The political annihilation of Australian Liberal Prime Minister John Howard and the elevation of Chinese-speaking technocrat Kevin Rudd signal both a generational shift and repudiation of the most extreme conservative elements of Liberal government ideology.
Howard led the country for nearly 12 years and remained a strong believer in the Bush administration’s “war on terror” rhetoric and actions. Australia supported the Iraq war, the overthrow of the Taliban, Guantanamo Bay, extraordinary rendition, harsh anti-terror legislation, Israel’s colonisation of the occupied territories and international isolation of the democratically-elected, Hamas government.
The new Rudd Labor leadership is likely to retain many of these policies. Labor’s former foreign affairs spokesman Laurie Brereton once told former Labor leader Mark Latham: “Mate, he [Rudd] says whatever the Americans want him to say. They own him lock, stock and barrel.”
Sydney University’s United States Studies Centre - founded and part-funded by Australian-born Rupert Murdoch after he feared a rise in “anti-Americanism” in the years after 9-11 - released a study in October that found that a majority of Australians wanted to maintain a close relationship with the US. But 74 per cent saw Australia as more of a terrorist target because of its decision to join the “war on terror” and nearly 50 per cent wanted the country to pursue a more independent foreign policy agenda. Many expressed pessimism that the US “deals responsibly with world problems” and half were opposed to our military presence in Afghanistan. Global warming was seen as one of the fundamental challenges for the world, a far greater problem than Islamic fundamentalism.
Although Rudd has pledged to sign the Kyoto Protocol and withdraw the country’s combat troops from Iraq, his government will undoubtedly continue the historically bipartisan support for the Jewish state. Howard was viewed by many of the country’s more than 100,000 Jews as the best friend Israel has ever had in the Australian parliament.
A senior Israeli government official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency before the election that, “Jerusalem feels that Howard is one of those few friends who, unlike many, understand the complexity of the issues in the Mideast”. Howard offered unconditional endorsement of Israel at the UN, though Rudd has indicated his government may not automatically vote alongside Israel. The former government condoned the 2006 Lebanon war and praised the “security fence” that snakes through occupied territory.
Rudd opposed the independence of East Timor in 1999 and one senior foreign affairs analyst told me that he is likely to have reassured the Americans that he personally opposes his party’s policy on Iraq. Power at any cost.
Shortly before the election, Rudd announced that in government he would join a coterie of discredited neo-conservatives to take Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the International Court of Justice for inciting genocide. He was determined to prove his Zionist credentials despite the plan having no chance of success.
His then Foreign Affairs spokesman Robert McClelland claimed that, “The alternative to not using these international legal mechanisms is considering wholesale invasion of countries, which itself involves, obviously expense, but more relevantly, of course, the potential for significant loss of life”.
It was an absurd suggestion. A senior Labor figure was seriously suggesting that the only alternative to legal proceedings against Iran’s president was an unprovoked attack against the country’s supposed nuclear facilities. It remains unclear whether Rudd would support an American-led, military strike against the Islamic Republic.
Not unlike many Jewish communities around the world, a leader’s credentials on Israel are praised if unconditional support is offered. Howard was loved for this reason - and a majority of Australian Jews have become Liberal voters in the last decade with Israel playing a key role in that decision - but surely true friends offer friendly criticism when required.
Rudd, who has visited Israel twice and said in 2004 that he was “passionately pro-Israel”, sadly believes that appealing to the close to 400,000 Australian Muslims, and becoming “passionately pro-Palestinian”, is political suicide. The Zionist lobby may not have the clout of their American brethren, but they still wield an unfortunate level of intimidation against perceived enemies.
Antony Loewenstein is a freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for the Sydney Morning Herald, Haaretz, The Guardian, Washington Post, Znet, Counterpunch and many other publications. He contributed a major chapter in the 2004 best seller, Not Happy, John!. He is author of the best-selling book My Israel Question, released in August 2006 by Melbourne University Publishing and re-published in 2009 in an updated edition. The book was short-listed for the 2007 NSW Premier's Literary Award. His 2008 book is The Blogging Revolution on the internet in repressive regimes. His website is at http://antonyloewenstein.com/ and he can be contacted at email@example.com.