PRIME Minster Kevin Rudd attempted to rebuild bridges with the Jewish community last Thursday in the wake of the Government’s comments regarding the flotilla crisis and the expulsion of an Israeli diplomat over the passport affair.
The Prime Minister, together with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith, invited six Jewish community representatives for a frank discussion about recent events.
The six, chosen personally by the PM, were Australia/Israeli & Jewish Affairs Council chairman Mark Leibler, Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot, Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester, Yachad Accelerated Learning Project convenor Helene Teichmann, Jewish Labour Forum founder Bruce Solomon, Australia Israel Cultural Exchange founder Albert Dadon and Jewish Community Council of Western Australia representative Steve Lieblich.
Joining the group for a kosher dinner in The Lodge’s dining room were MPs Michael Danby and Mark Dreyfus. “The group discussed recent developments in relations with Israel, and confirmed that the bilateral relationship was strong, and that the Government will be pressing ahead with the next phase of the relationship,” a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said.
It was the first time a Prime Minister had invited community leaders for an intimate, private meeting since Malcolm Fraser’s invitation following the First Lebanon War broke out in 1982.
According to participants, Rudd explained the Government’s decisions and the reasoning behind those decisions. Participants then spoke in turn, expressing their thoughts on recent events.
“The dinner was an important opportunity for those present to engage in a frank, friendly and constructive exchange,” Goot said after the meeting. “The meeting was both welcome and timely and the Prime Minister’s and Foreign Minister’s positive remarks on a number of new initiatives, gives us great confidence that the relationship between the Jewish community and the Government will continue to be close and cooperative as we focus on the future.”
Those initiatives include an official visit by Trade Minister Simon Crean to Israel from July 14-17 and the receipt of an official Israeli ministerial delegation by Canberra in coming months.
The Prime Minister expressed his own wish to visit Israel for a third time, but said domestic matters were keeping him at home.
Rudd emphasised that unlike most other countries, Australia had not called for a United Nations investigation after Israel confronted the flotilla of activists trying to break the Gaza blockade.
“There was no specific singling out of Israel for condemnation, just a condemnation of violence,” Leibler reported.
Rudd also called for a greater flow of humanitarian aid into the Hamas-controlled zone, but at no time spoke in favour of the removal of the blockade, noting that it was vital Israel prevented arms shipments into Gaza.
On the matter of passport forgeries and whether or not the Australian Government was right in its decision to expel an Israeli diplomat, Leibler admitted that Rudd and some of the other dinner guests had “a difference of opinion there”.