BOOKS: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Australia And Israel: An Ambiguous Relationship, by Chanan Reich
, March 22, 2003
Squaring the circleAUSTRALIA AND ISRAEL: An Ambiguous Relationship
By Chanan Reich
Melbourne University Press
Rec. price: $39.95Chanan Reich, who is an Israeli, taught in Australia for many years before deciding to concentrate upon university work in Israel. He lectures at Haifa University and Nazareth, but still returns, so to speak, each year to take semester work at Monash University.
His commitment to Israel and his affection for Australia come through strongly in his book. Reich has filled an important gap in Australian historical writing for, using official documents - Australian, British and Israeli in particular - he has given us a detailed and novel look at relationships between Australians and Jews, and Australia and the State of Israel.Homeland
His story starts in 1915 - before the Balfour Declaration (1917) - and carried on until 1970. The author then endeavours to bring us up-to-date with a concluding post-1970 chapter.
In other words, he covers over 30 years of Australia's dealings with its own Jewish citizens and then, with the Jews of Palestine, until the Jewish state comes in to being in 1948. Thereafter, he concentrates on government-to-government transactions.
Reich reveals a relationship that is nothing like as uniform or rosy or as consistently pro-Israeli - as against favouring Muslims - as the official wisdom would have us believe. Indeed, Reich (page 2) declares that:
"The evidence presented here demonstrates that the Australian Government of 1932-41 under Lyons and finally Menzies, strongly opposed the aspirations of the Jewish people to develop a national home in Palestine and develop its own state there."
He attributes these Australian attitudes as Canberra giving priority to British interests during that time. Britain did not want to hopelessly antagonise the Arabs - these greatly outnumbering the Jews, for if she did, she would suffer all the hostility which aggrieved people show to biased occupiers.
The approach of World War II made this balancing act all the more necessary.
So, clamps on Jewish migration to Palestine, plans for the internationalisation of Jerusalem, were that city ever to become the cause of serious disputes, and a lukewarm attitude towards the partition of Palestine with a Jewish state at the end of the process - were all British positions.
Australia followed Britain here - recognising that it was Britain that was putting up the money and supplying the troops often needed to maintain order, while we had no such onerous duties. The historic importance of Suez as the lifeline from Europe to the east, and to us; the rising importance of oil, meant that our Government wanted Britain to stay in the area, control the area, keep out Russia. So, antagonising the Arabs was not the way to go about it.
Reich thinks these Australian attitudes in fact diverged from the sympathies of Australians for Jews rather than for Arabs, dating back at least until World War I. And rank-and-file AIF soldiers on duty in the Middle east during World War II coexisted very warmly with Jews but not
But Reich doesn't really mention why the Arabs of the 1930s and 40s were hostile to the British, cool to us, and hoping, in many cases, for an Axis victory. They and the British had fought a bloody war in Palestine - now unmentioned - for the three years before World War II.
It was over Arab perceptions of rank favouritism towards Palestinian Jews - allowing in too many Jewish migrants, and the continuing loss of Arab land due to purchase from feudal sheikhs by local Jews: with the Arab peasants left destitute.
Their leaders warned they would urge their followers to support the Axis if Britain didn't control Jewish incursions.
So our soldiers came to a Middle East where the Arabs felt we were on the side of their oppressors, whereas Palestinian Jews treated our men as brothers, and protectors, by and large. And Reich points out the close affinity between the two non-Muslim cultures. Someone said "Race is History".
Our relations with Israel steadily changed as the Jewish state fought one war after another, over territory and identity. People like Evatt, Hasluck and Hawke became Jewish folk heroes.
Someone like Whitlam lost Jewish support because he said he would be even-handed. Subsequent Australian leaders learned from Whitlam's "errors" (though his tolerance of the Labor Left's long love affair with countries like Iraq and Libya was crass). Hayden was similarly described as an "anti-Semite". His crime too was to be even-handed.
So, although the two sides of the argument - Jewish and Arab - have been eloquently put by contending bureaucrats within Foreign Affairs (and we have had some very good people in this area), outside, in the media and the parties, the Arab cause did not get a fair hearing.
However, their lobbyists have been anything but eloquent, only borderline competent and, more recently, openly anti-American and anti-Jewish. The Left and the public media seem quite happy with all this, but most Australians still aren't. Our Muslims still give away too many free kicks.
Reich's book, a mine of little-known information, is an admirable study. Naturally, many will challenge some of his judgments but it is quietly fascinating. Just as Shimon Peres' foreword is quite charming.