Pacific News Minute: Australia “May” Move Its Israeli Embassy to Jerusalem

Oct 18, 2018

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison
Credit Scott Morrison / Twitter (@ScottMorrisonMP)

As you may have heard, Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, said this week that he’s considering moving Australia’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The controversial proposal may be more about the suburbs of Sydney than the Middle East.

Scott Morrison took over as Prime Minister in August after an internal fight for leadership of the Liberal Party, which is the senior partner in the ruling Coalition government. His predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, resigned his seat in parliament, triggering what known as a by-election in his district of Wentworth, just outside of Sydney, a district that includes the famous Bondi Beach.

Normally, this wouldn’t be a big deal. It’s just one seat and the liberals carried Wentworth by almost 18 points last time around.

But the Coalition’s margin in parliament is just one seat, and opinion polls suggest there’s a good chance of an upset on Saturday. A significant fraction of the Wentworth constituency is Jewish, and, though the government denies it, it’s widely believed that the proposed embassy switch was floated to win votes for the Liberal candidate, who happens to be a former ambassador to Israel.

And that’s not all that’s going on.

Australia's Parliament in Canberra
Credit JJ Harrison / Wikimedia Commons

The Guardian Australia reports that the government has provided generous grants to local surf clubs in the district, and promised more than a million dollars to provide security for Jewish institutions. There’s also been a last minute smear campaign; Australia’s ABC discovered anonymous emails falsely declaring that the leading independent candidate has been diagnosed with HIV and has withdrawn from the race.

Opinion polls suggest that the voters of Wentworth are more interested in the environment and immigration than they are in the Middle East, and may want to protest the Coalition’s policies on both come Saturday.