I'm in Canberra today and hope to be in Parliament House when our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moves a motion congratulating the State of Israel on its 60th Anniversary. The motion is to be seconded by the Leader of the Opposition, Brendan Nelson.
Israel's achievements over the past six decades are a thing to be marvelled at; the Israeli people have built a state which sits as the only true democracy in a sea of hatred and blood. It is a nation conceived in the shadow of the Holocaust and its birth took place in the shadow of another threatened Holocaust when five Arab armies joined the local Arab population in seeking to still its birth with calls for "a momentous massacre" of Jews.
Against the odds, and at a terrible cost - the loss of 1% of its Jewish population at the time - it triumphed against murderous foes.
It exists stronger today than ever but, like all nations, it is by no means perfect. It still remains under the threat of annihilation from many of its neighbours but, even as I write, its hands are stretched out in peace to them.
One can only hope that one day its neighbours will follow its example and seek to build a peaceful society in which its citizens can prosper and that they turn away from those whose dedicate themselves to the futile aim of maintaining old hatreds. Only then, will true justice be done for all sides.
Today, is Israel's day and I am proud as an Australian and as a Jew that the country that gave my family a place of refuge so many years ago, is celebrating this wonderful milestone.
The floor of the House of Representatives was almost empty until a few minutes before midday. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd entered and within minutes the room began to fill and there was a buzz of electricity flowing through the room. Here is the text of the Prime Minister's motion for the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel:-
That the House:
(1) celebrate and commend the achievements of the State of Israel in the 60 years since its inception
(2) remember with pride and honour the important role which Australia played in the establishment of the State of Israel as both a member state of the United Nations and as an influential voice in the introduction of Resolution 181 which facilitated Israel’s statehood, and as the country which proudly became the first to cast a vote in support of Israel’s creation
(3) acknowledge the unique relationship which exists between Australia and Israel a bond highlighted by our commitment to the rights and liberty of our citizens and encouragement of cultural diversity
(4) commend the State of Israel’s commitment to democracy, the Rule of Law and pluralism
(5) reiterate Australia’s commitment to Israel’s right to exist and our ongoing support to the peaceful establishment of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue
(6) reiterate Australia’s commitment to the pursuit of peace and stability throughout the Middle East
(7) on this, the 60th Anniversary of Independence of the State of Israel, pledge our friendship, commitment and enduring support to the people of Israel as we celebrate this important occasion together.
Today the parliament of Australia notes the occasion of this year, being the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel. The story of the establishment of the state of Israel begins with the unimaginable tragedy of the Holocaust. At the Holocaust memorial at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem the words of the Australian delegate to the 1938 Evian Conference are recorded.
He said that Australia could not encourage refugee immigration because, ‘as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one’. Thankfully, later in 1938 the Australian government took the decision to admit 15,000 Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. But by the time the war began only 6,500 had reached Australia.
By war’s end, six million Jews had been murdered.
By war’s end, the international community finally began to look again in earnest at the question of a homeland for the Jewish people. Australia is proud to have played a significant part in the international process that led to the foundation of the state of Israel. Australia’s then Minister for External Affairs, Dr Evatt, was part of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine, which recommended in August 1947 the termination of the Mandate for Palestine. And he was chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee meeting on the Palestinian Question that proposed the partition of Palestine.
He strongly believed that the fundamental right of self-determination for the Jewish people and for Palestinians could only be achieved by each having their own state. The resolution that the United Nations adopted in November 1947 reflected that. It proposed the establishment of two independent states one Arab and one Jewish. And Australia was the first state in the historic vote of the international community on that resolution to cast its vote in support of the modern State of Israel.
On 14 May 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the foundation of the modern state of Israel. Prime Minister Ben Chifley, too, was closely involved in Australia’s policy towards Israel. In June 1948 he reinforced Evatt’s strong support for a two-state solution when he cabled British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and urged early recognition of Israel, saying that: Such [a] declaration would properly indicate willingness to agree in principle to the recognition of the Provisional Government of Israel, and at the same time willingness to recognise de facto the Arab authorities in actual control of Arab Sections of Palestine.
On 29 January 1949 he announced that Australia would become one of the first countries to recognise the new State of Israel, describing it as ‘a force of special value in the world community’. As President of the General Assembly Dr Evatt then presided over the historic May 1949 vote admitting Israel as the 59th member of the United Nations. On 11 May 1949 the Chifley Labor government opened an embassy in Tel Aviv. Evatt later said that, when working on the question of Israel, he wanted to ensure that the “new State of Israel, whose people had in the past done so much for humanity, would be welcomed, not merely formally but with good heart and good conscience” into the international community.
The 60 years since the establishment of Israel have been full of challenges and full of trials. Similarly, the process for the emergence of a Palestinian state has come along a torturous path. There has been too much bloodshed. But over those 60 years there has also been cause for hope.
We think today of Prime Minister Menachem Begin standing with President Jimmy Carter and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, at the White House on March 26 1979 at the signing of the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty that followed from the Camp David Accords. Prime Minister Begin used both the Hebrew and Arabic words for peace when he urged: “No more war, no more bloodshed, no more bereavement. Peace unto you. Shalom, salaam, forever.”
