The government’s decision to penalise and publicly criticise Israel for the “abuse and counterfeiting” of Australian passports is not about Israel. It’s not about paybacks or history or campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council. It’s about the way civilised governments treat each other.

Foreign minister Stephen Smith described what happened with great clarity in Parliament yesterday:

“The passports in question were deliberately counterfeited and cloned for use. The high quality of these counterfeited passports points to the involvement of a state intelligence service. These investigations and advice have left the government in no doubt that Israel was responsible for the abuse and counterfeiting of these passports.

“Mr Speaker, no government can tolerate the abuse of its passports, especially by a foreign government. This represents a clear affront to the security of our passport system. Nor can we tolerate the abuse by a foreign government of the personal details of the Australian nationals concerned. These are not the actions of a friend.”

His predecessor, Alexander Downer, saw it differently. “Intelligence services around the world do this sort of thing the whole time,” Downer last night told the ABC’s PM program. “Israel is not the only country that engages in this sort of behaviour, frankly … That’s just what happens in the world of intelligence … Be realistic about it and be wide-eyed about it, not naive.”

Under the Downer doctrine, Australia should accept the reality that intelligence services forge passports all the time and ignore that it happens.

Downer is wrong and his argument is dumb. If Australia finds any country engaging in the systematic counterfeiting of its passports, it should do what the government did over recent months: investigate thoroughly and act in the national interest.

This is not about Israel.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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