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What a special friend we have in Israel

"Australia supports Israel's right to self defence and its right to self determination. We understand that it is hard to feel confident in a peaceful future when your people are coming under daily rocket attack. We acknowledge that there are nations and forces in your region that are committed to Israel's destruction. Australia's Government was a champion for the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Our commitment to Israel's security has not wavered since that time. It's why we opposed the referral of the Goldstone Report to the UN General Assembly."

- Julia Gillard, Australian Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and Social Inclusion, from her speech to the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, Melbourne, 6.12.09

There is no bigger blot on the foreign policy of the Rudd Government than its partisan acquiescence to successive Israeli governments over Palestine. Not that this is a new stance for Australian governments to take, far from it.

According to Ms Gillard's ministerial website, she has given three speeches to Australo-Israeli business interests this year. Transcripts of all are on line: Address to the Australia Israel Chamber of Commerce, Sydney, June 11; the second was to the inaugural Australian Israeli Business Forum in Israeli Jerusalem on June 22; and last Sunday's speech of the Melbourne meeting of the same forum.

The visit to Jerusalem was part of an annual outreach exercise of the Israeli government, called the "Australia Israel Cultural Exchange", whereby they pay to fly Australian members of parliament to visit Israel, to be feted and receive first-hand The Official Story about Israeli-Palestinian relations. Other MPs on the 2009 junket were Peter Costello, Mark Dreyfus, Michael Danby, George Brandis, Guy Barnett and Christopher Pyne. (Costello was by then a backbencher and has since left parliament.)

In fairness, Gillard did visit Palestine during her Middle East visit and on June 25 made an announcement about aid, to be channelled via the World Bank, for Palestinian assistance. Frankly, it doesn't look much.

There's a lot of genuine benefits to come from positive engagement with Israel. But it needs to be fair and transparent, and not driven by wealthy lobby groups driven by ethnicity, religion or ideology. But please don't tell me that the foolish rocket attacks on Sderot equate to the clinical wholesale devastation of the Gaza Strip.