Until the 1940s, Zionism was a fringe movement. But this changed with the arrival of Jewish refugees from Nazism who understood the importance of having a Jewish homeland. The 1967 and 1973 wars also had a significant impact and removed any vestiges of anti-Zionism. Although Zionism was initially understood in relation to Aliyah (immigration to Israel), in Australia today the term has a broader connotation relating to support of and concern for Israel. This takes form in donations, Israel visits, membership in a Zionist organization, or increased involvement during times of tension in Israel.
Australian Jewry maintains a plethora of Zionist organizations, which focus on fundraising, Zionist education including a range of Israel experience programs, Zionist youth movements, promotion of aliyah and a range of cultural institutions. These various bodies are all affiliated with State Zionist Councils that act as coordinating bodies. They in turn are represented in the Zionist Federation of Australia,22 together with representatives of major federal organizations such as the United Israel Appeal (UIA) and the Jewish National Fund (JNF). This institutional structure reflects the strongly Zionist nature of the community. At the same time, it serves to further strengthen ties with Israel. As a result, on any level of criteria, Australia ranks high in terms of Zionist endeavor and commitment.
In recent years, the ZFA has attracted strong leadership and developed an effective infrastructure within Australia. This is largely due to its stress on educational endeavors that in recent years have focused not only on the Zionist youth movements, but also on day schools. By any criteria, Australia ranks high in terms of Zionist endeavor and commitment. Australian governments on both sides of the political spectrum have a strong record of support for Israel, beginning with the role played by Australia’s foreign minister, Dr. Herbert Vere Evatt, in Israel’s formative years. Evatt was chair of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Palestine, and he strongly supported the division of Palestine into a Jewish and Arab state. In 1949, he was president of the General Assembly, when Israel was accepted as a member of the United Nations. The major deviation from this was during the Labor government of Gough Whitlam, 1972-1975. John Howard, Liberal Party Prime Minister from 1995-2006, led one of the most pro-Israel governments in Australian history. He was followed by a Labor government, which under Julia Gillard continued Australia’s strong support for Israel.
In 2012, however, the former New South Wales Premier, Bob Carr, was selected to fill a Senate vacancy in the federal government and Gillard appointed him foreign minister. Carr was previously a strong supporter of Israel and founded the Labor Friends of Israel in 1977. However, following his appointment as foreign minister he emerged as a leading critic of Israel, claiming that the settlements are illegal and that they are the major obstacle for peace. In December 2012, he influenced the Labor Party’s caucus to support Australia abstaining in the General Assembly UN Palestinian statehood resolution, forcing Gillard to change her original position of opposing the motion. After the Labor Party was defeated in September 2013, Carr resigned from politics and wrote his autobiography, Diary of a Foreign Minister, in which he accused AIJAC of wielding “extraordinary influence” over Julia Gillard and was highly critical of “the Jewish lobby”. Jewish Labor MP, Michael Danby, a strong supporter of Israel, rejected Carr’s view that the pro-Israel lobby had too much power in Julia Gillard’s office and has continued to be highly critical of Bob Carr.
In November 2014, Carr agreed to become the patron of the Labor Friends of Palestine. He argued that Israel had “gone from secular to religious” and claimed that fanatics in Israel’s government were promoting “apartheid”. The editor of the national paper, The Australian, claimed that:
“…his analysis is deeply flawed and deserves to be exposed. In some ways Mr Carr is falling into the Left’s posture trap of late that has seen Labor MP Melissa Parke in lock step with the ratbags of the sorry boycott, divestment and sanctions cavalcade that lays the blame for the ills of the Middle East on Israel (11 November 2014).”
With Labor’s defeat in the 2013 election, the Liberal Party Government led by Tony Abbott has returned to Australia’s traditional strong support of Israel. When Foreign Minister Julie Bishop visited Israel for Ariel Sharon’s funeral in January 2014, she stated that international law did not delineate the settlements as illegal, and in June 2014, Attorney General George Brandis declared on behalf of Bishop that the government would no longer use the term “occupied territory” when referring to East Jerusalem because it was a “judgmental” term, “inappropriate” and “unhelpful” for peace negotiations, Both comments sparked significant debate in the media, with strong opposition from the Greens Party.
Neither of the main political parties, Labor or Liberal, support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. However, Melissa Parkes of the Greens Party and Senator Lee Rhiannon have emerged as strong BDS supporters, as are many left-wing academics and journalists. These include some Jewish voices, such as journalist Anthony Loewenstein, and Associate Professor Peter Slezak, who are outspoken critics of Israel and whose views are widely publicized.
Despite this, pro-Israel sentiments continue to be strong within both the general and Jewish communities. However, recent studies have shown that there is an increasing criticism of Israel within the younger generation of Jews, and an emerging distancing from Israel.23