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The cowardice of Australia’s lightweight diplomacy

While the British look to recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital, Australia is wavering from its celebrated, heroic role in Holy Land history

Australian Lighthorse Brigade in Jerusalem during the First World War (Photo: National Library of Israel/Public Domain)

In an iconic picture of Sir Edmund Allenby entering Jerusalem on Dec. 11, 1917, the British general is seen on foot, having dismounted from his horse in recognition of the importance of the moment. 

Allenby understood the biblical significance of Jerusalem – built by King David, central to Jews and Christians for millennia. After centuries of Jerusalem being under Islamic control – despite never being mentioned in the Koran – Allenby affirmed that capturing Jerusalem was more than a military achievement – rather, it was a religious milestone. 

Conquering Jerusalem would allow Britain to implement its commitment per the Balfour Declaration written a month earlier: To restore Jewish sovereignty over the land of Israel. 

On Oct. 31, horses played a significant role in the decisive Battle of Beersheva: The Australian Mounted Light Horse regiments would ride into battle against the Ottomans, armed with bayonets, as part of the British Empire’s Egyptian Expeditionary Force military formation.

The Expeditionary Force would strike and capture the Ottoman Yildirim Army Group, with the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand) Mounted Division launching a series of attacks against the Ottomans’ defenses, taking the eastern side of Beersheva. 

The Battle of Beersheva was one of the most consequential battles of WWI, leading to the eventual capture of the entire biblical land of Israel; what the Ottomans had ruled as a collection of “sanjaks,” the British would rule and rename “Palestine.”

Three decades later, 75 years ago, the United Nations voted to end the British Mandate and to implement the terms of the Balfour Declaration, establishing a Jewish state. The State of Israel declared independence six months later. On Nov. 2, 1917, the Balfour Declaration, Britain committed that “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.” 

While the Australians, fighting alongside the British, were significantly responsible for capturing Beersheva, thus leading to the British victory, and despite the British declaring that they supported the restoration of Jewish sovereignty, the three decades of British ruled were not marked by the most Jewish-friendly policies toward implementing this commitment. 

In fact, because the British appeased the Arabs by blocking Jewish immigration, hundreds of thousands – or even millions – of Jews marked for extermination by the Nazis had nowhere else to go. 

Recently, there’s been a flip-flop relating to Israel, in general, and Jerusalem, specifically. Whereas the Australians were particularly heroic in conquering the Holy Land, and the British were tepid in their actions that followed, not really giving substance to their commitment to establish a Jewish state, now, the tables have turned. 

Earlier this year, recently resigned British Prime Minister Liz Truss pledged her commitment to review moving the British embassy to Jerusalem. She reiterated this in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on the sidelines of the U.N. 

It would be an Allenby moment for the U.K., affirming that Jerusalem’s uniqueness is its biblical significance as the heart of the Jewish people, 105 years after Allenby entered the Holy City. This would undo a series of wrongs that the British were responsible for during their control of the Holy Land. 

It has been long enough since other countries have moved their embassies to the capital, that they can rest assured that the Arab world’s response is not going to be caustic; many have made peace with Israel for pragmatic purposes. Not that such policies should be governed by how others might respond, but the idea that it might be a concern has been sufficiently debunked. 

On the opposite side, Australia has wavered from its celebrated and heroic role in the history of the land. This month, it reversed its 2018 decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. 

Even though Australia only recognized western Jerusalem as being part of Israel (excluding the Jerusalem Old City, the City of David, the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall and the Temple Mount, along with other significant biblical sites), presumably to let the status of eastern (and most of biblical) Jerusalem to be determined in negotiations, recognition of any of Jerusalem’s centrality to Israel and the Jewish people was significant. 

It also disproved that the Arab street would erupt in violence or protest, or that it might harm Australian relations in the Arab world.  

Especially in this season, the month in which the British issued the Balfour Declaration and the U.N. voted to establish a Jewish state, Britain should be encouraged to follow through from all directions, regardless of the outcome of the recent leadership transition: Friends have called British embassies and consulates in their communities and countries. Petitions have been initiated. Support has come in from a wide range of sources, despite there having been some openly negative comments – most notably from some of the U.K.’s religious leaders who still practice replacement theology and do not see the restoration of Israel and Jerusalem as its capital as having theological significance. 

I certainly don’t wish ill for Australia, but I pray they will have better leaders who make more sound decisions, biblically and diplomatically. 

There’s a concern that phase two of Australia’s boomerang-like rebound will be the recognition of a Palestinian state. If it weren’t a wretched policy, it might actually be comical that they could cancel recognition of Jerusalem as the historic and modern capital of Israel, with all its biblical and historic significance, and consider recognizing a Palestinian state that has no borders, that seeks to destroy another (Israel), has no currency and no democracy, and in which elections have not been held in nearly two decades. To consider that a state, and Jerusalem not Israel’s capital, is the definition of absurdity. 

I suppose that, in the same way that a liberal government can be elected and overturn conservative government policies, when a conservative government is re-elected, it can reverse the liberals’ overturning of the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This is not the way to do diplomacy. 

It also makes no sense, as they didn’t even commit to recognize all of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It seems to be a case of hyper-wokeness, disavowing the significance of Jerusalem as central to Israel and the Jewish people.  

I am trying to imagine Gen. Allenby riding into the Jaffa Gate and looking at this situation today. As someone who understood the significance of that moment when he entered Jerusalem, I suspect he’d be pleased with the British leader’s recent statements going in the right direction and dismayed at the cowardice of the Australians today, who had once distinguished themselves by fighting alongside the British for the land.

ALL ISRAEL NEWS is committed to fair and balanced coverage and analysis, and honored to publish a wide-range of opinions. That said, views expressed by guest columnists may not necessarily reflect the views of our staff.

Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. Throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian websites about Israel and shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel. He is host of the popular Inspiration from Zion podcast. He can be reached at [email protected].

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