There is much to celebrate about Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia; the first time a sitting Israeli Prime Minister has graced our shores. We will hear much about the common bond of nations, of shared values and destinies as liberal democracies and secular states governed by the rule of law.
We will also hear of Australia’s hand in the formation of the Jewish State in 1948. The 4th Australian Light Horse Brigade captured Beersheba on 31 October 1917, dealing a critical blow to the Ottoman Empire’s hold on the neglected backwater that had become Palestine. Two days later, the British Foreign Secretary delivered the famous Balfour Declaration which supported returning Palestine to the Jews, nearly two millennia after the collapse of the last Jewish kingdom there at the hands of Rome.
Doc Evatt chaired the United Nations’ ad hoc committee on Palestine that in 1947 recommended partition and two states for two peoples. Australia then cast the first historic vote as the General Assembly ratified the partition plan. The ensuing Israeli declaration of independence was a thing of beauty that saw, for the first time in human history, an exiled, displaced nation return to its ancestral home to exercise national self-determination once more. Meanwhile, the united Arab declaration of war was a tragedy of enormous proportions that unleashed a fresh hell on the Jewish people and their infant state of socialist pioneers and Holocaust survivors. It also precipitated an unceasing state of Palestinian grievance and entitlement, not to mention a refugee problem largely of their own making.
But the visit of the Israeli Prime Minister is about the future and much more than the future of the Palestinian conflict. The conflict, to be sure, could be solved tomorrow, if the mutual political will existed and the Palestinians were prepared to give up on the delusion, nurtured by the western far-left, that if they “resist” for long enough, they will one day have everything “from the river to the sea.”
The Israeli leader’s visit is about opportunity. Israel is a technological marvel. It has to be. It is bereft of natural resources, is dominated by desert, and is surrounded by autocrats and populations who pray daily for its destruction. Israel’s advancements in biotech, cyber-security, emergency response, medicine, defence, water all have the capacity to materially improve the lives of Australians. Remarkably, Israel now does more business with China, Japan and India than with its staunchest ally the United States. In recent years, it has turned to Asia and deepened its engagement with Singapore, Vietnam, and even Indonesia. Israel has not been sluggish in diversifying to meet the challenges of a changing Europe and an unpredictable United States.
The engagement between states need not be on a strictly government-to-government and business-to-business basis. There is an abundance of common experience and much we can learn from each other.
There may be no country in the world that places a greater premium on the lives of its soldiers than Israel. We have seen the country trade convicted terrorists of the worst kind for the corpses of its fallen and release 1,027 killers for a single, doomed tank-gunner. The Israeli emphasis on reintegration of returned servicemen and women into society is a model that Australia should follow. Soldiers are given subsidies for education and incentives to purchase homes following their discharge. Combat soldiers are snapped up by start-ups and the high-tech sector who see the appeal and adaptability of fresh minds and eager bodies. There is a reverence of the combat soldier in Israel that does not exist in Australia, to our shame.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s visit and his retinue of business luminaries will elevate the importance of the Israel-Australia relationship across our two societies, energise our tech and start-up scene, and will deliver tangible benefits for our nation from better securing our troops to better securing our online shopping. Perhaps there will also be an unexpected benefit for the peace process. While the Palestinians invariably use any increase in their diplomatic or political status to promptly harangue Israel in international forums, Israel’s ever-deepening ties with the world will show the Palestinians that Israel will not sit idle while Palestinian leaders refuse to even recognise a Jewish State or negotiate over the terms of their own long-awaited statehood.
Alex Ryvchin is the Director of Public Affairs of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
First published at The Australian