Two White Sisters in Asia: Israel and Australia

A historical cartoon from Palestine, the PLO Information Bulletin, of November 1981, illustrates Israeli arms sales to apartheid South Africa and Latin American dictatorships.

“Israel has not fully acknowledged the value of working together with Australia in Asia. It’s a way for us to cooperate with and enhance our position in countries neighboring Australia.”

Naftali Tamir
Israeli ambassador to Australia

In a recent interview published in Haaretz, Naftali Tamir, the Israeli ambassador to Australia, articulates a perennial need for ‘white’ collaborators that has defined the Zionist project since its inception.

He speaks bluntly of an Israeli partnership with Australia, founded on racial solidarity, to “enhance” Israeli influence over East Asia. Only perhaps in the nineteenth century could a Western diplomat have spoken so plainly about race as the basis of a political alliance. Infinitely better armed against their Arab victims, the Israelis have no need for caution. They can dispense with diplomacy, with political correctness.

The Israeli ambassador feels no compunction in speaking the language of racial stereotypes. “Israel and Australia are like sisters in Asia,” he says. “We are in Asia without the characteristics of Asians. We don’t have yellow skin and slanted eyes. Asia is basically the yellow race. Australia and Israel are not - we are basically the white race. We are on the western side of Asia and they are on the southeastern side.”

The Israeli ambassador’s plan is ambitious. With Israel dominating the western flanks of Asia and Australia anchored off the east of Asia, it appears that these two white sisters have all of Asia cornered. The plan is malicious too. It expects to appeal to, and deepen, Australian anxieties about the growing power of people with “yellow skin and slanted eyes.” If necessary, the ambassador can also remind the Australians how they got to be in Asia: like the Israelis, they too had the power to steal other peoples’ land.

There is little that is surprising in any of this. The appeals to white racism, the claims of racial or civilizational solidarity with the West, have been the foundations of Zionist success since movement first proclaimed its colonial aims in 1895. Israel has succeeded by taking advantage of, and by constantly arousing and deepening, Western racism especially as it relates to Arabs and Muslims.

Israel has succeeded by encouraging the darkest instincts of the West. The leading Western powers had vital interests in the Middle East, especially with the discovery of oil in the early twentieth century. By dovetailing their own colonial project with Western imperialism, the Zionists imposed a more deadly imperialism on the region. In the words of Sir Ronald Storrs, the British governor of Jerusalem, Israel would be “ ‘a little loyal Jewish Ulster’ in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism.” As it turned out, the “Jewish Ulster” has been neither “little” nor “loyal.”

In the early decades after its creation, Israel had few friends in Africa and Asia. Israel sought to break through this isolation by forging close ties with other colonial-settler states - South Africa and Rhodesia - and right-wing military dictatorships in Latin America and Africa. It supplied arms, intelligence, and military training to these countries. Israel’s relations with South Africa were the closest. It helped the apartheid state to develop nuclear weapons in the 1970s. Israel also helped South Africa evade the mandatory arms embargo imposed by the UN Security Council in 1977.

Israel also encouraged the colonial powers to create new white settler states in Africa when they faced nationalist resistance in their colonies. In 1960, when the Algerian resistance against the French occupation of their country was at its peak, David Ben Gurion urged the French President Charles de Gaulle to carve out a white settler state in coastal Algeria after expelling all indigenous Algerians. Luckily, both for the Algerians and France, de Gaulle ignored Israel’s self-serving advice.

Israel understands too well that alliances based on interests alone are risky. Interests are a fickle thing. In order to protect itself against shifting interests, the Zionists have sought to create and deepen new emotional ties with Western audiences. Since the early twentieth century it has given encouragement to a new-fangled theology in the United States that looks upon the creation of Israel as a necessary prelude to the Second Coming. These Zionist Christians now constitute Israel’s faithful foot soldiers in the Republican Party.

In more recent decades, Israel has presented itself increasingly as the West’s secular crusader state. It wraps itself in Western values. It ceaselessly reminds Western audiences that it is the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East. Many Westerners are willing to excuse Israeli excesses against Palestinians as a small price for preserving a Western ‘democracy.’ More likely, many more see Israel as the last white outpost in the world of colored peoples, valiantly holding back the hordes of brown, fanatical Muslims. As these perceptions have taken root - with daily proddings from an Israel-friendly media - defending Israel has become a vital Western interest.

With unrivalled Western dominance in the 1990s, Israel began to break through its isolation in the Third World. Most of the non-Muslim countries in Sub-Saharan African were persuaded to recognize Israel. In 1991, the US brought pressure on the UN General Assembly to revoke its resolution of 1975 which equated Zionism with racism. Unofficially, most Arab countries ended their boycott of corporations that do business with Israel. Egypt, Jordan and Mauritania recognized Israel. A few Gulf Arab countries established informal relations with Israel.

More recently, however, the winds have been blowing in a new direction. The US invasion of Iraq, so strongly pushed by Israel and its allies inside the United States, has produced a few unforeseen consequences. Islamist Iran now openly contests both the US and Israel in the Middle East. The US- and Israel-friendly Arab regimes appear to be running out of time. In the summer of 2006, Israel eroded its deterrence power in a war it could not win against the Hizbullah. In Latin America, the United States is unable to roll back the new shift towards the left driven by the growing assertiveness of indigenous Americans. The region is not as friendly to Israel as it had once been under right-wing dictators. In several European countries too, the changing Muslim demographics do not bode well for unconditioned European support for Israel.

Perhaps, it is this changing global scenario that is causing some Israelis to emphasize their root constituency: white solidarity. Is this why Ambassador Naftali Tamir is advising Israel to forge a deeper partnership with Australia? It is possible that deep down, some Australians too feel beleaguered among a ‘sea of Asians,’ even though no Asian country threatens Australia. Perhaps, the Ambassador speaks as an insider. Perhaps, that is why he thinks it might be a good idea to exploit these Australian fears. It would be good policy, he argues, for Israel to “cooperate” with Australia - her “white sister” off the eastern edge of Asia - to “enhance” its “position in countries neighboring Australia.” Is this a signal to Australia that with Israeli support it should start casting its gaze — beyond small fries like East Timor - to Malaysia and Indonesia?

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at a university in Boston, and author of Challenging the New Orientalism: Dissenting Essays on America’s ‘War Against Islam’ (IPI Publications: 2006 forthcoming). He may be reached at