Netanyahu: meet the community
Prime Benjamin Netanyahu had his audience drawn from the Jewish communities across Australia spellbound in Sydney’s Central Synagogue.
The first Israeli prime minister to ever visit Australia since the establishment of Israel in 1948 had his audience enthralled with many saying that they had experienced a lifetime memory.
Among the VIP guests were former prime ministers John Howard and Tony Abbott, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, MPs Josh Frydenberg, Julian Lesser and Michael Danby.
The audience applauded fervently when Netanyahu opened his remarks saying: “I want to bring all of you greetings from Jerusalem, our eternal capital, never to be divided again.”
And repeated when he added: “I want to thank Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the extraordinary welcome that he and his wife Lucy have shown Sara and me and our entire delegation. There is no better friend for the State of Israel.”
Netanyahu said: “It’s an honour to be the first Israeli prime minister to visit Australia. I have to say that I hope the next trip doesn’t take another 68 years. I agree completely with Malcolm Turnbull that people-to-people contacts, that the ability to meet, see each other, hear each other, talk to one another is crucial, and for this we need a Dreamliner and I’ll say it five more times before I leave because you in Australia are used to flying in your own country for several hours. It takes four minutes to cross the State of Israel so we’re not used to it. A Dreamliner would help us acclimate.
I want to salute this Jewish community, which is unusually committed to the State of Israel, to the Jewish people. You’ve shown it time and time again, you show it here today even though I think we’ll have some problem with the Jewish community in Melbourne, but that’s for the next trip, for the next trip. They’re wonderful people and you have been stalwart champions of our alliance. Israel and Australia are two vibrant democracies. This is not something that is self-evident. Democracy has to be nourished; it has to be protected; it has to be maintained. In the 19th century, the great English writer George Eliot wrote, “There will be…” she said, “…in the van of the [Middle] East… amid the despotisms of the East… a great beacon of freedom.” A great beacon of freedom, she said prophetically. And indeed this is exactly what has happened. Israel is a beacon of freedom, of tolerance, of progress in a very dark expanse that I hope and I believe will change as many Arab countries understand that Israel is not their enemy, but their vital and indispensable ally in warding off the barbarism that threatens all of us.
There is, I think, an opening, as Malcolm and I discussed, for the first time in my lifetime, because the Arabs understand that Israel could be a key to their future. I’m not looking at reality through rose-colored glasses. I’m, I think, a realist but as a realist, I see not only challenge but opportunity that grows from this challenge. And I think that if anyone understands the hopes of the people of Israel for peace and security it is you. You have shared this hope and this dream with us day in, day out. And you have this strong bond with Israel. You have relatives and you have friends, I have friends and relatives here, believe it or not. And you have them in Israel in abundance, so I want to thank you for your consistent support over the years.
A few days ago I visited the Jewish community in Singapore. There’s a Jewish community in Singapore. And like the joke, they have two synagogues – one they go to and the one they don’t go to. An amazing community. And a few months ago, I visited Jews in Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, two Muslim countries. They sang Jewish songs in Muslim countries and that’s the kind of coexistence and tolerance that we’d like to see everywhere. Jewish customs vary but the spirit of our people is universal and there’s a question that many people ask: “Why did the Jews survive? What is the secret of their survival and their success?” Well, I had an inkling of that when I was first elected Prime Minister and I visited a small country, China. And the President of China, the leader of China at the time, Jiang Zemin, he said to me: “You know, I really admire the Jewish people.” And I said, “I really admire the Chinese people.” And he said, “Well, the Jews and the Chinese are two of the oldest peoples on Earth.” And I said, “That’s true.” And being not that experienced, I added the Indians too, but, you know, it goes back 5,000 years, in our case almost 4,000 years. And he said, “Yes, this is true.” And I said, “But there is a difference.” He said, “What’s the difference?” I said, “Well, how many Chinese are there?” He said, “Well, 1.2 billion.” And I said, “How many Indians?” He said, “About one billion.” And then I said, “How many Jews?” And he said, “I don’t know.” I said, “Well, there are about 13 million Jews at the time, 13 million Jews.” And there was absolute silence in the room, you could hear the jaws drop because that’s, you know, a suburb of Beijing. And I said, “Mr. President, isn’t it odd? We’ve been around for thousands of years; you exceed a billion and we’re only 13 million.” He said, “What happened?” And I said, “A lot of things happened.” But they boiled down to one thing. You, the Chinese, have kept China. The Indians kept India. And we, the Jewish people, lost our land and were scattered to the far corners of the Earth. And for the last 2,000 years, we’ve had one goal: To come back to our ancient homeland and reconstitute our life, build our own state, define our own future, control our own destiny.
