Meet Richard Wittman of The Knesset Forum on International Relations

August 9, 2011 by Henry Benjamin
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Richard Wittman lives in a beautiful home set in idyllic surroundings in Ferntree Gully, Victoria….but for six months of the year he sits on the Knesset’s Forum on International Relations.

Richard Wittman

The 48-yr-old owner of Samson, a company which hires out construction equipment, has focused his daily activities on attempting to solve three problems facing the Jewish world…the threat of a nuclear Iran, the poor quality of Israel’s public relations and answers as to why so many Jews throughout the world are adopting an anti-Israel stance.

Wittman, who believes that his pro-Israeli work costs him around half a million dollars a year  because of  his need to employ a manager to un his business and because he pays his own costs in his never ending voyage of advocacy, spoke to J-Wire on one of his frequent visits to Melbourne.

JW: Richard, when was the Forum formed?

RW: It was formed by the late Dr Yuri Stern, a member of the Knesset in 2004. Following a hiatus period after Dr Stern’s death, it was reformed last month. I am the Director of Strategic Developments and have been with the Forum since the beginning of this year.

JW: When did you “move” to Israel? And what are  you’re your involvements?

RW: I have been going for years but I made Aliyah in December last year. I have been the Australian representative for the Kadima Party for a number of years now. I am a member of the extended executive of the World Zionist Organisation, and I am a member and vice-Chairman of the committee for The Struggle Against anti-Semitism.

JW: Which schools did you go to?

RW: I went to a number of schools in Melbourne, including Yeshiva. Between 10 and 12, I went to school in Israel.

JW: Are you married?

RW: I am married to Mazal Ayubi, an Israeli woman I met through j-date. She is very involved in the policial arena. She was head of Ariel Sharon’s political department until he had the stroke.

JW: Where do you live?

RW: Michmoret, near Netanya. My wife as I said is in politics. In Israel, the political activity is in Tel Aviv and the parliamentary activity is in Jerusalem so we work in different cities. Diplomatically, we travel to Tel Aviv or Herzliya to visit the overseas embassies. Israel did not put its foot down and insist that the embassies should be in Jerusalem…our capital.

JW: Are you paid for your work..on the Forum, with Kadima?

RW: I do everything on an honorary basis. I foot all my own bills. Israel is not income-producing…it is expense-producing. My little hobby costs me over half a million dollars a year. And almost every day I see another project on which I want to work.

JW: You were involved for many years, yet the name Richard Wittman is barely known in Australian Jewish circles. Why?

RW: I have been living in the mountains since I was 25 and it gives me the advantage that I can look at the community from the outside. I am not stuck in the middle of things and I can see what is happening objectively. I haven’t been involved for over 20 years but I have been following communal goings-on.

JW: Tell us what life is like for you with such a heavy workload. Your Forum projects plus keeping an eye on your Melbourne business.

RW: I live on adrenalin. I sleep only four hours a day. I live near one of the most beautiful beaches in Israel, I love surfing…but I can’t find time to visit the beach.

JW: Did anything specific motivate you to improve Israel’s image?

RW: The war in Gaza. I saw how bad it was going for Israel public relation’s-wise I thought something has got to be done about this and I made up mind. I was asked to join the Forum as Director of Strategic Development. I jumped at the opportunity as it fitted in with my thinking. That’s why I went to Israel…we need to improve Israel’s relations with the world. I grew up during the times of the Six Day War, the Yom Kippur War, the Entebbe rescue…Israel’s public relations were fine. But it changed.

JW: Was your family involved in the Holocaust?

RW: My late father. I prefer to think of him as a Holocaust victim and not as a survivor. For him he didn’t survive the Holocaust. It stayed with him his whole life and affected his thinking. He lost all his family. He made new family here but it wasn’t the same. The culture wasn’t the same. As a Jew from Hungary he felt he didn’t fit in. It made a great impact on me. Melbourne wasn’t his home even though he was very successful. Hungary was his home.

JW: To what do you attribute your success?

RW: I started with nothing. But I had been brought up with a work ethic based on working till you drop. My father passed that on to me. I’m almost 50 and it’s been work all the way.

JW: What stage is the Forum at now?

RW: All the work this year has been focused on setting up. The Forum itself was launched two weeks ago.

JW: Are you working with the official PR units in Israel?

RW: We are working with foreign press is Israel and we work in with all parties including Government but plan to value add to improve the country’s image.

JW: Are you restricting your personal activities to relations between Israel and Australia?

RW: No. It’s got be world-wide operation. When I was in Sydney I had dinner with Tony Blair.

JW: What is your priority at the moment?

RW: The nuclear threat from Iran. I discussed this with Tony Blair and was quite surprised how he agreed fully that it’s a problem and said that the world is not doing enough.

JW: Can you express as to how seriously you approach this topic?

RW: I see it as potentially being a second and final Holocaust. Ahmadinejad is so up front about it and the world is doing nothing. We seem to be obsessed with the Palestinian problem and not enough attention is being focused on Iran.

JW: Do you have a plan?

RW: The way to stop them is through diplomacy or financially through sanctions.

JW: What is your initial goal?

RW: We have lost a common cause. The community is splintering. The Jewish world is focused on BDS, the New Israel Fund and matters like that. I would like to get all focused on the major threat to Israel…security.

JW: How do you see the rise of anti-Israel feelings amongst Diaspora Jewry?

MW: This is a major issue for me. When I was young, the Jews were for Israel. I can’t believe Jews in America went to Obama advising home not to veto and that is crossing the line. I think the New Israel Fund crosses the line. The Palestinians have enough people on their side. I had issues with the way Israel was handling its PR and with some of its policies. What did I do? I packed my suitcase and went off to Israel and now I am being physically active in dealing with what I think is wrong. I am not going to the Australian government telling them to go against Israel. The Israeli government was elected by the people. You have to go there to fix things. I have no problem in Australia with the community discussing the issues within itself…but dirty washing has to stay inside.

JW: What can be done?

RW: We need a study to be made as to why Jews are turning against Israel.

JW: And the PR battle?

RW: The PR has been left to the Jewish communities. Israel’s public relations is not about preaching to the converted. We need professional people to go out into the wider community. Israeli parliamentarians and high profile speakers who come to Australia are preaching to the converted. We need them to reach a much wider audience. And that will be a major part of the Forum’s work.

The Knesset Forum on International Relations is officially the parliament’s platform to improve Israel’s relations with other countries and engage the world on political, economic and international development issues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

2 Responses to “Meet Richard Wittman of The Knesset Forum on International Relations”
  1. Dear Nathan,
    I thank Mr. Benjamin for his article, which helps publicize issues I believe are very important for Israel’s security.
    I Thank you for your lovely comments, it is most appreciated, I will it pass it on to my wife, Mazal who I drive crazy, as I virtually never sleep, there are so many issues and problems the Jewish people around the world. I would appreciate your input in the future in the issues I raise. see richardwittman.com and http://www.knessetforum.org

  2. Nathan Cherny says:

    Richard
    I am in awe!
    Kol Hakavod..we need more like you!

    Nathan

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