Six former prime ministers have issued a strong statement declaring support for both the Jewish and Palestinian communities in Australia and warning against allowing the Middle Eastern conflict to stoke division here.

The signatories are four former Liberal PMs – John Howard, Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison – and two former Labor PMs, Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

The only other living former PM, Paul Keating, declined to sign. He has not publicly given his reasons.

The statement condemns the Hamas attack of October 7 on Israeli citizens, calls for the unconditional release of the hostages held by Hamas, and urges “sustained humanitarian access” for aid to reach innocent Palestinians.

It also urges Israel to avoid civilian casualties and reaffirms “the Australian government’s enduring support for a two-state solution” to achieve a lasting peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.

Stressing the importance of local cohesion, the statement says:

Our multicultural nation’s success is founded on the Australian values we all share and the respect we show for our fellow Australians’ diversity of cultures and faiths.

Whatever is happening elsewhere in the world, there is no place in our country for racial or religious hatred.

And there is no more tenaciously evil race hatred than antisemitsm.

Our Australian Jewish community, directly affected by the terrible crimes of Hamas, not only has to endure the loss and suffering of their families in Israel, but now sees these events being used by some to spread ancient hatreds which have inflicted so much suffering on the Jewish people for thousands of years.

Nothing happening overseas justifies hate speech in Australia, the statement says.

We believe we speak for the vast majority of Australians, of all faiths and of none, when we say we stand in solidarity with Jewish Australians at this time.

Likewise, we stand too with the Australian Palestinian community whose families are dying and suffering in this terrible conflict. They too deserve our love and support.

The former PMs say Australia’s success “depends on us not allowing conflict overseas to turn Australians against each other”.

They condemn “the cruel and murderous attack by Hamas terrorists on October 7”.

“It was the single largest massacre of Jewish people since the Holocaust and its grotesque cruelty and violence was comparable to that of ISIS,” the statement says.

It says Hamas had “sought to provoke Israel into a reaction that would kill countless innocent civilians in Gaza. The Hamas terrorists have no more interest in the safety of Palestinians than they do of Israelis.

They want Israel to invade and bomb Gaza. They want to be able to point to thousands of Palestinian casualties from Israeli military action.

Their mission is to promote hatred – hatred of Israelis, hatred of Jews, hatred of Palestinians, hatred of Muslims.

The statement calls for people in Australia to treat each other with love and respect and “support those who are grieving and distressed”.

The former PMs say they don’t presume to give Isreal strategic advice. “But the legitimate objectve of defeating Hamas must be accompanied by support and protection for the civilian population of Gaza.

“Israel promises it will do all it can to avoid civilian casualties, we urge it to do so with all of its humanity and skill,” the statement says.

“We are horrified by the thousands of deaths and injuries inflicted on innocent Palestinian civilians, including many, many Palestinian children.”

Keating said in a statement that Mark Leibler, a prominent Australian Jewish leader and businessman, had contacted him last week proposing the joint statement.

“I told Leibler in a written message that I would not be agreeing to join other former prime ministers in authorising the statement.” Keating had no further comment to make on his position.The Conversation

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Statement by former Prime Minister Paul Keating, dated Sunday 29 October 2023, declining to sign the statement drafted by The Zionist Federation of Australia.

“Today’s Melbourne Herald Sun carries a story that, along with other former Australian Prime Ministers, I will be a signature to a statement drafted by The Zionist Federation of Australia, condemning the attack by Hamas on Israel.

Mark Leibler, (President of The Zionist Federation of Australia) contacted me earlier last week proposing the prospective joint statement for my agreement and signature.

I told Leibler in a written message that I would not be agreeing to join other former Prime Ministers in authorising the statement. That remains my position.”