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The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu reflects deep relationship between Australia and Israel. Over the last 100 years, Australia has played an instrumental role in the creation of the Jewish homeland, and has been blessed by the contributions of hundreds and thousands of its Jewish citizens. Today the two nations share deep cultural, business, and technological ties. The Australian government is to be commended for its positive relationship with the State of Israel, and its constructive approach towards the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In the months and years ahead, we must continue to play an active and constructive role.
This week, thousands of Australian Christians will welcome Israeli Prime Minister on his historic visit to Australia. This is the first visit to Australia by a serving Israeli Prime Minister, and reflects the close historical, cultural and religious ties between the two young countries.
The current Australian government is to be congratulated for its courage and wisdom in its formulation of foreign policy concerning the Middle East in general, and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in particular. While not eschewing criticism where necessary, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been crystal clear in her support for the State of Israel. She has supported the right of the Jewish people to live in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and has questioned the claim that Israeli settlements are “illegal”.
On November 22 2015, Foreign Minister Bishop received the “Torch of Learning” award from Australian Friends of Hebrew University in Sydney. On accepting the award, Ms. Bishop delivered a strong speech in which she said, “Tonight, in accepting the Torch of Learning Award, I commit anew to the powerful relation- ship between our two countries,” adding, “Israel’s struggles are our struggles. Their fight is our fight. Israel’s opportunities are our opportunities. Israel’s values are our values. We must both be prepared to continue to defend them. Australia and Israel – ours is a special friendship, a special relationship and long may it endure.”
She continued: “As Australia’s Foreign Minister, I confirm without hesitation, unequivocally, that Australia is, and will remain, a staunch friend and supporter of the State of Israel. Australia fully supports the right of the people of Israel to live within secure borders, in peace and security. I have stated our unambiguous support many times, particularly at the UN General Assembly where we join a very small number of nations prepared to oppose one-sided unfair and discriminatory resolutions that target Israel, and only Israel. I have given personal assurances to my counterpart Foreign Minister, Prime Minister Netanyahu, of the Turnbull Government’s ongoing friendship, commitment and support. And we will not hesitate to call out anti-semitic discrimination, where we see it wherever it occurs, particularly the pernicious BDS campaign that is still to [sic] operating in this country. With respect to the Peace Process, our Government continues to advocate for a two-state solution as the only viable pathway to a final settlement with the Palestinian population.
The responsibility lies with us today – and with the next generation of leaders, many of them probably studying at the Hebrew University – to work towards peaceful, negotiated, solutions to the current challenges in the Middle East.”
Such leadership and vision has been a hallmark of Australia’s military defence of fundamental freedoms in both world wars, and have characterized Australia’s close business and cultural ties with Israel, and her constructive role in international affairs over the last 100 years. The Australian forces played a vital role in the Allied campaigns in the Middle East in World War I, which paved the way for the ultimate establishment of the state of Israel. Almost 100 years ago, ANZAC forces were instrumental in capturing Beersheva in October 1917, opening the way for the liberation of Jerusalem in December 1917. Then, less than a generation later, Australians played a crucial role in the successful defeat of the Nazis in the North African campaign of 1940-2, thereby staving off what could have been a second holocaust in Palestine.
When, after WWII, the time finally came for the establishment of the state of Israel, Australia was at the forefront. As is well known, Foreign Minister H.V. Evatt, played an important role through his Chairmanship of the United Nations International Commission on Palestine in 1947. Evatt understood the justice of Israel’s right to full international citizenship at a time when many still did not. When a vote was called that year on General Assembly Resolution 181 to establish Jewish and Arab states in Palestine, the Australian delegate was the first to vote, and the first to vote in favour of the proposal. As President of the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, Evatt was prominent in the negotiations that led to Israel’s creation in May 1948. Early the following year, the Chifley Government ensured that Australia was among the first nations to formally recognise Israel. Evatt then presided over the historic May 1949 vote admitting Israel as the 59th member of the United Nations.
