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‘We recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, but how it does so matters’: Wong

On her visit to the Middle East this week, Australia’s Foreign Minister offered new humanitarian aid to Gaza and qualified moral support to Israel.
TJI Wrap
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Foreign affairs minister Penny Wong meeting with family of hostages held by Hamas (Image: DFAT).

Published: 17 January 2024

Last updated: 19 March 2024

On her visit to the Middle East this week, Australia’s Foreign Minister offered new humanitarian aid to Gaza and qualified moral support to Israel.

Australia will provide an additional $21.5 million in humanitarian assistance to Palestinians in Gaza under an emergency support package announced by Foreign Minister Penny Wong during her visit to the Middle East this week.

The new funding is targeted at refugees displaced by Israeli attacks on Gaza, with a focus on women and children. It brings Australia’s total humanitarian commitment since the terror attacks of October 7 to more than $46 million.

In Israel, Wong met with Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz and President Isaac Herzog, reiterating Australia's condemnation of the October 7 attacks and supporting Israel's right to defend itself.

In Ramallah, she told Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh that Australia supports a ceasefire in the Gaza war and a two-state solution.

Throughout her trip, Wong emphasised Australia's "strong concerns" about the civilian death toll in Gaza and the dire humanitarian situation.

“We unequivocally condemn the terrorist acts of Hamas and recognise Israel’s right to defend itself, but how it does so matters," Wong said. "Australia is gravely concerned by the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza. Australia continues to call for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to affected populations, and further humanitarian pauses to enable the scaled-up delivery of aid, safe passage for civilians and the release of hostages.”

At a media conference in Israel, Wong said calls for a ceasefire were not inconsistent with a commitment to Israel's right to self-defence. She emphasised Australia's condemnation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation with "no place in the future governance of Gaza", and reiterated Australia's opposition to West Bank settlements, saying they are not consistent with a two-state solution Australia supports.

Wong praised the work of EcoPeace, the Israeli-Palestinian-Jordanian environmental organisation and talked about the importance of shared objectives and respect, including in managing the conflict between Australian communities over the Israel-Hamas War.

"One of the great wisdoms of Australia and why our multiculturalism has been successful is we have understood that we might have differences of opinion, but we deal with them respectfully and inclusively, and I hope that we can hold on to that. I know that this is a conflict that is so distressing for so many Australians, but we must hold on to that. We treat each other with respect."

Wong also met with the families of Israeli hostages and called for the immediate release of more than 100 hostages still held by Hamas. "I assured them that in every engagement I have with relevant parties, I will use Australia’s voice to call for the immediate, unconditional and safe return of their loved ones," she said.

ICJ genocide charge

After a meeting with Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi in Amman, Wong said Australia respects the independence of the International Court of Justice, which is considering a genocide charge against Israel brought by South Africa.

But she added: “Our support for the ICJ and respect for its independence does not mean we accept the premise of South Africa’s case. We will continue to work for a just and enduring peace between Israelis and Palestinians”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told ABC Radio this week that court cases will not help achieve peace between Israel and Palestine, declaring the Australian government won’t participate in ICJ proceedings initiated by South Africa.

“We obviously are not a participant in the process [and] don’t intend to be a participant in the process,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne when asked about the ICJ proceedings.

Lattouf saga spotlights journalistic ethics

An unfair dismissal case brought by Antoinette Lattouf against the ABC has raised allegations about appropriate social media activity by journalists and the “Israel lobby”.

Lattouf was told not to return three days into her one-week stint as a casual summer presenter on ABC Radio Sydney after sharing a post on the Gaza conflict. The Instagram post from Human Rights Watch claimed: “The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war in Gaza”.

Lattouf is alleging unlawful termination on the grounds of “political opinion or a reason that included political opinion”, and later expanded the claim to include race, due to her Lebanese heritage. She is represented by Jewish lawyer Josh Bornstein, who is arguing the post was the expression of a political opinion protected by the Fair Work Act.

The ABC says Lattouf's post breached the broadcaster's social media policy, which requires employees do not use personal social media accounts in ways which damage the ABC's reputation for impartiality or integrity. It says Lattouf had been warned against social media posting on controversial topics before she was dismissed and her race was “entirely irrelevant” to the decision.

The Sydney Morning Herald has alleged Lattouf was subject to a “high-level and co-ordinated letter-writing campaign” by a WhatsApp group called Lawyers for Israel. It published a chain of leaked WhatsApp messages which members of the group wrote to managing director, David Anderson, and chair, Ita Buttrose, asking for Lattouf’s removal and discussed the liability of officials and board members for “fuelling antisemitism”.

About 80 ABC staff members have demanded a meeting with Anderson, who is currently on leave, over the issue. They have threatened to stage a walkout if their concerns over the situation were not met.


Full transcript of Penny Wong's media conference in Israel (DFAT)

Australians ‘strongly concerned’ about Gaza deaths, Wong tells Israel (SMH)

Wong boosts funding for Gaza civilians on Middle East visit (SMH)

Further humanitarian assistance to Occupied Palestinian Territories and the region (DFAT)

VIDEO: Foreign minister meets with Israeli officials and families of hostages (ABC)

Penny Wong meets Hamas hostage relatives, affirms 'solidarity' with Israel (Guardian)

Albanese says Australia will not participate in ICJ case against Israel and instead focus on ‘political solution’ (Guardian)

Secret WhatsApp messages show co-ordinated campaign to oust Antoinette Lattouf from ABC (SMH)

ABC Sydney staff threaten to strike over termination of radio host Antoinette Lattouf (Guardian)


Israel, Hamas agree to send medications and aid to Gaza, hostages - Qatar (Jerusalem Post)
The medications will leave Doha on Wednesday and will then be transported to Egypt.

Israel says it fears for lives of two hostages after latest Hamas propaganda video (Times of Israel)
IDF rejects terror group’s claim Itay Svirsky and Yossi Sharabi were killed when the military targeted a building where they were being held.

EU adds Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar to terror blacklist
(Times of Israel)
Bloc says decision to proscribe mastermind of October 7 massacres is ‘response to the threat posed by Hamas and its brutal and indiscriminate terrorist attacks in Israel’

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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