her “unwavering and principled support for the Australian Jewish community and Israel”.
“Her relationship with the Jewish community has always been warm, personal and heartfelt,” he added.
Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester echoed the sentiment, describing Gillard as “a staunch supporter of the Jewish community and Israel.”
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.