Par for the course?

Will anything actually change on Australia’s end if Israel refuses to change course?

The details just keep getting worse. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu admitted overnight that the Israel Defence Forces did indeed kill a convoy of aid workers in Gaza, including Australian Zomi Frankcom, calling it “a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people”. “This happens in wartime,” he added, as if the deaths were mere collateral damage. It’s increasingly clear, however, that this was far from an accident, amid reports that the clearly marked convoy – whose route was communicated to the IDF – was struck three times in succession, as wounded survivors tried to move from one vehicle to the next (the IDF now blames “misidentification”). World Central Kitchen has suspended its operations in Gaza, while aid ships are turning back. The Australian government’s hand-wringing continues apace, with PM Anthony Albanese telling reporters today that he had spoken to Netanyahu to express our “anger and concern”. “We have called for full transparency and accountability, and for aid to reach Gaza unimpeded and in large quantities,” Albanese wrote in a social media post. But what happens if those calls are not met, as with our previous entreaties for international law to be obeyed? What happens if Israel doesn’t “change course”, as our foreign minister has suggested yet again?

That remains unclear – to us, to Netanyahu, perhaps to Albanese himself. The PM says he did plenty of “reiterating” and “emphasising” and “conveying” of Australia’s views on the phone to Netanyahu. But when asked by reporters what Australia would do if Israel didn’t undertake a “satisfactory investigation”, and whether any consequences had been flagged to the Israeli PM, Albanese failed to answer, returning instead to the “concerns” he had raised. The PM also failed to give an answer on whether he would consider expelling Israeli diplomats or recalling our ambassador, saying that he was very “clear and firm” in expressing Australia’s “consistent position” to Netanyahu. Never mind that the “consistent position” in question doesn’t seem to be achieving anything, as Israel continues to kill with impunity.

The same thing went for Foreign Minister Penny Wong, who did the rounds this morning to express her outrage, after speaking to her Israeli counterpart overnight. The foreign minister knocked back suggestions that the government’s rhetoric had emboldened Israel, lashing out at the Greens for acting in a way that is “detrimental to the fabric of Australian society”. (“I think the activities and the murders that have been occurring are what is causing tension, not people telling the truth about it,” retorted Greens senator Larissa Waters in a later interview.) Wong repeated her usual line that Israel must “change course”, suggesting that Israel risked losing the international community. “Unless Israel, Mr Netanyahu, changes his course of action, Israel will continue to lose support,” Wong told ABC News Breakfast. But at what point exactly does it lose the Albanese government’s?

It’s not as if there aren’t clear and tangible actions that the Albanese government could take here. Prominent Jewish critics of Israel, including the newly formed Jewish Council of Australia, are calling on state and federal governments to immediately cut military ties and place sanctions on Israel. “What does Australia’s ‘commitment to human rights’ even mean if it isn’t used to prevent an unfolding genocide?” asked JCA executive officer Sarah Schwartz overnight. Journalist and author Antony Loewenstein said the PM showed an “unwillingness” to do more than “demand” answers. “Stop selling parts for Israeli weapons,” he added, lamenting the fact that Australia does not have an independent foreign policy. 

The Greens have also reiterated their calls for the government to stop sending weapons components to Israel. “We’re getting into semantics,” said Waters, when pressed on whether parts constituted “weapons”. “I know that’s inconvenient for the foreign minister, and probably very embarrassing, but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation,” Waters added. “Australia should not be supporting this genocide in any way and we should be strongly condemning it.”

Indeed they should, and with more than just vague threats that Israel might “lose support” (whose support, and when?) if it doesn’t “change course”. Albanese has labelled the killing of aid workers “unacceptable”, demanding “accountability” but refusing to say what that might look like. This is the behaviour his government has been accepting from Israel for months, and appears set to go on accepting, with no signs Albanese is ready to “change course” himself.

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