The Liberals should stop trying to play identity politics. They’re not very good at it and they should leave that sort of thing to the Labor Party. The race/class/gender/religion card is a dangerous one to play, especially when it comes to foreign policy. There should only ever be on thing that determines Australia’s foreign policy, namely what’s in our national interest.
Make no mistake. The decision of Prime Minister Scott Morrison to consider moving Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is welcome and should be supported. It is a powerful and proud statement of Australia’s support for democracy and freedom in the Middle East. Jerusalem is Israel’s capital city and that is where Australia’s embassy should be located.
It is naive to think that in the short-term it won’t produce some negative repercussions, but it is always in Australia’s long-term national interest to stand with democracies. The fact that if Australia was to relocate its embassy to Jerusalem, it would be one of only a handful of countries to do so is irrelevant. The justice of an issue should not be decided by a vote of the so-called “international community”. The “international community” might have its place, but most of its members are not democracies.
The problem with the government announcing considering moving Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem is not the decision itself. It’s the way the decision was made that’s the problem. It’s the right decision but for all the wrong decisions. On the surface at least, it looks like a decision of politics not principle. Which is a tragedy.
The decision risks forever being portrayed by those opposed to it as motivated by identity politics, as the Liberals face a crucial byelection in a seat whose population is 12.5 per cent Jewish. The decision risks being portrayed as the Liberals appealing to the identity of voters who are Jewish. Whether anyone in Wentworth, Jewish or not will change their vote because of what the government announced is arguable anyway.
A byelection ploy?
Just a few months ago the secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that Australia’s embassy “will remain in Tel Aviv” and the decision of the Trump administration to relocate the American embassy to Jerusalem “had not been helpful”. Morrison, in his previous role as treasurer said in July about a possible move: “It’s not the Government’s policy. It’s never been under review and we’re not doing it.” Now, four days before the Wentworth byelection the government has reversed that position.
The fact the Prime Minister hasn’t actually announced he’s moving the Australian embassy in Israel, only that he’s “open to” doing so, similarly risks presenting the decision as a byelection ploy. Presumably if the government undertakes a review of the merits of moving the embassy there’s a chance that in the end it will decide to keep the embassy where it is.
Understandably Morrison is doing everything he can to win the Wentworth byelection and stay in office. But some policies are too important to be decided and announced in the middle of byelection campaigns. One of the Prime Minister’s great strengths is that he’s not going to die wondering. Unlike his predecessor Morrison actually wants to defeat the Labor Party. But victory, either tomorrow or at the next federal election, as nice as it would be for the Liberals, is not an end in itself.
The Liberals should want to win elections so they can implement policies in the national interest, like moving the Australian embassy to Jerusalem. It shouldn’t be the other way around. Hopefully the Liberals never think that our country’s involvement in the politics of the Middle East is a means to the end of domestic politics.
If this week’s announcement from the government truly was based on principle the test will come, not if the Liberals hold Wentworth tomorrow, but if they lose it. If the Liberals lose Wentworth and we never hear again about the embassy being moved, the PM will have succeeded in revealing that the Liberals’ commitment to furthering democracy and freedom around the world is as skin deep as a byelection campaign promise.