- House of Representatives on 26/03/2018
- PRIVATE MEMBERS’ BUSINESS – Israel.
That this House:
(1) notes that 14 May 2018 is the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel, a seminal event that occurred in 1948, and congratulates Israel on an amazing seventy years of democracy, growth and prosperity;
(2) recognises that 15 July 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the end of the fateful Évian Conference, convened by President Roosevelt in 1938 in Évian-les-Bains, France, with 31 countries, to discuss the issue of the plight of Jewish refugees fleeing the horror of Nazi persecution;
(3) further notes that:
(a) the Australian Minister for Trade and Customs in 1938, Lieutenant Colonel T.W. White, declined to further assist the Jewish people, stating ‘Australia has her own particular difficulties…migration has naturally been predominantly British, and it (is not) desired that this be largely departed from while British settlers are forthcoming. Under the circumstances Australia cannot do more, for it will be appreciated that in a young country manpower from the source from which most of its citizens have sprung is preferred, while undue privileges cannot be given to one particular class of non-British subjects without injustices to others. It will no doubt be appreciated also that as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration…I hope that the conference will find a solution of this tragic world problem’;
(b) post Kristallnacht, when the Nazis burned Jewish synagogues, businesses and books, Australia did reassess its policy to admit 15,000 refugees over three years, compared to the previous quota of 1,800 per year;
(c) an estimated 6 million Jews and millions of others died during the Holocaust, exacerbated by the failure of Australia and other nations of the world to more fully protect the Jewish people; and
(d) Lieutenant-Colonel White’s statement on behalf of the Government of Australia is still visible at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, as a representative response for all other nations’ responses of indifference at the Évian Conference;
(4) states that this Parliament, as representative of all political parties and the people of Australia, issues a profound apology and says ‘sorry’ to the Jewish people for the indifference shown by the Parliament in 1938 that worsened the impact of the Holocaust; and
(5) notes that:
(a) in doing so, we seek to honour the memory of all those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and make right, a great wrong, perpetuated by Australia on the Jewish people;
(b) a request will be made for this motion to be presented to Yad Vashem this 70th year asking that the parliamentary apology be displayed beside Lieutenant-Colonel White’s statement of 1938 that he issued on behalf of the Government of Australia; and
(c) this motion will be provided to the Knesset this 70th year, one parliament to another.
This year celebrates a number of historic milestones for the great state of Israel. 14 May is the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel, a seminal event that created the only free democracy in the Middle East. This parliament warmly congratulates our sister in democracy, the Israeli Knesset and the people of Israel for what they have achieved: an amazing 70 years of democracy, growth and prosperity. Israel remains the light, a beacon of hope for the Middle East, and we are so proud to stand with her.
But, amidst the 70th anniversary of joy, 15 July this year unfortunately marks the 80th anniversary of sorrow, for it’s the anniversary of the end of the fateful Evian conference convened by President Roosevelt in 1938 in Evian-les-Bains, France with 31 countries to discuss the issue of the plight of Jewish refugees fleeing the horror of Nazi persecution. It’s an anniversary of the world turning its back on God’s holy chosen Jewish people. It’s an anniversary that this parliament will seek to atone for today. As we do so, I acknowledge that his issue was raised a decade ago in this place by the member for Isaacs. His reasons were genuine, and it’s doubtful whether we would have reached today without his sincere, heartfelt intervention a decade ago. I therefore offer a thankyou to the member for Isaacs and all those who spoke with him for their humanity and quest to make things right 10 years past. It’s a pleasure to stand in the House of Representatives with him and my other good colleagues today representing both major political parties. I acknowledge the member for Eden-Monaro at the desk.
Today this parliament, as representative of all political parties and the people of Australia, issues a profound apology and says sorry to the people for the indifference shown by the parliament in 1938 that worsened the impact of the Holocaust. We do this because the Australian government sent to Evian the Australian Minister for Trade and Customs, Lieutenant Colonel TW White, with a message of indifference. Doubtless he did not go and speak on his authority but on that of the executive government of the day, but his words were not challenged by this parliament. At Evian the Australian Minister for Trade and Customs declined to further assist the Jewish people in their hour of need, stating:
Australia has her own particular difficulties … migration has naturally been predominantly British, and it (is not) desired that this be largely departed from while British settlers are forthcoming.
