The first visit to Australia from an Israeli leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, kicks off today despite calls to ban his entry.
Visits of foreign leaders are known to act as somewhat of a magnet to protesters. Perhaps it’s the lure of a larger audience, or the subject matter they’re convening on- either way, it’s not new. Which is why the only thing surprising about this petition is the way they’re going about it.
Specifically, rather than protesting events, pro-Palestinian organisations, academics and other public figures are demanding that Netanyahu himself be barred from entry to Australia. An open letter titled “Australia should not welcome the Prime Minister of Israel” was signed by sixty prominent Australian’s.
Those against Netanyahu’s visit believe that his, ‘policies are inconsistent with Australian values and beliefs and we should not welcome him here,’ despite our strong rapport – dating back almost 100 years to the Battle of Beersheba. Although Israel didn’t technically exist at that point it served to lay the groundwork for a long and prolific relationship.
This is in direct contrast to the statements made by our Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, declaring in a press release, “the friendship between Israel and Australia […] is anchored in our shared values, commitment to democracy and mutual interest in a rules-based international system and an open, global economy.”
Australia and Israel share the policy of aiming for a two state-solution one in which both Israel and Palestine are sovereign and peaceful – America is little murkier on that. In the same press release, Turnbull goes on to affirm Israel as a strategic partner in development, “The Prime Minister’s visit is an opportunity to not only reflect on our shared past, but to invigorate and further deepen the relationship for the benefit of our people. We will discuss expanding cooperation in cyber-security, innovation and science, agritech, energy and resources, and the environment.”
It is not my responsibility, nor am I qualified, to defend or explain the actions of Israel and the policies of our government. It cannot be ignored though, how wilfully ignorant the stance of completely and utterly shutting down debate is. Other than temporarily embarrassing a world leader, what is to be achieved from this?
The facilitation of an open dialogue between our governments and leaders serves as a platform for constructive discussion on difficult topics like the developments in the West Bank. Diplomacy is often nuanced and occurs behind closed doors, as such it is difficult to see the effects of successful lobbying taking hold until it happens. It’s wonderful to see Australians, particularly young Australians, so impassioned by perceived injustices but stopping the discussion from actually taking place, will do nothing to effect long lasting change.
If you are hoping to ensure a thorough discussion of the Gaza conflicts, or Israel’s responses to Hamas’ terror attacks is on the table, call your MP. Write to a senator. Comment on Malcolm Turnbull’s latest Instagram post. Start the conversation yourself.
I won’t speculate as to whether or not this visit, and the furore it has caused for some, will affect Israel’s domestic or even Australia’s foreign policy- I can say though, that it will come a lot closer than if it didn’t happen at all.