By Judith Kohn
On the 26th of March, member for Fadden, the Hon Stuart Robert MP, spoke before the parliament of Australia to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the modern state of Israel and to “reaffirm our love and commitment to Israel.” Four days later the Great March of Return was launched in Gaza. Since then at least 152 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli army and 16,000 people have been wounded. Israel’s defence minster, Avigdor Lieberman, responded with a tweet, “Hamas and Islamic Jihad are paying the price and we’ve only started settling accounts”.
What about Israel does the Hon Stuart Robert MP member for Fadden, Queensland love?
We May Never Know
“We may never know” Israeli minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, said of whether Israeli officials were complicit in the 64-year-old mystery of Yeminite and North African children systematically disappearing from families in Israeli hospitals and kibbutzim between 1948 and the 1950s. Thousands of families were told that their children had died, but suspicions remained that children were routinely given to Ashkenazi families for adoption. Leah Aharoni remembers losing her baby daughter after giving birth to premature twins in a hospital in central Israel. The family was informed that the new-borns would be treated at a specialist hospital in Tel Aviv but one daughter, Hanna, did not survive. Aharoni began to question the story of Hanna’s death when, 18 years later, both the surviving daughter, Hagit, and Hanna received draught notices in the mail.
Similarly, Gil Grunbaum’s biological parents had recently immigrated to Israel from Tunisia when, in 1956, Grunbaum was taken from his mother at a hospital in northern Israel. The family was told that their son had died but was refused a birth certificate or the chance to see his grave. For nearly 40 years, Grunbaum had no knowledge of his biological parents, or the fact that he had been taken from them.
A wealthy European Jewish family who had been unable to have children raised him, keeping secret that he was adopted. It was not until 1994 that a clerk broke Israel’s privacy laws and Grunbaum received confirmation that he had been adopted. Grunbaum was reunited with his biological mother nearly four decades after she had been told that her son had died.
In 1967, 1988 and 1995, inquiry commissions in Israel looked into what became known as the Yemenite Children Affair. In 2016, Hanegbi conducted a re-examination of the evidence that was revealed by the three previous inquiries. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said of the 2016 public inquiry commission, “I think it is time to find out what happened, to do justice and make order of all this.”
Yet the Israeli government concluded that no Yemenite children had been removed from their families and given away for adoption – and families were left without justice. “It still hurts my heart”, said an 84-year-old mother, “This is a crime of the largest scale that touches almost every family. It’s a crime against humanity and it’s no different from any other holocaust,” said Shlomi Hatuka, poet, social activist and math teacher.
Unlike Israel, Australia never had to hide the systematic removal of children from families by routinely lying to parents about the death of a child or through an extensive cover up of adoption records - although lying to parents and families was routine; in Australia, the thieving of Indigenous children was sanctioned by Australian law and mechanically executed for over a century. Yet, despite the records, Hanegbi’s words “we may never know”, still ring true here. The Australian government’s “we may never know” is not whether Indigenous children were systematically stolen from their families, but why.
Section 2(e) of the 1948 Genocide Convention includes, “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group” as an act of genocide where it has been committed with, “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group.” The question of intent is where the “why” Indigenous children have been taken by the Australian government becomes relevant.
As long as the Australian government maintains that the removal of children from Indigenous homes was and is intentioned for their protection, they believe that there will be no perception of genocide.
The party line in Australia is that there was not a holocaust here but a “blemished chapter in our nation’s history.” In 1997, then Prime Minister, John Howard, famously denied the conclusions of the Bringing Them Home Report, stating, “I didn’t believe a genocide had taken place, and I still don’t.” And earlier this year Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a Facebook video that Australia would not change the date of “Australia Day” from the day that marked the arrival of Europeans. He stated that, while the history of European settlement in Australia has been “complex and tragic” for Indigenous people, he would not consider changing the date. Turnbull continued, “On Australia Day we come together to celebrate our nation and all of our history”, and that he was, “disappointed” in those who wanted to change the date. Australian prime ministers may be satisfied to celebrate “all” of Australia’s history and to deny any genocidal intent behind the nation’s colonising, but increasingly Australian people are not.
When I asked the Hon Stuart Robert MP whether he considered that genocide had occurred against Indigenous people of this land, he declined to answer. But he did respond when I asked him why he had referred to Jewish people as “God’s holy chosen people” in his parliamentary address on the 26th of March. “It’s what God says in His Word, the Bible. Your Torah makes this clear.” He said. He then quoted Exodus 19:5-6 NLT.
Since 2012, asylum seekers from Africa have been imprisoned in the Negev desert in the world’s biggest detention centre. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister, Eli Yishai, called for their expulsion from Israel, referring to African asylum seekers as ‘infiltrators’. Rallies have been held by Israelis to support the detention and expulsion of African asylum seekers, and I strongly suggest you view some of the footage.
A Sudanese asylum seeker who was waiting on the outcome of his visa application stated, “It is not solely a Jewish/ non-Jewish issue – it is because we are African, we are simply not wanted… there are 90,000 non-Jewish immigrants in the country, why do they target us?”
Furthermore, Rachel Shabi documents the long-standing and “devastating” discrimination against Mizrahi Jews in Israel. The discrimination led to the formation of the Israeli Black Panthers movement in 1971 – who were the first Israeli group to make contact with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. It is also true that African Israelis face higher rates of police searches, arrests and incarceration, despite that they are both Jewish and Israeli citizens.
The imprisonment and deportation of asylum seekers from Africa and the subjugation of Black citizens are a norm in Israel and have been since 1948. Who in their right mind calls these the actions of “God’s holy chosen people”?
Weapons of War
While the Australian government confirmed their commitment to Israel in March this year, Israel continues to export arms at a leading global rate, increasing by 41.5% between 2016 and 2017. The question of Israel’s commitment to war has been raised through its alleged nuclear weapons program and their swift attack on those who seek to expose it. In 1986, Mordehcai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for revealing to the British press details of Israel’s nuclear weapons program. This came only a few years after Israel was condemned by the United Nations General Assembly and the Security Council for attacking a nuclear reactor facility in Iraq with an air strike known as Operation Babylon.
Vanunu was released from prison in 2004 but has faced more than twenty arrests and hearings since then. Israel has not officially acknowledged that it has built or is in possession of nuclear weapons. Although, disturbingly, in 2006 it was reported that the Israeli air force used experimental, uranium-based missiles against Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. The international community ultimately rejected these reports but many Lebanese witnesses concluded that the war was exploited as a weapons testing ground.
The Australian government continues to love Israel, despite its flaws, and remains committed to upholding the blockade on Gaza that is now in its 11th year. Even now as burning kites are met with bullets, the Australian government maintains that in killing and wounding Palestinian protestors, Israel “seeks to defend itself.”
What will it take for the Australian government to be shaken out of its blind love for Israel?