… … …
Under the circumstances Australia cannot do more, for it will be appreciated that in a young country manpower from the source from which most of its citizens have sprung is preferred, while undue privileges cannot be given to one particular class of non-British subjects without injustices to others. It will no doubt be appreciated also that as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration…I hope that the conference will find a solution of this tragic world problem.
Those words spoken by the minister in 1938—’As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration,’ and, ‘I hope that the conference will find a solution for this tragic world problem’—have haunted our nation. Our nation’s government turned its back on our Jewish friends at the exact time they needed us. Our parliament said nothing. Understandably, Lieutenant Colonel White’s statement on behalf of the government of Australia is still visible at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem as representative of all other nations’ responses of indifference at the Evian Conference. Australia was not alone; the world turned its back. For Australia’s indifference, this parliament says sorry.
Five months later, post Kristallnacht—when the Nazis burnt Jewish synagogues, businesses and books, and hauled Jews to concentration camps—thankfully Australia did reassess its policy of only taking 1,800 refugees per year. News of the Nazi’s dreadful pogrom strengthened the position of many organisations arguing for a liberalisation of the country’s immigration policy. Support for the admission of Jewish refugees now came from unexpected quarters. On 18 November 1938, the New South Wales Trades and Labour Council, which had traditionally been opposed to immigration, passed a resolution asking the government to accept Jewish refugees and, if necessary, to support them financially.
At the same time, from London, Australia’s high commissioner, former Prime Minister Stanley Bruce, told the government on 21 November that ‘strong feeling is rapidly developing’, that an unprecedented international effort was required to deal with Jewish refugees from Germany and that Australia might find itself in an ’embarrassing situation’ if it did not make a statement regarding its approach. He suggested a quota of 30,000 refugees over three years. Cabinet agreed to Bruce’s proposal in principle but halved the figure. On 1 December, the Minister for the Interior, John McEwen, announced the new policy that had been approved by cabinet the night before in parliament. He said that Australia would admit up to 15,000 refugees from Europe over three years. Hansard from 1 December 1938 records McEwen’s speech.
The government feels that, if a solution of this problem is to be found, countries must be prepared to receive a proportion of those to be expatriated, in relation to the capacity of the countries to assimilate them.
By the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, more than 7,000 Jewish refugees had arrived in Australia. Our country’s indifference had started to change.
As the horrors of the Second World War unfolded, the tragedy of Hitler’s venom against God’s holy people, the Jews, was becoming known. In December 1942 the Allies, including Australia, issued a joint announcement about their recognition of the massacre of Jews in Poland. Soon, the United Jewish Emergency Committee was instituted in Sydney, while the United Jewish Overseas Relief Fund was founded in Melbourne. In 1943, all Jewish communities in Australia presented a joint resolution to Prime Minister Curtin asking him to support Jewish immigration to Australia and soon-to-be Israel, and to take part in any international relief effort for the survivors of the Nazi horrors. However, the government responded negatively to these requests. Unfortunately, people were just not aware of the true extent of the Nazi horror and, thus, were not empathetic to the cause. The lack of understanding in Australia is reflected by the label given to Jewish refugees from Europe: they were called ‘enemy aliens’.
On this 80th anniversary of sorrow, I sought guidance on atonement for wrong from the Jewish law, theTorah, represented, of course, in my Bible in The Old Testament in Leviticus 5:14-19. It said:
The Lord said to Moses:
“When anyone is unfaithful to the Lord by sinning unintentionally in regard to any of the Lord’s holy things, they are to bring to the Lord as a penalty a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value in silver, according to the sanctuary shekel. It is a guilt offering. They must make restitution for what they have failed to do in regard to the holy things, pay an additional penalty of a fifth of its value and give it all to the priest. The priest will make atonement for them with the ram as a guilt offering, and they will be forgiven.
“If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible. They are to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect and of the proper value. In this way the priest will make atonement for them for the wrong they have committed unintentionally, and they will be forgiven. It is a guilt offering; they have been guilty of wrongdoing against the Lord.
Today, this parliament recognises we have been guilty of failing to do something in regard to the holy things. We failed to protect more of God’s holy people, the Jews. Our ram and the additional one-fifth value we present today, our guilt offering, are our words of atonement, our apology, our profound sense of sorry.
We do this from both sides of the aisle. Both the Labor and Liberal parties argued for the expanded refugee intake in 1938 to save Jewish lives 80 years ago. So today both parties stand together to say sorry for the indifference at Evian. Both Labor and Liberal MPs did not do enough in 1943 to support the Jewish community’s joint resolution to more fully embrace Jewish refugee migration. Again, we say sorry.
