For those fortunate to attend the Australia Israel Leadership Forum Lunch today (3rd November) in Sydney, it was a real happening…. preceded for me by a few minutes listening to a Martin Place pro-Palestinian rally, with its “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” chant.
What were some of the highlights of the lunch meeting:
– The Aboriginal Elder welcoming us to the land of his people
– The impressive speech of Kevin Rudd especially considering he had just got off the plane from an overseas trip. While Barak Obama is praised for his oratorial reading off a teleprompter, Kevin Rudd spoke eloquently “freehand” with just occasional reference to notes. He described travelling around Israel, being impressed by the history and modernity, and the Christian sites. He reminded us of the Australian resonance with Beersheva. Rudd spoke of 3 major challenges – the global economy, climate change, and the battle against terrorism. At every step, Rudd spoke of the strong links between Australia and Israel – forged from its inception to now. He emphasised the bipartisan parliamentary support Israel has in Australia.
– References to Doc Evatt – Sydney recently held a dinner honouring the important legacy of Doc Evatt at the UN in the establishment of Israel – several speakers including Kevin Rudd praised Evatt’s contribution.
– Silvan Shalom, the Israeli deputy Prime Minister, spoke extremely well, emphasising security challenges. Initially the problems with terrorists and Iran were considered to be Israel’s problems alone, but these problems are now recognised to be global. Shalom emphasised the major steps that the Netanyahu government has taken towards the Palestinians; despite the current global economic woes, the Palestinian economy has increased 8% this year. Now, according to Shalom, it was up to Abbas to step up to negotiate with the Israelis.
– A surprise speech from new Liberal opposition leader, Tony Abbott. He spoke briefly but sincerely, describing backpacking around Israel. Abbott demonstrated a good understanding of the Middle East situation, and the challenges Israel faces. Climate change made an amusing foray into his ocker sounding speech – anticipated by an earlier remark that the warm temperature in the room was due to the airconditioning, not global warming. Abbott reinforced the bipartisan Australian support for Israel.
– Another welcome surprise was a heartfelt speech by Avi Dichter, former head of Shin Bet and current Kadima MK. Dichter took the opportunity of press cameras to recite in Arabic a short piece from the Koran, that hopefully will remind Arabs in the Middle East of Israel’s rightful position in the Middle East and the importance of coexistance. Dichter concluded with a powerful story of how he added a 3rd stone (from Jerusalem) to the 2 stone collection of a friend – (from Aushwitz and Massada). Jerusalem is the heart of Israel and will remain so.
The strong bonds between Australia and Israel echoed throughout the meeting, as well as the valued role of the Jewish community in the Australian fabric. The vital contribution of chairman Albert Dadon to the meeting shone through. The Israeli delegation here for this meeting of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange (the previous one was in Israel) will be impressed by the warmth and friendship. No doubt the economic, scientific and cultural exchanges will be of benefit to both countries.
A link to the website of the Australia Israel Cultural Exchange is here. It includes interesting articles and links to cultural centres in Israel and Australia.
Since this lunch forum represented the first formal interaction between Rudd and Abbott since Abbott became leader of the Federal Opposition, there was general press interest in the event, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald