John Howard’s 1988 comments about Asians pale into insignificance compared to the insensitive, if not downright racist, remarks of Israeli ambassador to Australia, New Zealand, PNG & Fiji, Nafthali Tamir. Mr Tamir reportedly told an Israeli newspaper:

“Israel and Australia … 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 basically the white race.”

Tamir’s comments were prominently reported in the Israeli press and the Israeli foreign ministry immediately recalled Tamir for “further clarification”. To its credit, the Australian Jewish News reported the remarks prominently. If accurately reported, it’s a huge slur on indigenous and non-European Australians for anyone (let alone a diplomat) to describe Australia as a monolithically “white” nation. The Jewish state is certainly not a “white” country, nor are all Jews white-skinned. And I haven’t met many “yellow” Bangladeshis. Race and colour are sensitive issues in Israel. Some months back, the friendly folk at New Matilda gave me a couple of tickets to see the film Live and Become, the story of a Christian Ethiopian boy whose mother makes him pose as part of a group of Ethiopian Falasha Jews escaping drought and civil war and airlifted to Israel. The film concerns, amongst other things, the experiences of Ethiopian Jews facing racism from their European co-religionists. The Israelis aren’t having much luck in our part of the world on the diplomatic front. Some 18 months back, Israeli diplomat Amir Lati was ordered by Australia to return home. This was not long after two Mossad spies, Uriel Kelman and Eli Cara, were sentenced to 6 months jail for attempting to obtain New Zealand passports illegally. They were later deported. In 2000, another Israeli diplomat fled its Rio de Janeiro consulate after police discovered pornographic pictures and videos taken at the diplomat’s home. The Israelis are taking no chances, and it’s unlikely Tamir will be returning if reports of his comments are true.

Peter Fray

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