An estimated six million Jews and millions of others died during the Holocaust, exacerbated by the failure of Australia and every nation of the world to protect the Jewish people more fully. Thus today we seek to honour the memory of all those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and to make right a great wrong perpetuated by Australia and the rest of world on the Jewish people—that of indifference. Today we present our parliament’s guilt offering through our words and draw a line under this Evian conference of sorrow. Today we vow never again to turn our back on Israel, or on our Jewish brothers and sisters, wherever they are in the world. Today we reaffirm our love and commitment to Israel.
As we do this, I request that this motion be presented to Yad Vashem in this 70th year, asking that the apology be displayed beside Lieutenant Colonel White’s statement of 1938 that he issued on behalf of the government of Australia. I formally passed this request along to the secretary of Israel’s foreign minister, and sought his assistance. I also request that this motion be provided to the Knesset in this 70th where year, one parliament to another. Again, I formally passed this request along to the convenor of the Israel Allies Caucus Knesset member Robert Ilatov.
I’ll be in Israel in September this year, during Sukkot, as one of the chairs of the Israel Allies Caucus, made up of over 30 parliaments of the world. I look forward to bringing our guilt offering, this motion and its speeches, personally both to the Knesset and to Yad Vashem.
Let me conclude this morning with the words of Psalm 122:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
For the sake of my family and friends,
I will say, “Peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your prosperity.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Rob Mitchell ): Is the motion seconded?
Mr Irons: I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.
I thank the member for Fadden for bringing forward this motion and wish to associate myself with his comments in relation to those bitter days of 1938 and the Evian Conference. One of the broader messages and lessons to be taken from that was that the result of that conference effectively sent a loud message to the Nazis and to Adolf Hitler: ‘You can do what you like with the Jewish community, not only of Germany but, of course, later on, all of eastern Europe and Europe in a broader sense.’ That was the fatal consequence of that Evian Conference—compounded, I have to say, by the later support of Australia of the 1939 British white paper which, of course, had the very unfortunate consequence of denying thousands of Jewish refugees their lives when they could very easily have been absorbed into Palestine at the time.
That history of Australia and the Jewish peoples of that region are deep and meaningful, and also forged in blood. During the First World War, my own family and many Australians were in Egypt and Palestine as part of the light horse endeavours to free that region from the Ottoman Empire. Australian light horsemen had an initial encounter with Jewish refugees who had been expelled from that area because of the suspicions the Ottomans had of their loyalty to the Ottoman Empire. They were put up in refugee facilities in Alexandria. A lot of Australian light horsemen went to those facilities to do what they could to support those refugees, including giving the kids rides on their horses and the like.
My own family and other Australians had their first contact then and, of course, through the Palestine campaign. Before that, in the campaign on Gallipoli, Australians serve alongside the Zion Mule Corps. Membership of that unit was formed largely by refugees who were in Alexandria. So right from that very earliest battlefield experience, Australians were side-by-side with members of the Yishuv, the Jewish community of Palestine.
It didn’t end there, of course. Following the experience of the Zion Mule Corps, a Jewish legion of volunteers was formed. Eventually, that became a force of about 5,000 troops. In particular, there were three battalions, which were designated as the 38th, 39th and 40th battalions of the Royal Fusiliers, which served in Palestine alongside the Australians through the remainder of that campaign. In fact at one point those units were placed under the command of Major General Edward Chaytor, who was the commander of the Anzac Mounted Division. So we were actually in command of the Jewish Legion in Palestine through a number of major engagements in the Jordan Valley, north of Jerusalem and in that final critical battle of Megiddo, serving alongside them.
Not only that, one of our greatest war heroes of the First World War, Lieutenant Colonel Eliezar Margolin, was made a CO of the 38th battalion. He’d been a hero of Gallipoli, and was wounded several times on the Western Front before he was put in command of the 38th battalion, a battalion which had as one of its members David Ben-Gurion, future Prime Minister of Israel. Eliezer Margolin is honoured today in the village that’s dedicated to the Jewish legion Avichail, and a square in that village is named after Eliezer Margolin.
Of course, that didn’t end the story. Last year we celebrated the centenary of the battle of Beersheba. I was there on the day, as part of that contingent of Australians, when so many of us flooded the town. There was a warm reception. The entire town was decorated and plastered with Australian flags. The community of Beersheba embraced the Australians who came. It was a wonderfully warm reception. It was such a significant event in their own history that they will never forget. I’m sure the Australians who were there for that centenary will never forget.
