Australia ‘regrets’ Sukkot timing of Jerusalem recognition reversal

The Australian foreign minister pens letter to local Jewish paper promising not to ‘play politics’ with the hot-button issue.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong apologized Thursday to the local Jewish community on her bad timing after its leaders harshly criticized the government’s declaration over the just-completed Sukkot holiday that it was rescinding its four-year-old recognition of western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Writing in the Australian Jewish News, Wong said, “I regret that the shift away from Australia’s longstanding position, and the shift back this week, have been distressing for communities that have a deep-rooted and keenly felt stake in the cessation of conflict, particularly the Australian Jewish community. And the timing of this week’s announcement, falling as it did on Simchat Torah, was also deeply regrettable.”

The irony of the reversal of the Conservative government’s 2018 decision specifically over the holiday that in ancient times saw the nations of the world bring sacrifices to the Temple in Jerusalem as a symbol of their fealty to the Jewish God, had been noted by Israeli Foreign Ministry bureau chief Aliza Bin-Noun when Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths was called in Tuesday for an official reprimand over the move.

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Wong claimed that when then-prime minister Scott Morrison promised to extend the recognition, he had done so purely to win a by-election in a heavily Jewish constituency.

Since he did not back up the decision by also moving the embassy to Jerusalem after the Conservative candidate lost the election, she wrote, this showed “how cynical he was” in “play[ing] political games with the hopes and expectations of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, and their Diaspora communities in Australia.”

In contrast, she wrote, “I will always be straight with you, and I won’t use this issue to score points.”

In April 2019, Canberra opened a trade and defense office in Jerusalem, but there was no official ceremony at its inauguration and Australian officials made it clear that it would not be an extension of their Tel Aviv embassy.

Wong also defended the about-face as being a necessary return to Australia’s traditional position, because the status of Jerusalem is of “a sensitivity so deep” that it should remain a final status issue in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. This was in accord with the “overwhelming majority of the international community,” she noted.

“As a responsible international actor,” she added, “Australia will not impose its view of the final borders and boundaries.”

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Former president Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital even while stating the caveat that the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city were still subject to final status negotiations.

Wong then reassured the readers that Australia was still a staunch friend of the Jewish community and the Jewish state, saying Canberra would “continue to fight the scourge of antisemitism. And we will call out the unfair and disproportionate targeting of Israel in international forums.”

In June, however, Australia was conspicuously absent from the list of 22 member countries of the UN Human Rights Council that censured the body’s open-ended Commission of Inquiry on Israel for its “disproportionate scrutiny” of Israel’s alleged human rights abuses.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese is a longtime critic of Israel, and the Labor Party platform calls for Australia to recognize a Palestinian state.