The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has spoken with Israel’s leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, for the first time since the latest conflict erupted in Gaza. His message to the Israeli prime minister remains unknown, but Albanese told a press conference on Wednesday that the government remained concerned about humanitarian issues and civilian lives in Gaza, and that while he believed Israel had a right to defend itself, “how it defends itself matters”.
Police on Wednesday also removed protesters outside the Geelong office of the deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, after anti-Zionist Jewish activists held a demonstration against the government’s response to the Israel-Hamas war.
The demonstration, which lasted several hours, included several protesters using bike locks to secure themselves to the building. The group called on the government to withdraw diplomatic, economic and military support for Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
“I condemn the use of Jewish grief and trauma as justification for committing a genocide against another people. The ongoing occupation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinian people goes against my Jewish values,” said Jewish demonstrator Nevo Zisin in a statement. Guardian Australia understands Albanese spoke with Netanyahu on Wednesday morning. It followed Albanese’s call with Israel’s president Isaac Herzog last week.
Albanese’s office was contacted for comment on the content of the discussion. Haaretz, one of Israel’s major news services, reported that Netanyahu’s office had confirmed he’d spoken to “several world leaders and updated them on the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip”.
“Netanyahu also thanked the leaders for their support for Israel and told them that ‘Israel’s war against Hamas-ISIS is a war for the entire enlightened world’,” Haaretz reported.
Netanyahu was reported as speaking with Albanese, along with the Cypriot president, Nikos Christodoulides, and the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak. The federal Coalition had been criticising Albanese for several days after the PM said he had not been able to lock in a call with Netanyahu.
As recently as Tuesday, the shadow foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, claimed it was “surprising and disappointing that the requested call from Australia has not been taken”. In the Sky News interview, Birmingham claimed the Labor government had made “a number of unilateral policy shifts in relation to Israel” which he alleged “didn’t do much to warm the relationship”.
The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, last week claimed “the fact that prime minister Netanyahu hasn’t yet taken a phone call from Anthony Albanese three weeks post the 7th of October is a very significant moment for us to contemplate”.
In Washington DC last week, Albanese responded to a reporter’s question about the efforts to secure a call, saying: “Mr Netanyahu has pressures on which at the top of the list is not the discussion with the Australian prime minister. We understand the pressures which are there. But we have a request for a [call].”
Albanese did not mention the call in a press conference on Wednesday morning. Asked about Israel’s targeting of a refugee camp in Gaza in a mission against a Hamas leader, Albanese said he had not seen the report.
“Hamas’s terrorist activities horrified the world and we remain very concerned about humanitarian issues in Gaza. We continue to urge for all civilians to be protected, for the international rule of law to be applied,” the prime minister said.
“We say that Israel has a right to defend itself, but how it defends itself matters and we want to see all innocent lives protected. Every life matters. Every Israeli, every Palestinian. Innocent people have been impacted by this in Israel and in Palestine. And we are concerned about humanitarian issues.”
Albanese went on to say he continued to advocate for Australian citizens in Gaza to be allowed to move to safety, and raised Australia’s concern about the conflict potentially spreading further in the region – noting the government’s message for Australians in Lebanon to leave now if they wished to leave.
Source: The Guardian