That relationship continued into World War II. Again, my family and thousands of Australians enjoyed the support and welfare provisions that were provided by the Jewish community in Palestine. It was a centre of activity for the 2nd AIF, who were engaged in the campaign in Greece, the Western Desert, Syria and Lebanon. My grandfather, on my father’s side, was in the 2/3rd Machine Gun Battalion in the 7th Division, which was the critical formation involved in that Syria-Lebanon campaign. They were based around the Nazareth area before going into that campaign. To give a flavour of the experience of the soldiers who were looked after by the Jewish community, there’s a terrific book that’s just been published, which I’m reading at the moment, by Richard James called Australia’s War with France: the Campaign in Syria and Lebanon, 1941. One passage in there struck me as summarising that relationship with the troops at the time. In it he said, ‘The 7th Division headquarters was established in a monastery at Nazareth overlooking the fertile plains shimmering in the blue haze of the summer heat. The men camped for several pleasant days among orange groves and gum trees. They enjoyed hospitality from the surrounding Jewish settlements.’ In Albert Moore’s recollection, each night the troops flocked to the communes, or kibbutzim, until the CO felt that it was too good. So he set up a ballot system to rotate leave to the kibbutzim where the Australians, as it says in the book, ‘feasted on poultry and farm produce and drank iced milk, the local libation of choice.’ In the book, James mentions that the Jewish way of life made a favourable impression on the men. He says, ‘Their fine physique and comely appearance, their willingness to do their share of manual labour, their charming family life, and their softly murmured shaloms.’ ‘It was a wonderful relationship we had,’ remembered Keith Norrish, one of the veterans. The Australian soldiers took up a collection in thanks for the way they had been treated and bought a player piano with a silver plaque and gave it to the settlement kibbutz that they had enjoyed such wonderful times with. That reassures me of the fact that my grandfathers were looked after. It was pretty much the last time we heard from my grandfather on my father’s side, who went on to fight in the Far East. He was captured in Java and ended up on the Burma-Thai railway. It is some comfort to the family to know that he was looked after before that hellish experience.
Serving in that campaign with the Australians was Moshe Dayan, who was a scout for the 2/14th Battalion advance party that went in. It was a unit of the 21st Brigade under Jack Stevens and part of the 7th Division that my grandfather was in. In that advance party, he went forward with Lieutenant Jim Kyffin and Lieutenant William Allan to the town of Iskadrun, and there he suffered the injury that left him with the famous eye patch. Using a machine gun from a roof of a police station he raised his binoculars to see where fire from the enemy was coming from and a round hit straight into the binoculars and destroyed his eye, and he was out of action.
He and Kyffin fought extremely bravely in that contact and in that battle, and Kyffin was awarded the Military Cross for his own actions in that battle. Kyffin later on lost sight in his eye in a wound he received later at Jezzine—quite a coincidence. Kyffin and Moshe Dayan were very close friends and kept in constant contact until Kyffin’s death in 1976. That was also the campaign in which Roden Cutler earned his Victoria Cross.
Those experiences in World War II were deeply affecting for the general Australian attitude. At the time, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al Husseini, was in Germany helping to organise the genocide of the Jewish people of Europe and looking to, hopefully, repeat that effort against the Jewish community of Palestine. He helped recruit many soldiers into SS units for the Germans. So the comparison with those attitudes was, I think, a big factor in the way that our troops were looked after. It was a big factor in the attitudes of Doc Evatt and Ben Chifley after the war in very actively pursuing and achieving acceptance of the partition plan that led to the creation of the state of Israel. Doc Evatt’s efforts, in particular, were enormous at that time and in the subsequent battles of recognising Israel and admitting Israel to the UN. Those things were not supported at the time across the entire political spectrum because they were contrary to British policy. Thankfully, we later moved on to a very solid bipartisan approach to these issues, as we still have today.
So this is a bond formed in blood. It is a bond that is growing today with the wonderful technological achievements of the state of Israel in renewable energy and technology in general. We now have an MOU with them, which has been a long time coming. We obviously are going to benefit from learnings in those technologies as well as advances that have been made in water efficiency and farming. I’m pleased to have been in Israel in the capacities of defence and of agricultural and broader technologies. It’s a relationship that will continue to grow.
