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Tim Fischer, champion of Palestinian rights



In paying tribute to Tim Fischer, people remember him for a host of reasons. He was the Nationals leader who went against much of his constituency to support toughened gun laws. He was one of Australia's most effective trade ministers, and its first resident ambassador to the Vatican. He was on the wrong side of history when it came to Indigenous land rights, though unlike other conservatives who opposed Mabo, preferred not to use racialised language.

Former Australian deputy prime minister Tim Fischer kisses the hand of Pope Benedict XVI following his appointment as Australia's first resident ambassador to the Vatican in 2008. (Photo by Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images)What I remember Fischer for is another allegation made against him. Some labelled him an anti-Semite for his repeated defence of Palestinian and Lebanese people, and for his trenchant criticism of Israel. Former Palestinian Ambassador Ali Kazak writes:

'Tim was highly critical of Israel's occupation, violations and aggression against its Arab neighbours. The Australian newspaper reported him on 21 July 1993 saying, "It is high time the West took off its rose-tinted glasses and examined the actions of Israel in detail." And the next day it reported him saying, "It's time we got back to the facts of the situation and examined all the facts associated with the complex issue of the Middle East" ...

'During one of our meetings, he asked, in astonishment, regarding Israel's prohibition of the export of Gaza's products to Europe, "How does the export of Gaza's cut flowers threaten Israel's security?"'

For student supporters of Palestinian rights, it was a tough time. I remember in 1990 at university, a Palestinian law student set up a table promoting Palestinian culture at Orientation Week. He was harassed and harangued, labelled an anti-Semite, and his Palestinian flags ripped as symbols of terrorism. Even after Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn in 1993, speaking about Palestine was taboo in Liberal Party circles. Just ask part-Palestinian Liberal Joe Hockey.

My own views on the Middle East have somewhat mellowed since then, due largely to my own reading and notwithstanding the harassment I and other supporters of Palestinian rights have experienced over the years. Having the then Deputy Prime Minister on our side certainly provided us with the strength to continue speaking our truths.

I first met Fischer at a Liberal Party new members night following the successful 1996 election that saw the Liberal Party defeat Paul Keating and sweep the Howard government to power. A small group of us Young Liberals gathered at NSW Parliament House to celebrate. It was a chance to enjoy free booze (or in my case, orange juice) and to hobnob with state and federal MPs.


"Fischer loved the Middle East and its people. Their relatives who had settled in Australia had a special love for him."


Around half an hour into the evening, a tall chap sporting an Akubra entered the room. Some looked perturbed at the presence of this political foreigner. What was a Nat doing at one of our functions? Others welcomed him as a fellow Coalitionist. I was a relative nobody in the political scheme of things. I was also a bit coy about mentioning my heritage. But it wasn't every day that the Deputy PM crashes a party and shakes hands with you.

It was a Monday night. The following Sunday, Muslims across Sydney would be celebrating the festival of Eid at the end of Ramadan. I knew it would be short notice for a busy Deputy PM, but I gave it a go.

'Mr Fischer, I was hoping you might consider coming along to our Eid Festival. It is at the Fairfield Showground.'

'You know, I've seen Eid in many countries but never in Sydney. I have a four-hour gap between flights at Sydney Airport and have to be at meetings. Let me see what I can do. It may only be a short visit.'

It turned out to be a very long visit. Fischer took to the podium and addressed the crowd of over 20,000 people. He then was given a chair to sit at the back and watch a cultural program that included a Lebanese troupe of dancers. Fischer approached one of the dancers, a young girl, and asked her before the microphone whether she had ever been to Lebanon. She shook her head. Fischer then took out from his pocket an old Lebanese bank note, showed it to the crowd and handed it to the girl.

Fischer loved the Middle East and its people. Their relatives who had settled in Australia had a special love for him.

Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajiun. From God we come, and to God we return. May you rest in peace, Mr Fischer. May God give strength to your family and to the millions of friends and admirers you leave behind.



Irfan YusufIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger.

