Australia tells Israel it is concerned about Smotrich’s ‘inflammatory’ remarks

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich provoked outrage by saying there was ‘no such thing as a Palestinian people’; Penny Wong urges Israeli leaders to find common ground over judicial overhaul.

The Australian government has informed the Israeli government of its “concerns” over “inflammatory” remarks by far-Right minister Bezalel Smotrich about the status of Palestinians.

Finance Minister Smotrich provoked outrage last week by saying there was “no such thing as a Palestinian people”, just weeks after he said the Palestinian town of Huwara, in the West Bank, should be “erased”.

An unnamed source told Plus61 Media that the government had conveyed concerns about Smotrich’s “inflammatory and irresponsible” comments in discussions with senior Israeli counterparts.

Australia urged Israeli and Palestinian leaders “to refrain from unilateral actions that undermine the prospects of a future two-state solution,” the source said, and “work to create the conditions for peace and, ultimately, return to direct negotiations in good faith.”

In relation to the Israeli government’s controversial judicial overhaul, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said Australia welcomed Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to pause the bill and urged all parties to find common ground at the negotiating table.

“Australia welcomes the decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pause legislation related to Israel’s judiciary,” Senator Wong told Plus61J Media. “We encourage parties to find common ground consistent with democratic principles.”

She said a “robust system of checks and balances is a fundamental characteristic of any modern democracy”.

Senator Wong reiterated Australia’s “longstanding friendship with Israel based on shared values and a commitment to democracy and the rule of law”.

Smotrich’s remarks also prompted outrage within Israel and representations from other countries, including the US.

US President Joe Biden also criticised Netanyahu over the judicial overhaul.

“Like many strong supporters of Israel I’m very concerned. I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road. I’ve sort of made that clear,” Biden said this week.

He added that Netanyahu will not be invited to the White House “in the near term,” putting a fine point on the matter of timing concerning a potential visit from the Israeli Prime Minister to Washington.