Obviously, both sides of this House will work as hard as we can with the peoples of that area to move to a two-state solution to make sure that the people of Israel and the Palestinians can live in peace and harmony in the years ahead. We owe them nothing less given the experiences that I’ve outlined, which have been forged in blood. I look forward to making my own contribution in whatever way I can. I thank the member for his motion.
I rise today to support the motion the honourable member for Fadden has put forward in this chamber today. The state of Israel has strong supporters and long friends in the member for Fadden and the member for Eden-Monaro. Listening to both their contributions I thought that for anyone who wants to know the historical links between Israel and Australia, particularly through the AIF, listening to those two speeches would be a good start. I thank the members for their contributions and I also note that the member for Fadden acknowledged the motion moved by the member for Isaacs 10 years ago. The motion was as heartfelt then, 10 years ago, as the member for Fadden’s motion is now.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel, the home for the Jewish people. Since 1948 Israel has flourished and become one of the powerhouses of emerging technology, democracy and prosperity. As the only democracy in the Middle East, the nation of Israel is one steeped in institutions that support the individual, and that is based on the rule of law and equal rights for its people. In an ever-changing world, Israel has shown how a nation can harness uncertainty and embrace the market and the innate worth of the individual.
The modern state of Israel has come as a result of the immense suffering, at the hands of the Nazi regime, of the Jewish people during the 1930s and 1940s. This year also marks the 80th anniversary of the Evian Conference. This conference was convened by President Roosevelt in July 1938 in France to discuss the plight of Jewish refugees fleeing from persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime in Germany. The conference was a precursor to the creation of the state of Israel after World War II. Unfortunately, our government at the time, during the early stages of the Nazi persecution, was unaware of the extent of the plight of the Jewish people. This is a dark part of our history and one that is remembered at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem with the words of the then Minister for Trade and Customs, Lieutenant Colonel White. I will not repeat those words, as they were mentioned in the motion put forward by the member of Fadden, but those words show our past. The then minister for trade, Colonel T W White, declined to assist, noting Australia was a young nation and wary of giving ‘undue privileges’ to ‘one particular class of non-British subjects without injustices to others’. The member for Fadden gave us good insight into the message that Colonel T W White delivered. These are past indiscretions that this House today has the chance to amend. It is one part of our history that should be corrected.
On the night of 9 November and long into the morning of 10 November in 1938, the Nazis torched synagogues, vandalised Jewish homes and businesses, and killed nearly 100 Jews. Although Jews had been suppressed by Hitler’s policies since 1933, it was the actions of the Nazis on this date that marked a significant turn to violence. It was only after this, the ‘Night of Broken Glass’, that the Australian government—rightly—reassessed its policy to help the Jewish people of Germany by admitting 15,000 refugees over three years, rather than the quota of 1,800 per year used previously.
The Australian government and many other nations around the world failed the Jewish people. It failed to do more to fully protect the Jewish people from persecution. In years to come, an estimated six million Jewish people would be killed during the Holocaust. This number was exacerbated by the Australian government and other governments around the world being naive to the extent of the persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime.
In this great place and in our strong democracy we have the opportunity to right the wrongs of our past. As the member for Fadden noted, we can do that by having this House—the house that represents all political parties of Australia and all Australians—issue an apology to the Jewish people for the indifference demonstrated by the Australian parliament in 1938. If this motion is supported by the House, the parliamentary apology will be presented to the Yad Vashem in this significant anniversary year. We will also request to have our apology displayed alongside Lieutenant Colonel White’s 1938 statement issued on behalf of the Australian government. War is an atrocity, but the atrocities visited upon the Jewish people by the Nazi regime must be set right. I support this motion by the member for Fadden.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel. I congratulate Israel and its citizens on this momentous milestone. Australia is not merely an ally of Israel; it is a friend. This is a friendship that has stood the test of time, through the upheavals of our political cycles here in Australia and through the ever-changing diplomatic and political conditions of the world in which we live.
