Zionist Federation of Australia

21 Nov 2019
Prime Minister

PRIME MINISTER: Well friends, Jeremy, thank you for those incredibly kind words.

Before I make some other acknowledgements, can I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land of the Gadigal people, their Elders past, present and future and can I thank you for your acknowledgement earlier of them and their incredible place in our great national life.

Can I acknowledge also, as is always my habit, to acknowledge any veterans or serving members of the Australian Defence Forces and say thank you for your incredible service.

Your Excellency Mark Sofer, Ambassador to Australia from Israel, to Jeremy Leibler to Richard Balkin, to Gusti, thank you so much for your kind words and making such a special effort to travel this incredibly long way to be here with us tonight.

To Amira Aharonovich, Director-General of the Jewish agency to Israel, to my parliamentary colleagues who are here, to Dave Sharma, the local member, and a wonderful and great friend of the Jewish community not just here but all around the world and acknowledging given his outstanding service as Australia's Ambassador.

My great friends who have come a long way. It's great to see Solly and Mrs Lew here tonight, thank you so much for coming up and to Mark who's here and to John and everyone and Stephen, it's quite an honour for them to come along tonight.

I'm a bit overwhelmed particularly by you making that effort and I thank you very, very much.

Josh sends his apologies, he can't be here tonight. That's the only apology I'm aware he's giving for tonight. He will take up other matters. He wishes he could be. He's home with Amy and the kids and he's been working hard so I gave him a leave pass to go home tonight. But I know he would very much like to be here.

Gabrielle, who is here with us and Reverend Nile who is here as well who's here, a great friend of Israel, as well. It's wonderful to have you here with us.

You try and do things a little bit better. My father, as I've shared, I remember at Stephen’s house some time ago, he was the former mayor of Waverley and had a lot to do with the establishment of Moriah College.

Now, I could say tonight it's great to be here at the Sydney Boy's High School reunion to many of you, but he was made and honoured by the Jewish community in Waverley many, many years ago and for you to honour me tonight is very special.

It means a lot to me and it meant a lot to my father who is under the care of the wonderful staff at the Royal hospital not far from here at this moment. He hasn't been well for some time and he's getting such wonderful care, and when I learned from my brother that's where he was going to be looked after I smiled because I know how much he's loved within the Jewish community here in Sydney and he's in great, great hands.

I'm also very humbled to follow my predecessors from both sides of politics.

From Bob Hawke whom we lost only this year, to John Howard, an absolutely staunch friend of Israel and from who I've taken so many lessons and who has instructed me so much in my own [inaudible] in this area and, of course, Julia Gillard as well and you've honoured her, and it is a privilege to follow her in this way.

The rollcall of recipients points to an unshakeable nature of the relationship that exists between Australia and Israel.

Israel is the polaris star above the cut and thrust of the things that we deal with on a daily basis. It's a beacon of democracy. A country governed by the rule of law with a free press infused with a multicultural character and aligned with our great ally, the United States.

Not too many of them in that part of the world.

Like us, Israel grapples with its arid natural environment, an ancient land. And seeks to build a strong economy - and is very successful at it - based on research and collaboration and a highly skilled citizenry.

Friendships have ebbs and flows, but the friendship between Australia and Israel has not had ebbs and flows; it's been a steady course of endearment.

I'm mindful we're celebrating that 70-year anniversary and it's an appropriate time to reflect on our friendship particularly tonight and in reflecting we go back to the terrible days of World War II.

There was no nation of Israel, instead broken and scarred Jewish people were scattered around the world and the horror on show was seared in our consciousness.

It was in this setting that Australia chaired the 1947 UN committee that voted in favour of dividing the territory of mandated Palestine.

That same year we became the first country to cast a vote in support of the partition plan as we've been reminded tonight.

With the benefit of hindsight as I remarked on the 70th anniversary it was not an obvious choice to make at the time.

Today it is, but at the time, no. These things are rarely simple at the time, but Australia lifted up thine eyes and saw a nation which in the words of the then Prime Minister "could be a force of special value in the world community".

