Needed: A Rented Office and an Australian Flag

June 20, 2018
What is Needed for an Australian Embassy in Jerusalem?

Over the last few years, in the lead-up to the Beersheba centenary, I have actively promoted the view that Australia—in timely fashion and emulating its famed Light Horsemen—could once again lead the charge, recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and place its embassy there.

In 2016, I sat in the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv and asked then-Ambassador to Israel, David Sharma, why it was that his country would not take the initiative and do the right thing in Israel—as it had with every other one of its embassies and high commissions around the world—by placing its embassy in the designated capital.

He replied that it was “not Australian statecraft” to do so.

A few months later, I put the question to former Prime Minister Tony Abbott during a ‘chance encounter’ at Jerusalem’s Holocaust Memorial Museum. His response was very different: “If I was prime minister I would do it today.”

Later that year, as we approached 100 years marking the Battle of Beersheba and the celebrated legacy of the 800 Light Horsemen, people around Australia responded to this voiced hope: that on this pivotal issue of the embassy move to Jerusalem, their nation might again show the maverick brand of courage and spirit that so defined those WW1 soldiers, and of whom Aussies are so justifiably proud.  

This hope was articulated in a petition signed by 8,300 citizens and tabled in the Senate in Canberra last December 5.

Sadly, if unsurprisingly, it was virtually ignored by the Australian press.

The next day, however, US President Donald Trump made his move. He formally recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s designated capital and promised to place his nation’s embassy in the city. 

On May 14 this year he kept his word.

America had seized the pole position. Any other country that might have wanted to lead was left floating in Washington’s wake.

But surely, just because Australia wasn’t out front, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t follow right behind?

The fact that the world’s most powerful nation moved first and weathered on its broad shoulders the opprobrium of the pro-Arab world has helped pave the way for other nations to take the same step.

Now there are some Australians—Jews and Christians—who believe that, rather than as an opportunity seized, this matter should be advanced gradually and carefully over the coming years. (The idea – and it’s a good one, but let me put it in context – is being floated that a Jewish-Christian alliance formed around this issue could help to move it forward.)

…all Foreign Minister Julie Bishop need do is rent an office in the city and raise the Australian flag at the door. 

These Aussies feel that what is more important are the smaller signs of Australia’s friendship, like the Turnbull government’s May 15 decision to side with the US­—the only other nation to do so—against a UN Human Rights Commission resolution calling for an international inquiry into Gaza.

Certainly it’s a good thing when these two nations—Australia and America —walk in lockstep on right and wrong concerning Israel.

And nowhere is it more right than when nations who say they recognise Israel as a sovereign state respect its choice of capital and place their embassies there.

So why the apparent tendency—even on the right of the political spectrum—to cling to the idea that “we should go along more quietly for now.”

Respectfully, I couldn’t disagree more.

The history of Zionism and of Israel’s rebirth, growth and often-miraculous advance has seen two approaches to the realization of Ha’Tikva – the Hope. 

Both work. The key is to understand that they work in tandem.

The first is to create step-by-step “facts on the ground” and move gradually ahead as political realities permit. There has been a time to quietly and persistently build up the Jewish villages and towns in Samaria and Judea.

But while the quiet building is going on—and ongoing—the enemies of Israel are actively, and without pause, shaping their own battle plans to destroy the Jewish state.

The second way, then, with this ever-present activity against Israel in mind, is to recognise and seize historical opportunities when they appear. 

This is what General Harry Chauvel did when, as the sun was setting and with time running out, he ordered his Light Horsemen to mount up and—in what logic insisted was an act of madness— ride straight into the enemy’s guns.

This is what David Ben Gurion did when, against the advice of many, and with the dire warnings from the US sounding in his ears, he cast the deciding vote to declare Israel independent on May 14, 1948.

And this is what Donald Trump did when, against the wishes of virtually the entire international community, he proclaimed the US Embassy open in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.

These visionary men seized hold of history, defied history, changed the course of history, and fulfilled history.

So, there is a place for going slowly, and there are times, against this backdrop, when it is necessary to move.

Right now, it makes every good sense for Australia to “strike while the iron is hot” – to recognise Jerusalem and relocate its embassy there while much of the world’s fury has played itself out.

On May 15, the President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, Danny Lamm, wrote to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull:

“Jerusalem is and always has been the beating heart of the Jewish people; it has been the capital of the Jewish nation for over 3,000 years. The Israel government functions from Jerusalem, the courts rule from there. The Prime Minister, your friend Benjamin Netanyahu, resides in Jerusalem.

“Every sovereign nation should have the right to define where their capital is. As it currently stands, 124 countries around the world are involved in some sort of territorial dispute, and yet 123 of them still choose their own capitals. Moving Australia’s Embassy to Jerusalem will simply right a historical wrong.

“In light of the US Embassy opening on Monday, the Guatemalan Embassy on Wednesday and Paraguay by the end of the month, I urge you to reconsider this issue. I think of Australia as a leader in ethical and moral behaviour, and I believe that we should also be seen as leaders in correcting a wrong.

“For your government to champion such a move, to lead what we would hope would be a motion supported from both sides of parliament, would reaffirm your strong commitment to the State of Israel, its sovereignty, its democracy and the values we share.”

And in the understanding of former Ambassador David Sharma the way ahead has now been cleared and Australia should act.

In an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald on May 18 he wrote: 

“Now the United States has broken the taboo, as a pragmatic and solution-oriented nation Australia should be prepared to lend our support to this common-sense proposition. We should consider recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel…”

Reasons voiced for not doing this right away are feeble, to say the least. Some say there is no suitable property in Jerusalem for an Australian Embassy.

But all Foreign Minister Julie Bishop need do is rent an office in the city and raise the Australian flag at the door. 

If Guatemala and Paraguay could make such a provisional move until a future diplomatic district or embassy enclave can be built, certainly Australia can.

In a Scriptural end-note, Zechariah 8:23 tells us:

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

  • Ten nations.
  • Ten embassies.
  • The first wave.
  • The US. Guatemala.
  • Paraguay.

The Czech president announcing a three-phase embassy relocation. 

Reports in Israel on May 22 that Romania will move its embassy to Jerusalem in June.

Reports at the time of writing that 20,000 Swiss have just petitioned their government to make the move.

Will Australia, having missed the opportunity to be a game-changer, now do the right thing, stand with Israel and add its name to the exalted list of those who do? 

It is my active prayer and working target to see this come to pass.



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