We are continuing to trace through the political connections between Israel and Australia since World War I. In previous articles we have seen the remarkable support Australia has shown during the years. In this article we look at the very strong attachment the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, had for the Jewish state and how Australia used its influence to assist Israel.

Fraser’s ALP successor, former trade union leader Bob Hawke, had developed a strong affinity for Israel and Israelis during a 1971 visit to the country (and a subsequent trip in late 1973), striking up good relations with officials from the Histadrut trade union movement, and what has been described as a “platonic love affair” with Israeli PM Golda Meir.

Subsequently, he threw himself into pro- Israel activity – publicly attacking Whitlam for his policies during the 1973 war, delivering speeches putting Israel’s case, fighting anti-Israel segments of the union movement, and becoming an internationally recognised champion of the campaign to free Soviet Jews.

Hawke actually formulated an original plan for peace in the late 1970s whereby Israel would withdraw to the 1967 boundaries, but would have the right, if attacked from the territories vacated, to counter-attack and permanently keep any territory captured as a result.

Nonetheless, Israel-Australia relations proved more complex and disputatious during the eight years of Hawke’s tenure than one might expect from Hawke’s undoubted emotional affinity with Israel.

The Middle East policy of the Hawke Government, at least until around 1988, largely mirrored the policies of the Fraser years, though with perhaps some more receptivity to a role for the PLO. During the election campaign, Hawke reiterated what had been essentially the Fraser Government policy in the early 1980s – support for Israel’s right to “secure and recognised boundaries” but also for the “right of the Palestinians to their independence and the possibility of their own independent state”.

In December 1983, Hawke had a confrontation with Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi over a one-sided condemnation of Israel in the final communique during a British Commonwealth Head of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in New Delhi.

Hawke made the first visit to Israel by a serving Australian prime minister in January 1987. He was welcomed by Israeli newspapers recalling the role of Australian soldiers in Palestine during both world wars. Israeli leaders asked for Australian help in reaching out to Asia and Pacific nations.

UN voting by Australia during the Hawke years was somewhat less pro-Israel than during the Fraser years, with Australia making it more of a priority to vote with the majority of Western nations on questions relating to the Middle East.

Notably, the Hawke Government did play a significant role in the successful campaign to rescind the UN General Assembly’s infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution of 1975. Hawke sponsored a bipartisan parliamentary motion deploring the resolution in October 1986. Throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s, Australia made it a priority in its routine relations with neighbouring nations in the Pacific and South East Asia to solicit their support for repeal of the resolution, finally achieved in December 1991.

However, the late 1980s also saw increasing Australian government criticism of Israel, especially concerning its handling of the Palestinian “intifada” and its refusal to countenance talks with the PLO in the wake of its 1988 declaration, which was accepted by Australia (and the US) as constituting recognition of Israel.

Following the outbreak of the Gulf crisis prompted by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990, Hawke quickly backed US and UN action to reverse the Iraqi invasion. Contacts with the PLO were also frozen in the wake of Yasser Arafat’s support for Saddam Hussein. Hawke also firmly opposed “linkage”, the argument put forward by Iraq and some commentators that Israel should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza as part of a deal for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

However, probably Australia’s biggest contribution to the war effort was through use of the Nurrungar and the Northwest Cape communications bases, run jointly with the Americans. After the war it was confirmed that Australia had provided Israel with top-secret information from Nurrungar warning of the Iraqi Scud launches against Israel. Attacked for this after the war by left-wing groups opposed to the bases, then defence minister Senator Robert Ray said, “Essentially the [anti-bases] coalition accuses me of allowing the Australian- American facilities at Nurrungar to be used to give early warning time to citizens of Israel that missiles are coming. If I am guilty of that… that is my proudest moment in politics.”

Paul Keating, who deposed Hawke in a party room ballot in December 1991, had much less record of emotional attachment to Israel, and his personal priority in foreign policy was the Asia-Pacific region. In May 1992, Keating re-iterated Australian policy of supporting a two-state solution and a secure Israel, but also renewed contacts with the PLO. Foreign Minister Gareth Evans just then left on a 12-day visit to six Middle East nations, including Israel. The visit included repeated efforts to promote the role of the PLO in the peace process, and criticism of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

In the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Foreign Minister Evans assisted with Israeli efforts to establish contacts with Muslim countries of Asia.

As part of the Oslo peace process, Australia hosted, in April 1995, a multilateral experts’ meeting dealing with water issues, including Israeli, Palestinian, and other Arab scientists and policy authorities.