An award for John Howard
Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has received the inaugural “AIJAC Award Recognising Distinguished Leadership” and spoke about the current debate in the United Nations over the debate to assign observer status to Palestine.
The former Liberal Prime Minister spoke at a function in Sydney’s Shangri-La Hotel attended by 280 supporters. He was introduced by AIJAC National Chairman Mark Leibler at the function MC’d by Barry Smorgon and attended by leading members of the Australian Jewish community together with U.S. ambassador Jeffrey Bleich and Israel’s ambassador Yuvel Rotem. The award was presented to him by Frank Lowy.
The following are excerpts from his speech…
He opened with comments about the function itself..
“It brings together many strands of my own personal and political journey. As I look around tonight and I reflect on the association that I’ve had with members of the Australian Jewish community and projecting on to the broader internstional stage my dealings with the State of Israel I am reminded that my deepest links I have with the community are personal ones”
He then reminisced about Myer Rosenblum “one of the greatest characters I’ve met” whom he said taught him “about law and about life” and about Peter Strasser “one of my very long-standing friends” and touched on his experiences in the 1950s of being served “the delights and the cuisine of the Hungarian variety” in the Strasser home as a young student. He said that he gone through university with Peter and that he “remained a very dear and a very close friend”.
He said “that to me it’s especially fitting and touching that Frank Lowy should have presented the award to me tonight”. Referring to Australia’s Jewish community he added “that the many contributions that people have made to the building of Australia since WWII – that wonderful community of people who came from war-devastated and war-torn Europe that settled in this country and made a massive contribution…of that proof Frank is a conspicuous example.”
Referring to AIJAC national chairman Mark Leibler he said that “Mark came into contact with me on the first occasion with a little bit to do with general discussions about taxation matters when I was Treasurer and Mark was wanting to put points of view about unintentioned consequences of having unintentioned laws.”
He added that the contribution made to Austarlia by the Jewish community is one of “stirling citizenship – all through our history of our country has contributed so much to the building of a better Australia. Your community has very properly and very proudly maintained its identification with the State of Israel. That to me has always been both understandable and deeply impressive. You have made a massive contribution to our country. In so many areas of life the sons and daughters of the Jewish community have scaled great heights.
John Howard told how he had made a speech in the White House when he was Prime Minister reminding the Americans of the first time Australian and American troops joined forced went into battle together in WWI, lead by an Australian Jew, the Sir John Monash.
He thanked the Jewish community “on behalf of the rest of the Australian nation” and “the journey I have travelled with so many of you over such a long period of time is the journey that has shaped me and has influenced me and it’s a journey that has revealed to me constantly the values of the Jewish people, their contribution to the moulding of our society and whenever I talk about the formative influence on our nation I always think very deliberately of the Judeo-Christian tradition because it is a combined tradition in so many ways.”
Howard’s speech moved to the Middle East…
“Tonight is not in any way an occasion for partisan politics and I have made the point of the identification of your community with both sides of politics as important. I would be failing in my duty and to you as somebody who retains a keen interest in public affairs if I didn’t say something about the current debate about the the intent to upgrade Palestine representation at the United Nations.
I admire very much the fact while we are in bipartisan mood of acknowledging and applauding the coincidence views of recently reelected President Obama and his neighbour across the border Stephen Harper, the conservative Prime Minister of Canada…both of these gentlemen have taken the view on this resolution that is coming before the General Assembly which is based on principle, based on common sense and based on understanding that if we are to achieve what we all want – peace based upon a two-State solution and that has been my view and the view of the Liberal Party for a very long time and I know it is the view of many men and women in the Australian Labor Party as well – if we are to achieve that, we will not achieve it by constantly providing incentives to the Palestinians to walk away from the negotiating table and that is basically what is involved in this current proposition before the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The only way in which lasting peace can be achieved and I know it is the heartfelt of the people of Israel and the heartfelt desire of the Jewish community in Australia and I am sure it is the heartfelt desire of millions of Palestinians as well, is by total acceptance on both sides of the right of others to exist to secure and internationally respected boundaries and until those on the Palestinian side fully accept and understand that peace cannot be achieved unless they unconditionally accept Israel’s right to exist, we are not really going to have any hope of achieving that peace.
In my opinion this resolution before the General Assembly of United Nations will make it less likely that that acceptance from groups such as Hamas and others will come rather than walk away and I fail to understand the logic of the arguments that have been advanced by some who claim that this will make peace more likely and make it more likely that meaningful negotiations can be begin in the interim. I do know from my own time as Prime Minister what efforts were made by Israel in the year 2000 to bring about a peace settlement with the Palestinians. I have not forgotten an interview I gave on 3AW in Melbourne on the eve of my going abroad to Gallipoli , then to the battlefield sites of Northern France and there on to Israel, of being asked by Neil Mitchell was it true that that I was thinking of going to visit Yasser Arafat at Ramallah. I said ‘Yes it was and he said “why are you doing that?’. And I replied that there had been peace proposals made by Ehud Barak who was then the Prime Minister of Israel and it was the view of my government and it was the view of the Israeli government that that proposal should be pursued. After I left the studio two members of the Jewish community phoned the radio station and supported my intention. I remember going to Israel and meeting Ehud Barak and being encouraged by him to go to Ramallah and to meet Yasser Arafat and his colleagues because that was the spirit in which the Israeli government was behaving at the time. The offer that was made by Barak approximated to well over 90% of what the Palestinians had been arguing that they wanted but that did not come about because in the end Arafat was unwilling, unable or whatever combination of the two to finally agree with President Clinton at Camp David in the dying days of President Clinton’s presidency and I also recall Sandy Burger who was President Clinton’s last national security adviser coming to Canberra some six months after that meeting at Camp David when every effort was made by the former American president to bring about a peace settlement Burger explained to me in detail how in the end it was the refusal of Arafat to agree to what Barak had offered that brought those peace negotiations to an end.
With that experience vividly in my mind I have always greeted with extraordinary skepticism the criticisms that have been made of the alleged intransigence of the people of Israel and the governments of Israel on this issue.
I know this is a difficult issue and I guess everybody, no matter what opinion you take, despairs of this ever achieving an outcome but it will eventually if people of goodwill continue to pursue it but if they pursue it from a position of strength and in the case of Israel that of course includes her continuing right to effectively respond in a retaliatory fashion against rocket attacks and incursions on her sovereignty and threats to the life and safety and liberty of her people.
There is goodwill throughout the world towards a settlement. It will continue to be long and difficult just as there was despair about there ever being a settlement in a place called Northern Ireland. The Middle East is a different scale and dimension and a different history. But the principle is not that different.
These are my views and the views I have had for a very long time. They are based on a belief that a two state solution is the only way fair and just outcome and if that can be achieved there is a real prospect of tranquility in that region which is so valuable to the religion and the history of many people around the world.”
He said that he admired “the political quality” of the relentless work of Dr Colin Rubenstein and his team at AIJAC.
John Howard was Australia’s 25th Prime Minister and its second-longest serving holding the office for eleven years from 1996 being re-elected in 1998, 2001 and 2004. In introducing him, AIJAC National Chairman Mark Leibler said that John Howard lead Australia “with resolve and compassion through challenging times including a nation in mourning after the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre in 2001 and the Bali bombings in 2002.” Leibler said that Howard had earned respect for taking “tough decisions” citing implementing gin control legislation. He added that “John Howard had been a champion of the Jewish State and of the Jewish people for six decades” visiting Israel in 1964, 1988 as Leader of the Opposition and in 2000 as Prime Minister and last year.”
John Howard also received a sculpture created and presented by Andrew Rogers.