Australian About Face Shows: The Times They Are a’Changin’

Australia has long been one of the countries that often, though not always, have voted in the United Nations General Assembly with the United States and Israel in votes

Australian PM Julia Gillard and Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu

overwhelmingly going against them. It had been made clear by Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard that this would be the case again. She promised that Australia would oppose the rather tepid resolution the Palestinians are bringing to the general Assembly to upgrade their status to Non-Member Observer.

But her “best” intentions were thwarted by a revolt within her own party, Labor, when her cabinet ministers warned her that Labor’s parliamentary caucus would vote against her decision to support the Israeli position and that this could cause a crisis that might even bring down her government. So, Gillard has decided that Australia will abstain in the UN vote.

The significance of this is not lost on Israel, though the scant global attention being paid to it indicates that it is lost on many others. Australia’s close relationship to Israel is long-standing, and has been consistent through both center-left (which is Labor) and center-right governments.

I see this as symbolic of Israel’s deteriorating position throughout the world. As Israel charges faster and faster to the right, it is having a much harder time holding on to its liberal apologists. The old acronym PEP (Progressive Except for Palestine) is starting to lose sway as Israel makes it much more difficult to rationalize away the incompatibility between support for its policies – the occupation of the West bank, settlement expansion, denial of Palestinian rights, especially those of refugees, the siege of Gaza, the increasingly tight clamp on Jerusalem – and liberal or even moderate conservative values.

Some are explaining Labor’s view of this as being based on concern over votes in heavily Muslim areas of West Sydney, though given the support of the main opposition party for Israel’s position this seems a shaky explanation at best. The Muslim vote may be a factor, perhaps with some fear that too many of them may vote Green, but there is clearly more here than that. It is becoming harder and harder for leaders to ignore their rank and file constituencies on this issue as Israel’s behavior becomes more intransigent and its face becomes cemented with the features of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman rather than Yitzhak Rabin.

I’ve mentioned in other places and will soon be writing more about the shifts taking place here in the United States, despite the fact that there has been absolutely no political expression of that shift…yet. But it’s coming, and the Australian row is just one more indication.

The times they are a’ changing. And if what is best in Israel is to survive, one must hope that Israelis open their eyes to it soon.