Australia should distance itself from the diplomatic embarrassment of Danny Danon, writes Micaela Sahhar.
There is a long history of unequivocal support in Australia for Israel. The Australian politician, Doc Evatt, did much to further Israeli independence and recognition of Israel as president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.
But despite this history, and the parallels between the two states drawn by successive Israeli ambassadors to Australia and Australian Members of Parliament, there are some very good reasons why Australia should reject the appointment of the next proposed Israeli ambassador to Australia, Danny Danon.
While Israel’s Netanyahu government is right leaning, Danon is surely to the far right of that, entreating Israelis to express pride in being ‘anti Palestinian state’ and side-lining discussion of the internationally supported two-state solution, remarking simply ‘I do not believe in it’.
As Deputy Defence Minister in 2013, Danon flouted diplomatic rhetoric altogether, stating: “the international community can say whatever they want, and we can do whatever we want”.
Australia, like Israel, has a history of violence and suppression of its Indigenous people. But unlike Israel, Australia has made steps towards acknowledging this reality. It is 12-years since Kevin Rudd made a landmark apology to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
While its limitations are apparent, the speech also highlighted that an historic recognition was required. Rudd acknowledged both the significance of Aboriginal peoples as having ‘the oldest continuing cultures in human history’ as well as the ‘wrongs of the past’.
In recent years, the disputed celebrations of Australia Day, re-named by Indigenous Australians as ‘Invasion Day’, have been vastly outnumbered by protests to change the date. In 2020, 100,000 people are reported to have protested the day in Melbourne alone, demanding recognition of the symbolic violence of January 26th to Aboriginal people as a day of national mourning rather than celebration.
While there has been little movement at a state or federal level, what is significant about this is that Aboriginal communities are not restricted from organising these protests, nor people from attending them.
The situation in Israel stands in stark contrast. In 2011, Israel outlawed acts deemed to reject ‘the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state’ and criminalised the commemoration of ‘Independence day or the day of the establishment of the state as a day of mourning’.
The result was the law explicitly targeted Palestinian commemorations of the ‘Nakba’, a term which means catastrophe, and which, much like the Australia Day/Invasion Day pairing, is the counterpart to Israeli independence.
Structurally speaking, Israel does not recognise its own indigenous population, the Palestinians, and unlike Australia, the repercussions of an ‘Invasion Day’ type protest would be severe.
Australia might vote in Israel’s interests at the United Nations, but increasingly it is clear that this institutional tethering based on a purported sharing of values is out of step with the views of large sections of the Australian public.
During Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006, the Australian government aided in the evacuation of close to 4,000 Australian citizens in Lebanon. Astonishingly however, John Howard expressed less sympathy to many Australian-Lebanese citizens, rather affirming that “the conflict would continue while Israel was attacked”. Yet while the Australian government defended Israel, the Israeli ambassador to Australia became a liability – Naftali Tamir was dismissed that same year after stating that Israel and Australia are “like sisters” because both are in Asia and their people do not have “yellow skin and slanted eyes”.
While Australia and Israel have often celebrated the ties between their two countries, this particular parallel was clearly unacceptable to Australian sensibilities.
If Danon is appointed as the next Israeli Ambassador to Australia it is likely that similar diplomatic embarrassment will ensue. Danon voices a position incompatible with both Australian foreign policy and recognition of international law, in addition to the increasingly visible sensitivity of Australians to racism and bigotry.
Danon has proposed, for example, that African immigrants to Israel are a “national plague”, the solution to which is immediate deportation; while in relation to the unresolved question of Palestine, Danon has urged his government to forestall any concession to Palestinians.
Rather he argues for the annexation of the West Bank, “or as Israelis prefer to refer to our historic heartland, Judea and Samaria”. Danon recently suggested that even the term annexation is inapplicable, since “you cannot annex something that belongs to you”. His title deed, as stated in a recent interview with the BBC, “is Biblical”.
Australia needs to think about what sort of global citizen it wants to be and what sort of global citizen its citizens want it to be. Over the last several decades it has begun an important journey in recognising its own history and responsibility towards Aboriginal Australia.
Australia affirms, not least in the recent context of the South China sea dispute, that it is committed to the principles of international law. Australia can refuse the appointment of a foreign ambassador to Australia. In the case of Danon, it should.
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