Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Australia and the "Yom Kippur" War of 1973

Academic journal article The Australian Journal of Jewish Studies

Australia and the "Yom Kippur" War of 1973

Article excerpt

The profound hurt caused by the Whitlam Government's "neutral and even handed" Middle East policies still lingered on more than 30 years later among prominent Australian Jewish leaders such as Isi Leibler (1) and Sam Lipski. (2) In 2007 Leibler claimed that since the creation of Israel, Australia had been led by a succession of governments from both sides of the political spectrum that were supportive of Israel. With the "solitary exception" being Gough Whitlam, "whose hostility against Israel during the Yom Kippur war is regarded as a historical aberration" (Leibler 2007). Whitlam's Middle East policy has also earned the indignation of such outstanding Australian Jewish academics as Sol Encel (2004: 58), Suzanne Rutland, Bill Rubinstein, and Danny Ben-Moshe.

Rutland maintained that during the preceding twenty-three years of conservative government, Australia had supported Israel but, with the election of Whitlam, in December 1972, the policy changed to one of neutrality, which at times leaned to the Arab position. This drawing back from Israel manifested itself in a range of decisions, including Australia's voting patterns at the United Nations (UN) and moves to establish an Arab League Office in Australia, as well as creating contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization (hereafter PLO) and permitting its representatives to visit Australia (Rutland 2005: 9091). Rubinstein claimed that Whitlam's undisguised opposition to Israeli policy as Prime Minister, the fierce anti-Zionism of part of the Victorian "socialist left", especially the wing around Bill Hartley, had cost the ALP many Jewish votes (Rubinstein 1991: 35, 541-545; 2004: 102). Similarly, Danny Ben-Moshe claimed that the centrality of Israel in Australian Jewish identity translated politically in 1975 to the Australian Jewish leadership taking the unprecedented step of calling for the community to vote for the Coalition and Malcolm Fraser. The 1975 Election saw the nadir of Jewish voting for the Labor Party. Jewish support for the ALP dropped from 75 per cent in the 1940s to 30 per cent (Ben-Moshe 2004: 132). Likewise, The Australian Jewish News editor, Dan Goldberg, accused Whitlam of having burned his bridges with the Australian Jewish community, and having earned the wrath of its leadership in 1973 when he had failed to condemn the surprise Arab attack on Israel during the Yom Kippur War (Goldberg 2003).

Indeed, in contrast with the US and in line with most European countries, the Whitlam Government's Middle East policy had tilted in a more pro-Arab direction in its voting pattern at the UN Security Council before the outbreak of the War (Clark 1980: 155). This was strongly criticised in the Australian Jewish press which reported that the honeymoon between the Jewish community and the Whitlam Government was over. Jewish Community Director in Victoria, Sam Lipski, complained that the shift reflected a departure from the previous bipartisan policy of support for Israel (Lipski 1976: 20).

The disappointment in the Australian Jewish community with the newly elected Labor Government must have been intensified by the great expectations emanating from fond memories of the Minister for Immigration in the Labor Government of Prime Minister Ben Chifley, Arthur Calwell (1945-1949), who supported the admission of Jewish refugees into Australia (Medding 1968: 151-153), and of the Minister for External Affairs, "Doc" Evatt, who, at the UN in 1947, actively supported the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine. Labor's support in those days stood in marked contrast with the hostility of United Australia Party Prime Ministers, Joseph Lyons (1932-1939) and Robert Menzies (1939-1941), who opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine and the establishment of Israel. They did so because they regarded the aims of Zionism as incompatible with the interests of the British Empire in the Middle East (Reich 2002: Chapter 2). Evatt's support for Israel continued after he became Leader of the Opposition when, while objecting fiercely to the use of force by Britain and France against Egypt during the Suez Campaign, he maintained his whole hearted support for Israel (Reich 2002: 132). …

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