Don’t fear a post-Howard Australia, say Jewish leaders
IT MAY be the end of the “golden age” of the Jews under John Howard’s Liberal government, but the likely election of the Labour Party’s Kevin Rudd next week will not herald the beginning of a dark age for Jews Down Under.
That is the majority view of Jewish leaders and analysts canvassed by the JC ahead of the federal election on November 24.
Mr Howard, a staunch supporter of the Jewish community and one of Israel’s strongest allies in the international arena, has been showered with awards by major Jewish community organisations.
But polls have consistently been predicting his 11-year reign will be ended by a reinvigorated Labour Party that analysts are comparing to “New Labour” under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.
Although Labour’s relationship with the community was strained at the height of the intifada, relations have warmed since Mr Rudd was elected leader last December.
The 50-year-old Queenslander has pledged $A20m (£8.5m) over four years to help fund security for Jewish schools, vowed a Labour government would not negotiate with Hamas, and has called on the international community to try Iran’s president at the International Court of Justice for incitement to genocide following his call for Israel to be “wiped off the map”.
As nominations closed last week, six Jews were registered as candidates with several other Labour politicians revealing strong ties to the 110,000strong community.
The most likely of the six to be elected is Labour’s Michael Danby, the only current MP in the federal parliament who identifies as a Jew. He said he was confident a Rudd government would be good for the Jews and for Israel.
Pointing to Britain’s New Labour, Mr Danby told the JC: “Apart from Blair- Brown governments, there won’t be an administration which is more sympathetic to Israel on the left-centre side of politics [than Rudd’s Labour] until Hillary Clinton becomes president of the United States.”
Philip Mendes, co-editor of Jews and Australian Politics, said a Labour government was likely to be “as friendly if not more friendly” to Israel than the governments of Blair and Brown.
“All the key Labour figures are pro-Israel,” he said. “The only anti-Israel posturing comes from a few on the left. The Labour Party has very similar ideas and philosophy to the UK’s New Labour.”
But Chemi Shalev, a veteran Israeli political commentator who has spent the last four years in Australia, told the JC: “Though Rudd can also be considered a good friend of Israel… nothing can replace the exceptional warmth and understanding that Israel garnered during the Howard years from the PM and his top ministers.”
He expected Labour’s “less gushing” support for Israel to manifest at the UN, “where Rudd is already on record as dissociating himself from Australia’s steadfast support for Israel”.
Mr Danby, who is being challenged by another Jew, Adam Held, is likely to be joined in Canberra by Mark Dreyfus, QC. And in Sydney, the nation’s largest Jewish electorate could swing the battle for the marginal seat of Wentworth in Labour’s favour, giving George Newhouse, a Jewish human-rights lawyer, a seat in parliament at the expense of Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull, a strong pro-Israel supporter.
In addition, shadow health minister Nicola Roxon revealed last week that her father was a Polish Jew. Colonel Mike Kelly, another probable Labour MP, is married to an Israeli.
The Jewish community has enjoyed bipartisan support since Israel’s establishment, with the brief exception of Gough Whitlam’s Labour government in the early 1970s.
Opposition leader Kevin Rudd ( second from left) visits a Jewish school