Main image: Former Australian deputy prime minister Tim Fischer kisses the hand of Pope Benedict XVI following his appointment as Australia's first resident ambassador to the Vatican in 2008. (Photo by Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, Tim Fischer, Israel, Palestine, Muslims, Islam, Eid



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Existing comments

“….speaking about Palestine was taboo in Liberal Party circles….” It shouldn’t be taboo for someone to speak about anything anywhere. Liberty is a right but the fruits of it are earned privileges. There is an obligation on the other residents of the environment in which someone is speaking up to know how to refute the contrarian, whether it be a ‘pro’-Palestinian in the Liberal Party or a wearer of a rainbow sash standing in line for Holy Communion. The right cannot be abolished but its benefits are privileges which can be eroded if nobody has the gumption to assert that right.

roy chen yee | 31 August 2019  

He, unlike the Prime Minister under whom he served, richly deserved the honour indicated by the little gold lapel pin he wore.

john frawley | 31 August 2019  

Tim Fischer was that rare thing anywhere: a person of unimpeachable integrity. I was a year or two behind him at my first secondary school. He was a boarder and I a dayboy: separate tribes, so I didn't know him that well. He did not stand out at that school, but many 'stars' there faded in real life, whereas, after he proved his real leadership ability as a Second Lieutenant in National Service, he went on and on. His surname 'Fischer' rather than 'Fisher' hints at a Western European, rather than British ancestry, so he was multicultural before it was invented. Xavier College in the 1960s was another century away, but I must say this about the Jesuits, particularly some of the older Irish ones, is that they wanted us to be cultured, tolerant citizens of the world. No one 'made' Tim, like most genuinely mature men he forged himself with God's guidance and the support of others. He was a community man and his community was inclusive rather than exclusive. John Howard, 'yesterday's man', kept popping up like a Jack in the Box out of a bad comedy show, saying what a good Deputy PM Tim was. Tim was always more than any assigned role. Yes, he was aware of injustice towards the Palestinians, but he was not an Anti-Semite. Amazing man. R.I.P.

Edward Fido | 02 September 2019  

Wonderfully accurate depiction of John Howard, Edward Fido.

john frawley | 03 September 2019  

Years ago I read an article about G K Chesterton, Irfan. I forget who the writer was, but the essence of what he said was that Chesterton transcended any of his works. Tim Fischer was a bit like that. He certainly had a knowledge of Christians in the Middle East. Christians in the Middle East are a very threatened minority. They are as much part of Palestine and the Palestinian diaspora as the Muslims. The Palestinian authority in Gaza is looking more and more like a Sunni Muslim outfit. I think there is a line when criticizing Israel; it's treatment of the Palestinians, including its own Palestinian citizens (often described as 'Israeli Arab'); the perceived 'Israel lobby' in the USA etc., where this criticism becomes criticism of 'the Jews' and starts sounding like the awful 19th Century anti-Semitism which resulted in the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust. Sorting out the Israel/Palestine issue is a wee bit like unscrambling eggs. Can it be done without mutual goodwill and the assistance of the Deity we call by various names and claim to worship?

Edward Fido | 04 September 2019  

Tim Fischer never seemed to show anger and never resorted to the name-calling and personal criticisms common among other politicians. I think he had a quick mind that some people may have underestimated. I heard him talk a couple of times, without notes, and he held the attention of his audience with his knowledge and humour. He could show frustration, as he did on one occasion lamenting the sale of land corridors around Sydney that would make it harder to develop a future fast train network. Part of his vision for Australia. The Museum of Australian Democracy in Canberra has an exhibition of collections by politicians, featuring Tim’s many neck ties. A quirky collection. He was a good man of principle. RIP.

Brett | 06 September 2019  

It may seem strange, Tim, in this age of narcissistic, over-opinionated, media 'star' politicians, to see someone like the late Tim Fischer, or John Anderson, who were/are intelligent, considered and courteous and generally regarded by both sides of politics, apart from possibly the Greens, as right good men and true. To add to the confoundment of some, both are white (I'm not sure what the current politically correct term here is). Both were/are associated with the Nationals, who some associate with the Far Right. That is pure poppycock. They and Senator Ron Boswell were the Coalition's sheet anchor against racism of any sort. It is an accepted truism amongst certain members of the progressive left in this country that Australia is a misogynist, racist country and that it is open insult season for what used to be known as white males. I regard these people and their views with grave reservation. To get back to Irfan's paen to the late Tim Fischer, I do not think Tim's empathy for the Palestinians would diminish his faith in Australia or the really deep abiding Christian values which inspired so many like him. To quote Chaucer: 'He was a very gentle, perfect knight'.

Edward Fido | 07 September 2019  

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