Mike Kelly: ‘Israel is very close to my heart’

Mike Kelly: ‘Israel is very close to my heart’

Mike Kelly's departure from Parliament will sadden a legion of Australians, not least among them, Jewish Australians, for whom the longstanding MP has been a consistent champion.

FEDERAL MP Mike Kelly, who has resigned from Parliament for health reasons, is set to continue his great friendship with the Australian Jewish community and Israel.

Speaking with The AJN on Zoom this week, the Labor Member for Eden-Monaro signalled his intent to remain an active supporter of Israel within the ALP and beyond.

“I’ve got a lot of friends who are like-minded and we’ve established formal groups within the Labor Party to pursue those issues and also cross-political groups … so there’s plenty of opportunity for me to advocate and pursue those issues and to make sure we fight antisemitism as well,” he said.

Twice the MP for Eden-Monaro (2007-13 and 2016-20), and Minister for Defence Materiel in the Rudd and Gillard governments, Kelly, whose wife Rachelle and son are Jewish, has made the “gut-wrenching” decision to step back from parliamentary life for health reasons – renal problems and osteoarthritis, both caused by his army service.

Mike Kelly addressing the 2016 NAJEX Anzac Day commemoration at the Sydney Jewish Museum. Photo: Noel Kessel

His work as MP in the 42,000 square kilometre NSW bush electorate “is incompatible with the state of my health … I’m just going to have to drive a desk from here on in”, he said, noting Eden-Monaro is “twice the size of Israel”.

But Kelly has plenty of projects on his list. “I’ll be looking to really strongly maintain my advocacy for Israel and involvement with the community and perhaps be even in a better position to pursue that fight,” he said.

In a distinguished career in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, he had a key role in establishing the Australian Civil-Military Centre, which plugged “real holes” in Australia’s security and helped Australia win its first seat on the UN Security Council in 27 years.

Working on the Parliamentary Joint Committee for Intelligence and Security, and in the defence sector, brought him in close contact with Israeli counterparts.

Kelly cited his involvement in facilitating the Israeli-developed Hawkei protected mobility vehicle into service with the Australian Defence Force, and moving Israel’s Heron unmanned aerial vehicles into Afghanistan to protect Australian troops, as well as helmets and bandages, and a battlefield management system from Israel.

Mike Kelly in 2011, pictured with current Zionism Victoria president Sharene Hambur.

Within the ALP, where some members tried to push for recognition of Palestinian statehood outside of a negotiated settlement, Kelly played a key role in keeping the party’s platform and policies “as balanced as possible in dealing with the thorny issues of the Middle East”.

“At the end of the day, people like to interpret things their own way, but Labor’s position is still quite clear – we support a two-state solution … with Israel being guaranteed its security” and recognition of “the aspirations of the Palestinians for a state”.

But he was adamant it needed to be “a negotiated process, it can’t be imposed … my caveat is … you have to have a party to negotiate with”.

Photo: Peter Haskin

Kelly condemned the Palestinians’ “systematic torture” of their people in the West Bank and Gaza, arguing as “a progressive, social democratic party”, the ALP “can’t have any part of backing an organisation like Hamas which routinely executes gay and lesbian men and women”. He repeated his call for Australia to extend its partial ban on Hezbollah and declare all of it a terrorist organisation.

A strong voice against right-wing extremism, Kelly paid the price when neo-Nazis defaced his electoral offices with swastikas and pig entrails.

As a framed photograph on the wall signifies, Kelly has deep affection for the Australian Light Horse Brigade that liberated Beersheba in WWI – members of his family were in the unit – and his grandfathers served in Palestine during WWII. It set the scene for his own involvement with Israel. “It’s very close to my heart.”

Related coverage: Parliament ‘a poorer place’ without Mike Kelly

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