In 1955 Australia’s Prime Minister Robert Menzies and Minister of External Affairs Richard Casey publicly supported an Arab-Israeli peace plan proposed by the US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles.
Former Prime Minister John Howard first visited Israel privately as a young man in 1964, and became an admirer of the achievements and the spirit of the young state. During the period of his government from 1996 to 2007, bilateral relations between the two countries remained strong, reflecting John Howard’s description of Australia as ‘a very strong supporter, close ally and good friend of Israel’. For his friendship with Israel and the Jewish people, John Howard was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bar-Ilan University in 2000, the American Jewish Committee Distinguished Public Service Award in 2002, the American Jewish Committee American Liberties Medallion in 2004, the B’nai Brith International Presidential Gold Medal in 2006, and the Zionist Federation of Australia’s Jerusalem Prize in 2007. The Jewish National Fund announced the establishment of the ‘John Howard Negev Forest’ in Israel in 2007. This was the third such tribute paid to an Australian Prime Minister as forests have been named after Sir Robert Menzies and Bob Hawke.
For the last 70 years, there has been strong and generally bipartisan support for Israel by Australia. This is well documented in an Australian government publication of 2008 “Australia and Israel – A Pictorial History”. Through war and peace, our peoples, our nations, through arts, commerce, scientific advancement, education and a shared cultural foundation have developed strong bonds of trust and mutual respect that would be common of friends.
Australia has been greatly blessed in her short history by so many wonderful Jewish immigrants who have made incredible contributions to make Australia the successful nation she is today. Sir Isaac Isaacs, Sir Zelman Cowan, the Pratt and Smorgon families, Geraldine Brooks - the list goes on and on. More than ever, the world needs to continue to defend the right of the Jewish people to live as a nation in peace and safety, and to support the existence of the only true democracy in the Middle East.
Australia and Israel share the same fundamental Judeo-Christian values upon which modern democracies are built. In fact, it can be argued that modern Western democracies all owe their basic values to the Jewish people – upon whom Christianity was founded, and without whom Christianity cannot survive. We would even go so far as to say that Australia’s well-being as a nation depends on taking a positive approach towards the State of Israel. The way a nation treats the Jewish people has always been a litmus test of its moral character. In Genesis 12, the Lord God said: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse”.
A positive attitude towards Israel does not mean agreeing with everything in Israel. Israel is not perfect. Life is not perfect in Israel. But it must be borne in mind that the Jewish State of Israel is a modern democracy based on the rule of law, where all minority groups have full civil rights as Israeli citizens, and freedom of religion, speech and movement. It is in fact the only true democracy in the Middle East.
Equally, it is a gross misconception to claim that being “pro-Israel” necessarily entails being “anti-Palestinian”. The non-Jewish populations in Israel (Arabs, Druzes, Bedouins, Aramean Christians, etc) have the right to live in dignity in the land as Israeli citizens. Fighting for the security and viability of the Jewish State of Israel means fighting for the rights and interests of all citizens of that State – Jewish and non-Jewish.
We believe that co-operation, not separation, is the only way to peace and prosperity in the region. Instead of rejecting the existence of the Jewish State of Israel, the Arab Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors must learn to embrace Israel, as a model of pluralistic democracy based on the rule of law.
In fact, there are countless examples of such co-operation in Israel: Jews and non-Jews working side-by-side for the common good. As Australians, we need to get behind these projects, and work closely with all elements of Israeli society to help the continued growth and prosperity of the modern miracle of Israel.
The attempts of the international community over the past 70 years to create two separate States have so far failed to bear fruit. We would suggest that the time has come for the international community to re-think its attitude towards the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. A model needs to be found based on encouraging productivity and growth, and the principles of trust, mutual respect and co-operation – not enmity and division. Australia - a country based on the same principles, which has become the home of refugees and migrants from all the nations - is extremely well-placed to take a leading role in this process.
Welcome to Australia, Mr. Netanyahu!
Springwood, February 21st, 2017