We can think, too, of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, shaking hands with his lifelong enemy Yasser Arafat on the lawns of the White House on September 13 1993, saying: We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes we who have attended their funerals and cannot look in the eyes of their parents we who have come from a land where parents bury their children we who have fought against you, the Palestinians we say to you, in a loud and clear voice, enough of blood and tears. Enough! All peoples of goodwill yearn for that vision to be realised. It has not been realised yet.
To borrow again from Yitzhak Rabin, a man who tragically paid the ultimate price while pursuing peace: The risks of peace are preferable by far to the grim certainties of war.
We firmly believe the establishment of an independent and economically viable Palestinian state must remain a key objective in the Middle East peace process. This is important for the future. It was important in the vision of 1947. It remains the vision today, just as our objective must be for Israel to exist within secure and internationally recognised boundaries.
Today, we in Australia support the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority towards a final status agreement by the end of 2008, as launched at the Annapolis Conference in November last year. To support the establishment of a viable and sustainable Palestinian state Australia pledged a $45 million assistance package at the donors conference for the Palestinian territories in Paris on 18 December.
Australia remains, as we have in the past, committed to an effective two-state solution. Over the past 60 years Israel has preserved its robust parliamentary democracy and has built a vibrant society and economy. If anyone wants a dictionary definition of the term ‘robust’ they should spend an afternoon in the Israeli Knesset. That is where you see the definition of ‘robust’ at work. By contrast we are a pack of pussycats in here!
Over the past 60 years governments from both sides of politics in Australia have supported our strong relationship with Israel. That relationship is strong and it is deep and it will remain so. Because we are both democracies, as democracies sometimes we will agree and sometimes we will disagree. That is in the nature of strong relationships. But the underlying friendship between us does not alter.
Australia offers our congratulations to the government and people of Israel on this the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the modern Israeli state. We acknowledge our special history and relationship and we look forward to its continued strength and development into the future.
I commend this motion to the House.
Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson responded with an equally emotional and brilliant endorsement of the motion - click here. The end result of two magnificent speeches recognising Israel's achievements in facing up to 60 years of challenge and its search for peace with its neighbours was an almost universal acceptance of the motion by members of both sides of Australian politics. The motion was passed unopposed and MPs received a standing ovation from the Public Gallery after it passed.
I was later informed that there was an abstention from Labor MP Julia Irwin who represents the Sydney western suburbs seat of Fowler and that one coalition member absented herself rather than take part in the vote because she's supposedly a "friend" of Palestine. It's interesting that some who claim to have at heart the interests of Palestinians and possibly Israelis as well would disassociate themselves from a motion supporting the peace process but that's politics!
ANNIVERSARY - PART THREE
As with most events involving Israel and the Jewish people things don't always move as smoothly as one would like. If I were to be critical of the speeches in favour of the motion I would have to admit that Mr. Rudd's opening that the "story of the establishment of the state of Israel begins with the unimaginable tragedy of the Holocaust" was factually incorrect. The story began thousands of years ago in the Land of Israel - the Holocaust was one gigantic and horrible episode in a long journey that also included the tragic dispossession and persecution of almost a million Jews from Moslem countries who played a formidable part in the establishment of the Jewish State but their significant role was rather unfortunately ignored.
The proceedings were momentarily marred by a lone demonstrator, who stood up and shrieked something about "the occupation and UN resolutions". She was promptly removed from the Public Gallery and Kevin Rudd continued his speech as if nothing had happened. The irony of that was in the timing of the interjector's outburst. It came when the PM was referring to UN Resolution 181 adopted in November 1947 proposing the establishment of two independent states one Arab and one Jewish. This was the resolution that was rejected by the Arab League and the local Arabs of Palestine when the Arabs attacked the nascent Jewish State with the slaughter of Jews as its objective. Had it been accepted, the objector would have had no reason to be in the House, the small group of protestors would not be aimlessly wandering about outside and the various groups who tried to in vain to revise history with their twisted narrative could have saved the $20,000.00 they wasted with a futile attempt to publicize a hateful cause in our national newspaper with The Nakba Advertisement.
These facts were not lost on the majority of those in the Public Gallery - Jews and non Jews alike. It was also understood by well over 100 Australian politicians who did themselves and their country proud by recognising this brave little democracy and its ongoing and courageous battle for survival in a far off part of the world.
ANNIVERSARY - PART FOUR
Later in the day, the Israeli ambassador hosted a reception for 500 people in the Parliament House Mural Hall. The PM and the Opposition Leader were in attendance as well as other Canberra identities, members of the Jewish community and many guests from many walks of life. The speeches at the reception were again warm and sincere and included a message from the iconic Israeli President Shimon Peres as well as from Israel's Ambassador to Australia, Mr. Yuval Rotem. the goodwill shown towards the Jewish State was so welcoming and totally brilliant.
ANNIVERSARY - PART FIVE
The editorial on the motion in the Australian Newspaper was outstanding. It was a brilliant response to the Nakba Advertisement while an article in its op-ed section outlined why Israel was receiving such strong bipartisan support. I had missed the opportunity to read them in the morning so when I got back to my room later in the day I opened my copy of the newspaper and carefully read both. With that done, I looked again at the offensive Nakba Advertisement on page 7 with its starkly contrasting destructive message in white print etched on a black background: a sad but incindiary narrative of obsessive hatred that spells out the real meaning of Nakba. As Professor Gil Troy of Montreal's McGill University remarked recently, "if so many people in the world did not equivocate in the face of Palestinian terror, let alone justify it, peace would have been achieved long ago."