We know that to be true.

At a global level - and I know it to be true at the local community level, as well.

Two years later in 1949, Australia officially recognised the new state of Israel and presided over the vote which formally committed Israel to the UN.

We are proud of what we did then and we remain so proud today.

We stood up when it mattered then and now.

Israel can always depend on Australia.

We believe in the nation of Israel.

We believe in its right to exist in peace, within secure internationally recognised borders, and we will say so for as long as we have breath.

And we continue to advocate for a peaceful future for the region which is what Israel so desperately desires.

To this end we have a long-standing commitment to UN peacekeeping operations.

One example being the UN truce supervision organisation. We participated in the UNTSO since 1956, our longest commitment to any operation now, we have 13 ADF personnel there right now.

We're also taking a strong stand against the targeting of Israel and the UN General Assembly, as we were saying before.

The UN was born out of the horrors of World War II, born out of an ethos of ‘never again’, but all too often an institution born in the same way, that's supposed to do so much good has allowed anti-Semitism to seep into its deliberations, all under the language of human rights; and we're not buying that, my government is not going to buy that.

Our government is not going to buy that.

And this is why, because we know the character of our friend Israel and we will defend it.

We stand with our friends and under this government, that is what will occur.

We've set up a trade and defence office in West Jerusalem to deepen ties on trade, defence industries, investment and innovation.

Our bilateral trade is now more than $1.3 billion a year and we are now collaborating in areas ranging from food and water security, to science and technology, and clean energy.

We're working with our Jewish friends in the critical area of water management and Israel has virtually drought-proofed its cities and I'm delighted the NSW Government recently signed an agreement on water cooperation with Israel's minister of natural infrastructure, energy and water.

We're all learning through each other. One area where we stand together in particular is standing against extremism, in all of its forms.

In March, I spoke at the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Melbourne.

It was just a few days after the horrific attacks in Christchurch; and I took the opportunity to speak about the nature of extremism, because I knew it was something the audience knew too much about, and in too personal a way.

And I said that extremism is an inability to tolerate difference.

I said we can disagree, but we must learn to disagree better.

To feel threatened by those who don't share one's world view, that's what it is, and it takes many forms.

It can be religious, it can be secular, it can be political and, sadly, we live in a world where this inability to tolerate difference is becoming more prevalent and there have been attacks on mosques and Islamic cultural centres in New Zealand, Canada and Afghanistan and on churches in Sri Lanka, Egypt and the Philippines just to give a few of the many examples, and I know that grieves the Jewish community as much as it does the attacks that occur on the temples and, of course, a new round of the age-old scourge of anti-Semitism has found expression in attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh, in San Diego, Copenhagen, in Harlem, a Jewish museum in Brussels, a Jewish supermarket in Paris and there are too many more places.

And sadly, we see and hear of anti-Semitic instances occurring in our communities. We can't pretend it's not happening here. It is. You know better than I do.

We've seen Swastikas daubed across political material, anti-Semitic graffiti scrawled on a Jewish-owned cafe and reports of children being harassed because they are Jewish.

I know what my Jewish colleagues faced in the last election and on a daily basis, it would, seem now.

I regularly get messages from Josh when he shares with me the things that are happening in the community, in the Jewish community and in many cases directly to him and colleagues like Julian Leeser here in NSW.

It is shameful, absolutely shameful. These incidents, they just have no place in Australia. They are so foreign.

It's like the country just wants to eject it out of its system, but yet it persists; and that's why we must remain so vigilant about these things.

We can't be casual about these things.

We can't overlook it or just pretend.

We can't mistake the ignoring of these things with grace, because they're two different things.

Grace is what I've so often seen in the Jewish community.

The responsibility we have as Australians, first, is to maintain the standards that we set and apply them in these areas.

I said in March, an attack on one faith is an attack on all. An attack on innocence and peace, is an attack on us all who love peace and innocence.

