“One hundred years ago brave ANZAC soldiers liberated Beer Sheva for the sons and daughters of Abraham, and opened the gateway for the Jewish people to reenter the stage of history.” – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Beersheba, October 31, 2017
“We are here assembled because we are honouring an extraordinary battle which made history; which fulfilled history.” – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Beersheba, October 31, 2017
In these rousing words on the 100th anniversary of the Charge of the Australian Light Horse, Netanyahu depicted that battle as “the gateway” through which Israel was restored as a nation; it had, Turnbull said, “fulfilled history”.
The Israeli had it right; the Australian only partially.
Beersheba definitely opened the gate, but as far as liberating the Land of Israel for the Jews’ return, Australia’s part in this history would only be fulfilled at another heroic charge, at Tzemach on September 25, 1918.
After Beersheba, and even after General Allenby soon thereafter took Jerusalem, there were many battles to fight before the last Light Horse attack truly routed the Turks from the Holy Land.
Many of us began 2017 anticipating big strides to be taken in what, down the decades, has been an enduring and promising relationship between Israel and Australia. As the year unfolded we did experience breathtaking moments – most notably the visits of Netanyahu to Australia and of Turnbull to Israel.
For Israelis and for thousands of Australians, a climax came at the Beersheba Centennial. If ever there was an historic moment to seize and solidify this mateship, now, it seemed, was it.
…with Israel, the Land Down Under was seeing out 2017 in a shameful and dishonorable retreat.
A month later, as Israel marked 70 years since UN Resolution 181 recognised the historical right of the Jewish people to re-establish their national home in their ancestral land, Julie Bishop noted how Australia had been first to vote for the resolution. Effusive about her country’s “depth of feeling for Israel”, the foreign minister declared, “the relationship is strong and deep and Australia is one of few nations in the world prepared to stand up for Israel in the United Nations.
“We will not support one-sided, unfair, unbalanced resolutions that target Israel,” she vowed – generating appreciative applause in the Jewish state 14,000 km away.
How suddenly, then, all this unravelled.
The very next day, following a fusillade of UN anti-Israel condemnations, when a resolution was tabled denying the Jewish state ANY rights in Jerusalem, instead of opposing and excoriating this flagrantly biased decree, Australia abstained.
To me it was painfully telling – and it triggered an inner alarm – that later that very day Turnbull, Bishop and many fellow lawmakers were celebrating the legalization of same sex marriage. “Australia has done it,” exulted Turnbull. “What a day!”
With the bill’s passage the song, “I am, you are, we are Australians” erupted in the public gallery. Some had wanted to sing the national anthem – “Advance Australia Fair.” My thought was that while a hundred years ago – when 800 horsemen spurred their mounts – Australia’s advance had been both glorious and fair, today it was anything but. In its relationship with Israel, the Land Down Under was seeing out 2017 in shameful and dishonorable retreat.
It got worse.
Firstly, in a positive development that was almost completely ignored by the Australian media, Liberal Party Senator James Paterson on December 5 tabled a petition signed by more than 8000 citizens calling on the Federal Parliament to move Australia’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
Twenty-four hours later, Donald Trump announced the Unites States’ recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel, and ordered that preparations be made to move his nation’s embassy to the city.
This action ignited a firestorm of condemnations, and some violent protests, but the American president stuck to his guns. (On January 22, 2018, in a remarkable speech in Israel’s Knesset, Vice President Mike Pence confirmed that the embassy would be in Jerusalem by the end of next year.)
If Australia lacked the prescience and courage to flow with, or immediately follow, the US in this regard, its opposition could surely have been expressed quietly. But both Turnbull and Bishop stridently criticized Trump. Australia, they stated emphatically, had no intention of moving its embassy. “We are not going to relocate our embassy. It will remain in Tel Aviv,” Turnbull told ABC Radio.
Their response aligned Australia politically with the anti-Israel world. Astoundingly, in just six weeks, the Aussie leadership went from glorying in their mateship with Israel to betraying the Jews and their state.
When, on December 22, the UN voted overwhelmingly to condemn Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, Australia – now unsurprisingly – abstained again.
Distressing though all this is, despair will not do.
It is true that many viewed the Beersheba Centenary as potentially climactic, hoping it would see Australia “lead the charge” and be first to announce the relocation of its embassy. And also true that its failure to ride the crest of that wave tempts the admission of defeat.
But the Beersheba charge and triumph was, in a sense, not Australia’s final climactic opportunity. Rather, it was a key beginning, a vitally important unlocking, the literal opening of the gate that just under a year later culminated in the liberation of all Israel.
There is still time to strengthen Australia as a nation in its standing with Israel.
Understand that the Centenary opened a gateway of opportunity for Australia. But it also ushered that country into what the Bible calls the Valley of Decision (Joel 3) – the place where every nation will choose how it relates to the Jewish people and their land.
Did you – the Australian reader – notice how, in six short weeks, the crucial issue of Jerusalem turned your nation away from its pro-Israel stand? That city with the Temple Mount – the actual physical site of the seat of government of Israel’s King of Kings and Lord of Lords, let us not spiritualise this truth – will make or break our nations (Zechariah 12:3,9).
My prayer is that before the Tzemach Centenary on September 25 this year – when this gateway of opportunity might well close – Australia will have corrected its course away from this terrible mistake and come back into line.
We have a fight on our hands. As believers called to be light and salt in this world it is we who – under God – must pray and work towards keeping our nations in alignment with what He purposes for Israel. To do so, we need to be rightly aligned with these purposes ourselves. The amount of misteaching on Israel is considerable, with some of the most popularly held positions in fact profaning the name of the Lord. This needs to be addressed clearly and directly.
In this light I am planning a return to Australia next August and September with a desire to exhort Christians there not to give up, not to disengage, not to fall back as they see negative spiritual forces gaining ground in their land. Yes, global hatred of the Jewish people is intensifying. So too, then, will be the battle to have our nations stand with Israel and, concomitantly, the effort to drown our nations in unrighteousness.
We do have a fight on our hands. But praise be to the LORD our Rock, who trains our hands for war, our fingers for battle. (Psalm 144:1)