Through all of this change I’ve been proud to see successive Australian governments, Labor and Liberal, supporting the state of Israel, and we will continue to provide this support. Clearly, we have learnt from mistakes in our past. In the dark months before the outbreak of World War II, Australia, like many Western countries, failed Jewish refugees seeking to flee Nazi Germany and other parts of Europe. At the Evian Conference in France, in 1938, our delegate, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas White, declared on Australia’s behalf:
… as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one …
This deplorable sentiment was soon replaced with heartfelt compassion. Having learnt of the horror of the Holocaust in the postwar period, Australians overwhelmingly welcomed survivors coming to our shores. Indeed, while the Australian Jewish community dates back to the beginning of European settlement and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, by far the largest number of Jewish immigrants arrived after the end of the Second World War. The first boat of postwar Jewish refugees docked in Sydney Harbour in November 1946, with nearly everybody aboard survivors of the Holocaust.
The following year, on 29 November 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations voted 33 votes to 13 in favour of the establishment of the state of Israel. And in 1949 the Chifley Labor government ensured that Australia was among the first nations to formally recognise the newborn state of Israel. Labor’s own Doc Evatt presided over this historic vote, in May 1949, that admitted Israel as the 59th member of the United Nations. I’m always moved when I recall the comments of Abba Eban, who, in acknowledging the Australian government’s contribution of the recognition of Israel, declared:
… the warmth and eloquence with which you welcomed Israel into the family of nations have earned for you the undying gratitude of our people.
It’s important to remember that while the Jewish people’s claim to Palestine was established long before the United Nations was even dreamed of, with the passing of resolution 181 the community of nations made a clear, unequivocal and irrevocable statement of Israel’s right to exist under international law. I’m deeply proud that Australia has important historic links to the creation of the state of Israel and I’m equally proud of the enduring friendship our nation has built with Israel in the nearly 70 years since its establishment.
Like many friendships that extend back over generations, Israel and Australia do not agree on everything, but differences of opinion cannot shake the rock-solid foundations of our friendship or of our commitment to each other. I commend and congratulate Israel on its achievements and successes of the past 70 years and repeat Australia’s commitment to the existence of the state of Israel as well as Australia’s ongoing support for the peaceful establishment of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Despite the enormous challenges Israel has faced since before its founding, it not only has survived but also is now a thriving nation of over eight million people. It is home to a rich history of cultures, and champions many of the freedoms lacking in other parts of the Middle East. In the words of David Harris, an international champion of Israel who is currently visiting Australia:
… Israelis have never succumbed to a fortress mentality, never abandoned their deep yearning for peace with their neighbors or willingness to take unprecedented risks to achieve that peace …
I, like many Australians, will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel on 14 May. The story of Israel is one of success against enormous odds, a story many Australians can relate to. I wish the state of Israel the very best on the 70th anniversary of its modern rebirth. I am looking forward to May when I say to the people of Israel and those celebrating in Australia, ‘Yom Ha’atzmaut sameach; happy Independence Day.’ I thank the member for Fadden for his motion.
I commence by also thanking the member for Fadden for bringing this motion forward for the parliament to consider, because there is never enough opportunity to stand in this place and restate our commitment and support to—as the preceding member referred to in his speech—not just an ally but a friend. I share that sentiment resolutely. Today we acknowledge the 70th anniversary of the rebirth of the modern state of Israel and also the 80th anniversary of the conference at Evian-les-Bains on the plight of the Jewish people and refugees in the lead-up to the Second World War.
One of the things I’m most proud of about the Goldstein electorate is not just that it is named after a woman and a suffragette—a Jewish one, at that—but that it is one of Melbourne’s and Australia’s largest Jewish communities, because of the migration waves of South African and Russian Jewish people particularly towards the northern parts of the electorate as well as many other people of European Jewry in parts of Brighton. The Jewish community enriches the Goldstein community as well as Melbourne and Australia. Every day I’m reminded of that in engaging with the Jewish community, who are full participants in our community and support each other. Only last week I was at the UIA dinner in Melbourne with Dennis Prager from the United States, a radio talk show host who’d come out to speak at the event to celebrate the way Jewish people support each other as well as the communities that surround them.
Our need to support them in return is critical. As the previous speaker noted, Israel is not just an ally of Australia; like the United States, it is a friend. It’s an enduring friendship which we should all be proud of. Our relationship with Israel is built very much and clearly on strong foundations of mutual shared values, our mutual commitment to democracy around the world and within our own countries. It’s a commitment built on anchoring the rights of the individual to be free to pursue their life, their opportunities and their enterprise, and a commitment to human rights and progress as the foundations of our nations and what we aspire to achieve together.