That's why after Christchurch we expanded our Safer Communities Fund in priorities of religious schools and places of worship.

It's why we have continued throughout this program some $70 million grants in 2016 and we're adding another $58 million to that program over the next four years.

I wish that others saw our synagogues and churches and temples and mosques just simply as places of worship, which they are, places of community, places where women and men and children can just seek to find peace and solace and be better people, reflecting on themselves and how they can contribute to their communities and the welfare of others, better neighbours.

So, our pledge to keep you safe and to call out extremism in whatever shape or form it may take, whether it's on the right, whether it's on the left, whether it's religious or whether it's secular, it's ugly and it has no place here.

In Australia, I want people of faith and people of no faith to be able to live out their chosen beliefs and to safely navigate the contour of their lives as they see fit.

Throughout the history of our modern settlement we have witnessed a tremendous Jewish exceptionalism in our country and I often speak of my ancestors who arrived here on the first and second fleets, not by choice. 

But they weren't alone, because on the First Fleet were 12 of the finest Jewish colleagues. In time, they built a Jewish community that added something absolutely rich to our country.

During the Great War, 200 Jewish Diggers lost their lives fighting for Australia and another commanded our forces. After the Second World War, Australia offered a home to more holocaust survivors per capita than any nation other than Israel. So proud of that. 

Jewish Australians make up less than half a percent of our population, but they have made a remarkable contribution to our national life.

The roll call  - Sir John Monash, Sir Isaac Isaacs, Sir Zelman Cowen, Sir Frank Lowy, John Gandel Governor Linda Dessau, the others I've mentioned here – Mark, Solly and everyone - thousands more who in their own way have sought to do mitzvot and be a light unto the nations.

Jewish people have served in the most senior positions ranging from Governor-General, Chief Justice, Commander of the Australian Corps to the Head of State and now Federal Treasurer, and there's only one high office that a Jewish Australian has not held, but Josh says he knows a way to fix that. You really should have come, Josh.

Jewish Australians can be so proud of men like Josh and Julian, my colleagues who embody so much of what our country can be, and more broadly the Jewish community is the most important link that we all have with Israel.

It's where my relationship with Israel began, with my Jewish mates who I went to school with, who I played footy with, who I spent time with and enjoyed very, very much. It has long underpinned the partnership and it will continue to.

So I'm very pleased that the Israeli president Reuven Rivlin has also said he will visit Australia next year and we look forward to welcoming him and this will be the first visit by an Israeli head of state in 15 years, and we're very much looking forward to welcoming him and I am very much looking forward to take the many invitations I've had to return to Israel, and I look forward to doing that as soon as I possibly can and once things are in a position where someone can issue me that invitation.

Otherwise I'll just have to get on the boat as I do!

I thank them both for the kind wishes they've sent through Jeremy tonight.

Finally, may I express my gratitude to the WZO and the ZFA, the Zionist Council of NSW for bestowing this prestigious award on me and all of your kindness for being here tonight to be part of this.

As I said, it means a great deal.

I visited Israel long before I entered Parliament and like so many, I feel that deep familiarity.

You cannot walk on that land without it sinking into you. You can't.

The bible stories I learned as a child that mean so much to me today, that my parents and grandparents read to me and lived out in their own lives.

Israel has a place in my heart, a place that deserves peace and prosperity, worthy of the faiths and cultures that have grown out of our Holy Land.

In accepting this award, I see it as another manifestation of the friendship between Australia and Israel.

In standing true with Israel, I just see it as doing my job as an Australian Prime Minister.

That's what I believe is expected of an Australian Prime Minister and it is my great thrill to be able to perform that role, my great personal thrill, and so it's nice to get an award for doing your job, but what it really is about I think is a celebration particularly of my role as Prime Minister of the tremendous relationship there is between the two countries, and that will remain.

We are a steadfast friend, since its modern creation, to Israel, and our commitment remains as firm today as it was 70 years ago, if not deeper and stronger.

Thank you so much.