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In Melbourne Shabbat begins Fri 3 Apr 2020 06:52 PM and ends Sat 4 Apr 2020 07:50 PM

Yom Haatzma'ut cocktail party

י"ד סיון ה' אלפים תשס"ח

Ambassador Yuval Rotem, Premier of Victoria Mr John Brumby, Leader of the Opposition Mr Ted Bailleu, Members of Parliament, Distinguished guests, Community Leaders, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Tonight we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the declaration of the State of Israel. In the last 60 years the world has witnessed the birth and evolution of a nation from a small and ambitious country to a thriving democracy and economic powerhouse.
When the State of Israel was declared, the odds against it succeeding were immense. Indeed the journey to nationhood was itself riddled with challenges and problems threatening even the declaration of the State.

What the world has witnessed is the development of a people and a nation which, against all the odds, has more than survived, it has achieved in every field of human endeavour, except sadly peace for its citizens.

As Jews living in Melbourne, Australia, we have much to be proud and thankful for. We live in a country which is almost unparalleled in terms of its support and commitment to the State of Israel.

As we all know, Australia, represented by the then External Affairs Minister, Dr Evatt, at United Nations, moved the motion to adopt resolution 181 to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish and one Arab. In the decades that followed, that support has
continued, most recently demonstrated by the bi-partisan motion of support and congratulations passed by the Federal Parliament and the commitment and principled expression of support given by Premier Brumby on behalf of the State of Victoria to Ambassador Rotem a few weeks ago at the Yom Ha’atzmaut Concert.

It is often said that the more things change, the more they stay the same. This expression can equally be applied to Israel.

There were immense threats against the Jewish people in the mandate of Palestine. There were calls for the whole of the mandate to be declared an Arab state. When partition was achieved and the State of Israel was declared, the neighbouring Arab States rejected Israel and declared war on the young nation. However, Australia stood firm in its support of Israel.

Wind forward 60 years – Israel continues to face significant threats from many of its neighbours and calls for its destruction remain. But Australia remains firmly and honourably committed to the State of Israel.

Indeed, when I speak to friends and colleagues overseas they envy the fact that our leaders share our vision for Israel.

Unfortunately we have also witnessed a spill over of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish activities from the events in the Middle East. Both sets of activities are driving anti-Semitic attacks and incidents in Australia to unprecedented heights, reaching the disturbing number of 765 incidents in 2007.

Contributing to this situation is the apparent acceptance of a certain level of anti-Semitic activity because, for example, the incident does not breach the Crimes Act and therefore, there is nothing that can be done about it.
We cannot simply focus on the Crimes Act, we have to look beyond what is merely a crime and consider what is the social environment that we are allowing to develop and what behaviours are we unintentionally encouraging. The thrill of hate grows in its hunger. Today it may be satisfied, by yelling out the car window “You F**ing Jew”, tomorrow it may be satisfied by daubing a Swastika on the wall of a synagogue, the day after that it may require assaulting a Jewish teenager with a baseball bat, but the day after that may require the firing of a gun at a Rabbi. When we reach that point, it is too late!

While this issue particularly affects the Jewish community, it extends beyond it, applying to other minority faith and migrant groups and for that matter, to Australia’s indigenous people. Regrettably, there are circles within our society where to be different is to be a target. And to be a target is to be denied the opportunity of living a complete and fulfilled life.

I believe the challenge is threefold. Firstly, to do what needs to be done to encourage acceptance and understanding of diversity and difference. Secondly to track and study hate crimes and incidents. Finally government must demonstrate that it is prepared to crack down hard on the purveyors of hate. Only such a blend of education, research and punishment of unacceptable behaviour will facilitate increased social harmony.
I am pleased to say that some work has already been done in this regard. The Premier’s Multifaith Leaders Forum and subsequent workshops are designed to encourage acceptance and understanding. However, this work must be extended beyond those already engaged in multifaith work. Strategies must be developed to inculcate the sense of acceptance and respect into the very core of our culture. There is a role for schools, universities and community groups in this task. We must strive for a deep-seated cultural change, not just for a sense of “inner warmth”.

Further, Victoria Police has announced the establishment of an Intelligence Crime Desk at the Moorabbin Divisional Intelligence Unit, to work in concert with the Security Intelligence Group, to monitor and report on issues in regard to incidents and offences committed against the Jewish community. This initiative should not just be limited to the Jewish community but should be equally applied to all communities who are the targets of hate and vilification.

Coupled with these initiatives, is the need for communities such as the Jewish community to develop relationships with other faith and minority groups. Our community works very hard at developing such relationships with the Islamic community, Catholic community, Anglican Community and Koori Community – to name but a few.

But the role for government and the police is imperative. We must continue to work together to achieve the right outcome for all Victorians. We cannot afford to wait until that gun is fired.

None of these tasks are easy. They require perseverance, dedication and hard work. Inevitably there will be setbacks. But let us take inspiration from the remarkable journey of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and continue to strive, hope and pray that there will be acceptance and peace between neighbours in the Middle East and between the disparate communities in Australia.

In Koheleth from the Book of Books we read:

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; A time to kill, and a time to heal; A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to love, and a time to hate; A time of war, and a time of peace.'
On 13 September 1993 on the White House lawn, Yitzchak Rabin, the then Prime Minister of Israel said to the Palestinian people and to the world,

“Ladies and Gentlemen, the time for peace has come. “

However, that was not to be as in the years that have followed we have seen even more bloodshed and horrors. In those ensuing years, the battlefields have extended beyond the Middle East.

Countries around the world now know and experience what Israel has known and experienced its entire life. The threat, the fear, the pain and the sorrow. And Australia is not immune. Indeed we all experience on a daily basis the increasing presence of security. As a Jewish community, history tells us that we are even a greater target and as such our need for security services is even greater. This is not just the battle against anti-Semitism; it is the battle against terrorism.
On that day on the White House lawn, 2 days before the Jewish New Year, Yitzchak Rabin said, “I believe, I hope, I pray, that the new year will bring a message of redemption for all peoples: a good year for you, for all of you. A good year for Israelis and Palestinians. A good year for all the peoples of the Middle East.”
Although that was not to be in 1993, I hope and pray, as you all do that in 2008 and in the 60th year of the life of Israel, Israelis, the Arab people and the people of the world will finally find Shalom – Peace.

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