This is the source, this is the thrust of Jewish history.
Now, by all accounts we should have disappeared, because most nations in antiquity do not exist anymore. There are exceptions, but they’re very large exceptions and very few. Most nations disappeared. Nations go through predictable cycles: they’re born, they flower, they shrivel, they die. But the Jews are different. The Jews refused to die. They’re reborn again and again and again. And throughout the centuries, our people never succumbed to their fate, no matter how large the oppression, no matter how great the oppression and the persecution. Generation after generation, Jews said, “Next year in Jerusalem. Next year in Jerusalem.” We never gave up the dream.
And finally, after 20 centuries, led by a modern Moses named Theodore Herzl – changed our history, a prophet of old reemerged and worked for a brief eight years and changed the course of the Jewish people. We came back to our land, reconstituted our sovereignty; built an army second-to-none in its courage, its ability to defend our people, its willingness to step into the breach; built an economy that is now becoming an innovation nation, an example for the entire world.
And you know, there used to be a joke when I was a young man in Israel, growing up: How do you make a small fortune in Israel? You start with a big fortune. No longer. Some big fortunes are made in Israel, because of the ingenuity of our people. And guess what? We liberated the economy and allowed the natural enterprise, the natural capabilities that are inherent in our history, in our traditions, to burst forward. So we’ve built this future and I was approached by African diplomats in the UN a few months ago. You know, I give this speech at the UN every year, but this year was different because so many of the African countries want to partake of our experiences, of our innovation, and we had an exhibit there of Israeli technology – absolutely amazing, amazing stuff. And one African leader said to me, “Can you tell me? Can you tell me the secret?” He wanted to know the secret. And I said, “You mean the secret of our success?” And he said, “I want to understand how Israel is able to do what it does.” And I said, “Look, it’s a combination of two things: a continual quest for the future with a deep regard for the past, a deep regard for our roots. It’s like a tree that has deep roots in the land and yet seeks to grow the branches all the time, reaches upward.” And it’s that combination of tradition and innovation that makes Israel what it is, and make the people of Israel what they are. And make you the community that you are.
We respect our traditions, we respect our roots, and yet we are constantly inquisitive, constantly seeking to improve the life of our people and the life of all mankind. This is what characterises the Jewish people; this is what characterises the Jewish state.
Now, I know that we are much maligned in the United Nations. I salute you, Malcolm Turnbull, and the governments of Australia who have stood up time and time again against this demonizsation, including recently. You brook no, you refuse to accept this hypocrisy. And standing up for Israel means standing up for simple truths. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have our imperfections. Which country is perfect? Well, Australia is pretty close, but none of us are perfect. But we seek all the time to improve. We seek all the time to do better. We seek to do better for all our peoples and we also want Israel to be the home of all Jews. I want every Jew in the world, every Jewish man and woman, to feel comfortable in the State of Israel.
I also think that we have a battle against those who seek to demonise our people and the resurgent anti-Semitism that we see in many parts of the world. It is something that we need to fight together. I think this is important in Europe. It’s important in America. It’s very important that President Trump took a strong stand against anti-Semitism. And it’s important that we all continue to do so in the years ahead.
So we have performed miracles, but we have performed miracles because we’re committed to our destiny. I want all of you to come to Israel. I want you to visit your friends and your families. I want you to walk the streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, hike in the Golan. By the way, the Golan will never go back to Syria. It will always be a part of the State of Israel. Spend time with our brave young soldiers. Get to know the land. See this miracle. See the Land of Israel. See the people of Israel.The State of Israel lives. The people of Israel thrive. Am Yisrael Chai.
We are part of you; you are part of us. Thank you for this warm welcome, and this year in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Turnbull in Be’er Sheva. We’ll get a horse for every one of you. Thank you very much, thank you.”
