THE latest Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) webinar featured Dr Mike Kelly, former ALP government minister who, before his time in parliament, spent 20 years in the Australian army. There, he completed overseas deployments to Iraq and Somalia, among others, and became Director of Army Legal Services, leaving as a colonel.
Naturally, given recent events, there was keen interest in his views about whether the next ALP government would give priority to the recognition of a Palestinian state, as now set out in the party’s platform.
Pointing out that the wording in the platform is no different to the 2018 conference resolution on the topic, he said it may depend on how democratic the Palestinian Authority was at the time, adding that a social democratic party would be concerned about issues such as human rights and free and fair elections.
He also stated that Penny Wong understands that you can’t just unilaterally recognise a state when the parties need to resolve so much, together with international diplomatic partners, and while some in the ALP would push for immediate action, Australia would come under “enormous pressure from allies and from the framework of the process itself to take a more considered approach to it than just simply rushing out, to recognise a Palestinian state.”
Kelly, whose topic was “Assessing the strategic relationship between Australia & Israel: An insider’s view” noted that there are many areas where Israel and Australia have an important strategic relationship. These include countering the mutual threat of Islamist and extreme right-wing terrorism, where “there’s been some critical information passed from Israel to Australia to defeat specific terrorist plots and threats in Australia.”
In addition, the Israeli company Elbit has provided Australia with important defence systems and materials, just one of the ways Israel has contributed to Australia’s defence technically, tactically and strategically. He would also like to see more co-operation combatting the massive cyber-threat, especially from Russia, which mobilises right-wing groups to undermine Western democracy, while Australia can learn much from Israel in becoming a technology-based economy and start-up nation.
On the Biden Administration moves to re-engage with Iran, he said Iran attaining nuclear weapons “would be a disaster for the entire region and for the globe.” Having pointed out that Iran only entered the JCPOA nuclear deal because of the effect of strong economic sanctions, he said that to prevent Iran achieving nuclear weapons capabilities without needing to resort to a military option “you need to come back to the sanctions regime and…have a rigorous regime of monitoring and validation and compliance…I don’t think you can just say, ‘let’s go back to the old agreement.’ They’ve come far too far down the progress track on developing nuclear weapons. And we have to be very, very hard in our approach to them.”
On his support for Israel, he said he gets “incredibly offended by this focus on Israel of all places,” in light of all the human rights abuses internationally, such as what’s happening to the Uyghurs in China, in Syria, and in the Palestinian-ruled areas. When people ignore all that, yet obsess about Israel “it kind of has to come back to antisemitism.”
Looking at antisemitism is “about understanding why people have the attitudes to Israel that they do. Where does that come from? Why is it that you can’t accept that there’d be one home for the Jewish people in the world?”
He said people had formed understandings of Israel that have no basis in fact, and he asks that people who are obsessed with Israel “really examine why that is, in your heart,” adding that we need to “be relentless in our intent to challenge lies and misinformation.”