One of the big winners in the 2016 Federal election in Australia is the Nick Xenophon Team, a political party created by former independent Senator Nick Xenophon. Mr Xenophon first came to prominence as a fervent campaigner for gambling controls. Gambling often leads to significant problems for vulnerable people and his stance on the evils associated with gambling appealed to many in the community.
As first a member of the Upper House in the South Australian parliament and later as a senator in Federal parliament, Mr Xenophon expanded his platform by campaigning for a number of populist causes, portraying himself as the champion of the downtrodden and marginalised. He is a strong advocate of domestic manufacturing and has argued for protection for industries and jobs perceived to be at risk from economic reforms and liberalised trading arrangements.
In the 2016 Federal election Mr Xenophon’s populist policies attracted considerable support and delivered his team several seats in the Federal parliament. He now has more influence in Canberra than ever before, especially in the light of the tight outcome of the election and the finely balanced numbers in parliament. Mr Xenophon’s support will be vital if the government is to remain in power and in its efforts to secure support for legislation it wishes to enact. It must be expected that Mr Xenophon will seek support for causes he holds dear in exchange for his support of the government.
But what does this have to do with Israel? More than you might have imagined. While Mr Xenophon’s views on gambling and support for local industries are well known, what is less well-known is his fervent advocacy for the Palestinians in their struggle with Israel. In August 2014, Mr Xenophon travelled to the Middle East as a guest of the Australian Friends of Palestine Association (AFOPA). While there, his itinerary involved mainly meetings with Palestinian officials. His contact with the Israeli side of the conflict was confined mostly to meetings with extremist Israeli groups which are harsh critics of the Israeli government. Mr Xenophon has donated funds to the AFOPA, an organisation which actively supports the boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement which condemns Israel and seeks to isolate the Jewish state from the wider world.
Mr Xenophon was one of the first signatories of what is known as the Canberra Declaration. This extremely one-sided and poorly-informed document calls for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and its alleged blockade of Gaza. His contributions in the Senate have reflected his support for this slanted view of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
In the Senate on24 March, 2015, following a meeting he had with the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), Mr Xenophon made a speech which was highly critical of Israel, in the course of which he claimed incorrectly that:
Gaza has been living under an Israeli blockade since 2007 when Israel placed massive restrictions over movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza.
In that speech Mr Xenophon did criticise Palestinian forces in Gaza for firing rockets into Israel but his rhetoric was overwhelmingly anti-Israel. He questioned the proportionality of Israel’s response to the rocket attacks from Gaza, ignoring the fact that this is complicated by Hamas’ policy of using civilian infrastructure and human shields for military purposes. He also ignored the stringent border restrictions imposed on Gaza by Egypt. It is likely that the omissions from that speech reflected the slanted information supplied to him by the APAN.
At a Senate committee hearing on 3 June, 2015, Mr Xenophon directly questioned whether recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is consistent with the Australian government’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. In the light of Joel 3, students of prophecy have good reason to be sceptical of the two-state solution. It should be recognised, however, that when an avowed supporter of the Palestinian side questions the legitimacy of the two-state solution they are really calling into question the concept of a national homeland for the Jews in any form.
On 25 June, 2015, Mr Xenophon addressed the Senate criticising the Attorney-General’s statement that “the description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ … is freighted with pejorative implications, which is neither appropriate nor useful”. It is clear whose side Senator Xenophon supports in the debate about the status of Jerusalem. His position may be confirmed by the fact that, on 15 July, 2014, Mr Xenophon co-hosted a forum to mark the tenth anniversary of the International Court of Justice finding that Israel’s settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are illegal.
It is hard to know how many of his colleagues in the Nick Xenophon Team share their leader’s views about Israel and the Palestinians, mainly because he has been very reluctant to allow them to speak for themselves. It is known, however, that the Team’s lead candidate for the Senate in Victoria, Naomi Halpern, who is Jewish, has used social media to support the description of Israel as “a 68-year-old apartheid state”.
Since its creation as a Jewish state, Israel has enjoyed strong support from Australia. While the electoral success of Senator Xenophon is unlikely to overturn completely Australia’s support for Israel, the government might be encouraged to tone down its advocacy for the Jewish state. Ezekiel 38 portrays Tarshish and the young lions as mounting a somewhat muted response to the Gogian host which invades Israel at the time of the end. One wonders whether the political influence of Senator Xenophon and his colleagues in the new parliament might extend to foreign policy issues affecting Israel and the Middle East. We cannot be sure, but we may be certain that God is at work influencing the nations in unseen ways to ensure that His plan and purpose is worked out. Should our Lord’s return be delayed we may watch with interest how the X factor influences Australia’s policy toward the Middle East.