Earlier Malcolm Turnbull said: “I came here to the shule with a message, a message of absolute solidarity for the state of Israel.
I came here with a message of solidarity on behalf of the Australian Government in the wake of that UN resolution which was so regrettable. A resolution we would never support.
My Government will not support any more than the government of John Howard would, or the government of Tony Abbott would a resolution so one-sided, attributing fault only to the state of Israel. That has no contribution to make to the peace process.
It was an unfortunate resolution. We regret it and we disassociated ourselves from it in our public statements and here, right here in this shule.
You know we’ve spoken of security a lot today, both at the lunch and of course Bibi and I have spoken about that in our meetings and it is plainly simple. The first duty, as I said out our press conference, the first duty of every government, of every prime minister, every president, is the safety of the people of the nation they lead.
And so the fundamental requirement of what we hope will be a negotiated outcome between Israel and the Palestinians, a two-state solution negotiated between the parties, but the fundamental condition, the foundation of that must be the safety, the security of the state of Israel and its people.
We do deplore the efforts that de-legitimise the state of Israel. We deplore the boycott campaigns. We stand with Israel. We are a committed and a consistent friend. We have been so, from the beginning and we will always be so.
Now, I want to say however as I observed in the article that was published in the newspaper today, The Australian today – it is easy to see Israel and its situation entirely through the prism of security.
That is inevitable I suppose given the existential threat that Israel faces.
And given the miraculous success of Israel brought by the determination, the enterprise, the indefatigable courage of its people, not simply to establish the state of Israel – that a miracle in itself – but to maintain it, to continue it, to enhance it for it to succeed again and again against extraordinary odds. That has been an extraordinary achievement. Wondrous, miraculous and now we see the state of Israel leading the world in the most important technologies of the 21st century.
As I said today at the luncheon which I know many of you have been at, which we were at earlier today in the city, I said that plagiarism is the sincerest form of flattery and indeed it must be that Israel should be sincerely flattered because so many countries, including our own seek to capture some of that extraordinary innovative chutzpah which enables Israelis, in a nation, until the recent discovery of gas I might add, but until then, absolutely devoid of natural resources other than the brilliance and the enterprise of its people enabled Israel to develop that culture of innovation to lead in technology, to recognise as Bibi said today that once a nation has achieved that middle-income status, to get from there to great success and greater heights, you need to be competitive, you need to be productive and the key to that is innovation.
That is why, it is an essential part of my Government’s economic plan because I know, we all know, that is the key to our success. And it is not a theoretical thing anymore than free trade is a theoretical thing which we also strive for. All of those open markets, innovation, productivity, competitiveness – all of that enables us to deliver the greater and greater opportunities for our children and grandchildren in the years ahead.
We have so much to work on together. So much more collaboration to undertake. We stand together in the battle against terrorism. We are on the front line, each of us in our own theatres and each of us indeed in the Middle East.
We stand in the front line against terrorism, we are united by shared values, democracy, freedom, the rule of law. They tie us together and of course all of you, the extraordinary people to people links. The Jewish Australian community without who we could not imagine modern Australia. As I said today, I salute you and I thank you. You have been remarkable. You have helped us make Australia the extraordinary nation that it is. We could never have done that without the brilliance and the enterprise of the Australian Jewish community.
So, here, in the mishpocha of Wentworth, so many visitors, including we have Julian Leeser, my federal parliamentary colleague who is one of our distinguished Jewish parliamentarians.
And then coming up from mishpocha of Melbourne, we have Josh Frydenberg. We have Mark Dreyfus and of course we have Michael Danby as well. I see Richard Marles has joined us as well, also from Melbourne, so that is good.
And we have our remarkable talented Premier, Gladys Berejiklian.
We are all here to hear from you. Bibi, Prime Minister, it has been a very productive day and we have more discussions to go over the next few days. But we have a lot of work to do together.
Mark Liebler asked the question at the lunch about how important were people to people links in collaboration, in technology, in innovation. And the truth is that they are absolutely critical. There is no substitute for them and that is why this visit is so important. It has taken 70 years. Mark has been uncharacteristically passionate. But he may not be, he certainly won’t wait another 70 years. So we’ll have to increase the tempo of business. But we will be there in Beersheba in October, we will be there.
And Bibi has promised everybody a horse, so –”