Assistant Foreign Minister the Hon Tim Watts MP spoke at the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Biennial Conference on Sunday.
The ZFA is an elected, representative roof body of the Australian Jewish community and represents 21 affiliate Jewish organisations across all political spectrums.
The 2022 Biennial Conference brought together over a hundred Jewish leaders and professionals from around Australia.
At the Conference, Minister Watts addressed Labor’s long history of support for Israel, as well as the recent policy change on West Jerusalem, and answered questions about the Government’s positions on Jerusalem, antisemitism on campus, the UN’s bias against Israel and funding to UNRWA.
An issue of key importance to the Australian Jewish community is efforts to fight the rapid increase of antisemitism on Australian campuses. Minister Watts encouraged universities to embrace the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.
Minister Watts said, “The fact that life is becoming more and more hostile for [Jewish students] on our university campuses is a cause of great distress for me. I think that Australian universities absolutely have an obligation to ensure that the IHRA definition is embraced and put into action on our campuses… I think [the definition] is an important prerequisite for facilitating exactly the kind of discussion and exchange of views that universities are supposed to promote”.
ZFA President Jeremy Leibler welcomed Minister Watts’s presence at the Biennial Conference and his call for Australian universities to support the IHRA definition of antisemitism, while reinforcing the Jewish community’s disappointment at the Government’s recent decision to reverse recognition of West Jerusalem.
“The Australian Jewish community was extremely disappointed by the Albanese Government’s policy reversal over West Jerusalem”, said Mr Leibler. “It risked marring what has otherwise been a relationship characterised by open dialogue and respect and support for the Australian Jewish community. We appreciate Mr Watts taking the time to listen genuinely to our concerns, and to explain the Government’s position directly to the Australian Jewish community.”
Minister Watts made clear the Australian Government believes all Israeli-Palestinian final status issues should be decided through negotiations. “We do not support unilateral actions that undermine the peace process”, he said.
Minister Watts also criticised the UN’s focus on Israel. “We call out the unfair and discriminatory focus on Israel in these forums”, he said, “and we will continue to do so going forward… The fact there is a standing commission with no end date is an example of unfair and discriminatory treatment”, he said, speaking of the UN’s only permanent Commission of Inquiry.
Minister Watts concluded, “It was an honour to address the Zionist Federation of Australia’s annual conference today. Australia has always been a friend of Israel. The Albanese Labor government will continue to strengthen that friendship. We are deeply committed to an enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and a two-state solution in which Israel and a future Palestinian state co-exist in peace and security within internationally recognised borders.”