MPs Find Trip to Israel “Life-changing”

May 21, 2013 by Michelle Coleman
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A parliamentary delegation recently returned from Israel has unanimously agreed that the trip was “life changing,” at an event hosted by the Zionist Council of Victoria.

The Victorian Labor Party delegates travelled to Israel in early April as guests of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).

Parliamentarians meet President Shimon Peres (seated right)

Parliamentarians meet President Shimon Peres (seated right)

 

The group of 11 Parliamentarians included Marsha Thomson, Member for Footscray, James Merlino, Deputy Leader of the Opposition and Member for Monbulk, Frank McGuire, Member for Broadmeadows, Telmo Languiller, Member for Derrimut, Judith Graley, Member for Narre Warren South, Martin Foley, Member for Albert Park, Janice Munt MP and Xavier Williams. The first six of these MPs shared their newly gained insights about Israel with an audience of approximately 100 at Beth Weizmann last night, at a function hosted by the Zionist Council of Victoria.

James Merlino MP emphasised how emotional the trip to Israel was for him, particularly when visiting Yad Vashem and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  He was struck by the beauty of Jerusalem and said that he had learned much from Israel about the great value it places on education.

“I left absolutely inspired… The story of Israel is a triumph of the human spirit. You cannot really understand Israel unless you’ve been there,” he concluded.

Martin Foley MP spoke of Israel sharing with Australia the same values of a multicultural society, but said that there was still work to be done in terms of building peace. He also took the opportunity to reiterate that “the Labor Party is well and truly a friend of Israel,” but acknowledged that the Party needed to demonstrate this more clearly and consistently.

ZCV President Sam Tatarka with Marsha Thomson MP and James Merlino MP

ZCV President Sam Tatarka with Marsha Thomson MP and James Merlino MP

Judith Graley spoke on the theme of gratitude and generosity in Israel, stating that she had been “overwhelmed” by the generosity of the people of Israel, and the strong sense of hope in the country.

“In-built somewhere in Israeli society is the capacity within the systems and within the people to give back, and that’s something we can learn from here in Australia,” she added. Overall, the Minister said the trip had helped her to contextualise the way she saw Israel in the world today.

Telmo Languiller MP acknowledged that he had in the past not seen eye to eye with his father, who was a strong supporter of Israel. Having visited Israel, he now saw matters in a different light, particularly relating to freedom, the rule of law, democracy and civil rights.

“The important thing for us to recognise is that the struggles you confront in Israel are struggles for humanity,” he said.

Frank McGuire MP began his talk by saying that nowhere is William Faulkner’s quote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” more true than in Israel. Aside from the emotion he felt at Yad Vashem, Christian religious sites and when touching bullet holes in a wall at a Sderot school, the MP was very interested in the investments in human capital that Israel has made.

“It was inspiring to see what one nation can do,” he said.

The Parliamentary delegation with representatives of the ZCV and Aliyah department, and new olim about to head to Israel.

The Parliamentary delegation with representatives of the ZCV and Aliyah department, and new olim about to head to Israel.

The final speaker was Marsha Thomson MP, who had been instrumental in planning the trip’s itinerary. “It had to be more than a geo-political tour… because Israel is so much more than that… We wanted to experience as much of Israel as possible,” she said.

The highlight for her was their meeting with Shimon Peres, “a world statesman by any standards”.

The parliamentary delegation also visited the Technion, Hadassah Hospital, the Knesset, the Weizmann Institute, the Bat Sheva Dance Company, commemorated Yom Hashoah at Yad Vashem, met journalists from the Jerusalem Post, celebrated Shabbat dinners with new immigrant families and even rode on camels.

Dr Danny Lamm, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, delivered the vote of thanks, telling the politicians, “Each of you managed to touch a different subject and strike a chord with all of us”.

Before leaving the Members of Parliament presented mezuzahs to a number of community members who are making aliyah to Israel over the next few months.

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