The Lebanon Imbroglio

Now it's Australia getting called a pawn of Israel

Delays in repatriating Lebanese-Australians from Lebanon showed Canberra was not only pandering to Israel but exhibiting racism towards people of Arabic decent, a prominent Australian Muslim said yesterday. Keyser Trad, founder of the Islamic Friendship Association, said the government of Prime Minister John Howard would have responded more swiftly if the crisis had been elsewhere. "I'm sure they would have acted a lot quicker if it wasn't Lebanon and people of Lebanese background," Trad said. "You just have to look at the way they reacted to other crises - Bali and East Timor - they used all their resources to get people out quickly." There are believed to be 25,000 Australian citizens in Lebanon, almost all of Lebanese descent and many with dual nationality.

But while the US and European countries have managed to repatriate thousands of their citizens, Australia has so far brought home fewer than 200 of its nationals. "This government is initiating racism here," Trad told Australia's AAP news agency. "There are signs of the federal government breeding racism." Trad said Australia was tardy in its response because it had sided with Israel in the conflict. "Our government is caught up in the constant blind support of the Israeli government," he said, singling out Foreign Minister Alexander Downer as a slave to Israel. "Alexander Downer said he was refused his request to Israel for a ceasefire, but when it comes to Israel, it's `yes, sir, whatever you want, sir' from him," Trad said....

Prime Minister John Howard defended the rescue effort. "It is a chaotic situation and it is easy to criticise a limited number of foreign affairs personnel who are operating in very stressful circumstances."

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A half-right Arab

An Australian Arabic leader who escaped from Lebanon this week says the Australian Government had done all it could to help Australians caught in the crisis. But Australian Arabic Council (AAC) chairman Roland Jabbour, who arrived in Melbourne this morning, said the crisis had shown how weak the Government's Middle East policy was, by failing to pressure Israel into a stopping the bombing.

Mr Jabbour had been holidaying with his family in Lebanon when the bombing began and had dashed to the Syrian border, passing through the bottle neck of refugees, before getting safe passage to Australia. He said the Australian ambassador, Lindel Sachs, and her staff had responded immediately to the urgency and dangers of the situation and coped with "the logistical magnitude and abnormality of the situation with the upmost professionalism". "I am confident that the Australian Government and our Prime Minister have done everything possible to support the repatriation of every Australian," Mr Jabbour said. "I have no concerns about discrimination. People are worried about loved ones and considering the circumstances the government has done all it can."

However, Mr Jabbour said the inability of the Prime Minister John Howard to pressure Israel into a ceasefire reflected the complete failure of Australia's Middle East foreign policy. "If anybody believes that the Israeli raids are surgical strikes only targeting Hizbollah, I can assure them they are both misguided and misleading," he said. "Not only is the response completely disproportionate, Israel is raining down utter destruction on a country which has just taken ten years to rebuild itself. "Not only are civilians being killed, but the term collateral damage is completely inappropriate. "The Australian Government should pressure Israel to implement an immediate ceasefire." [No mention of pressuring Hezbollah for a ceasefire!]



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