We know the rich history of Israel and its modern state. It is a nation that has taken sand and tradition and turned it into a modern state of culture, progress and economic opportunity and is a beacon for the light of the world. The people of Israel should be enormously proud of what they have achieved and what they have succeeded in delivering together. But we should never lose sight of the fact that there are always those with causes who want to delegitimise the state of Israel in its current form. We see this emerge in our country and others, around boycott divestments, sanction programs, and political movements and efforts to create moral equivalence about the state of Israel and its place in the world. I want to make it clear that there is no moral equivalence in my mind. There is no preparedness to turn a blind eye and to suggest that we should not truly value the important role of Israel as the home state of the Jewish people.
Particularly I want to stand up and speak out always against the efforts to delegitimise the state of Israel through the United Nations, where some countries want not just to continue the stigmatisation of the Jewish people but to sever their connection to their homeland. We have seen this in resolutions, particularly in the past couple of years, to try to sever the connection between the Jewish people and the Temple Mount. The tragedy of the holocaust, of course, was a human genocide—there were millions of people who died, were displaced and were treated in the most appalling conditions. But we should never underestimate that part of the objective of the holocaust was not just a human genocide but a cultural genocide as well. When we see international bodies moving motions or resolutions to try to continue to sever those relationships between culture and tradition, and homeland and state, we continue that cultural genocide. We must stand proud and we must stand clear against these efforts. We must do it in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the rebirth of the state of Israel.
I rise to support the motion presented by the member for Fadden and to thank him for raising in the parliament today this important and significant event: the 70th anniversary of the creation of the modern state of Israel. As we heard, it was David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, who publicly read the declaration of independence of Israel in 14 May 1948. We know that Israel is counting down to this special day on 14 May this year, with Israeli culture minister, Miri Regev, recently revealing a series of ongoing events, beginning with the Independence Day ceremony on the Wednesday and ending on Saturday evening. This is 70 hours of Israeli festivity that will bring citizens together across the country in varied and joyous events held under the tagline ‘a legacy of innovation’. This is drawing upon Israel’s successes as the start-up nation and recognising the cutting edge technology which is developed locally. In announcing the celebrations, the minister said that the Israeli society is creative, looks to the future, thinks outside the box and is a trailblazer in research, medicine and agriculture, thereby providing a vital contribution to all humanity, which I couldn’t support more.
Israel and Australia, as we know, have had warm relations and strong economic ties due to our strong people-to-people links and our commercial relationships for many decades. The trade between our two nations is worth around $1.2 billion, and we continue to explore partnerships to strengthen our economic ties to this day. Israel is a progressive, modern and forward-thinking state, and our two countries share not only the same values but also a close bond. We cooperate internationally with Israel in many fields, including international development assistance. Importantly, this includes Australia’s international development assistance in Gaza in the West Bank, which supports human development, institution building and economic growth, which is so critical for peace in the region.
I rise also today to place on my record my strong support of a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Former Labor leader HV ‘Doc’ Evatt, as President of the United Nations General Assembly from 1948 to 1949, was prominent in the negotiations that led to the creation of Israel. He wrote in his memoirs: ‘I regard the establishment of Israel as a great victory of the United Nations.’
It was only last year that I had the pleasure of visiting Israel alongside a delegation with other new members of this place. It was an honour to visit and be guided by experts through a series of in-depth meetings alongside parliamentary colleagues, officials, academics, union and community leaders, and other Israeli and Palestinian representatives. The trip coincided with the 100th anniversary since British politician Arthur Balfour, later Lord Balfour, presented a declaration of the British government stating the case for the Jewish homeland.
2017 was also the 90th anniversary of the Zionist Federation of Australia, and I’d like to acknowledge the ZFA president, Dr Danny Lamm, the secretary, Mr Sam Tatarka, and my good friend the President of the State Zionist Council of Queensland, Mr Tony Leverton, who are all hardworking and dedicated members of the federation.
However, as is well known, the creation of the state of Israel is a story long filled with horrors and travesties inflicted upon Jewish people. What is also written in the history books is that Australia could have done more during these tumultuous times for Jewish people. As mentioned by the member for Fadden, whilst our country initially offered quotas of just 1,800 places for refugees, this was later increased to 15,000 refugees over three years. As we know, it’s estimated that six million Jews and millions of others died during the Holocaust. Had the world acted sooner to more fully protect the Jewish people, this number could have been far lower.
The SPEAKER: Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for a later hour this day.
This was a long read, but for anyone who is interested you can read about the very long association Israel and Australia have here http://www.ecaj.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/pictorial_history.pdf