Robin Margo Named Chairman of the New Israel Fund Australia
Robin Margo S.C., a former Rhodes Scholar and the immediate past president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, has been named as the inaugural chair of the New Israel Fund’s Australian branch.The new organisation, to be officially launched in June, has issued a media release. J-Wire publishes it in full…
Robin Margo, a Sydney-based barrister, has served in several leadership positions within the Jewish community, most notably as president of the New South Wales Jewish community from 2008-2010.
He remains actively involved in the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the Council for Jewish Community Security (NSW) and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the roof body of Australian Jewry.
He also acted for Jeremy Jones, past president of the ECAJ, in a long running legal battle against Holocaust denier Fredrick Töben.
The NSW Government awarded Mr Margo its Community Service Volunteer Award for 2010 in recognition of his role in strengthening understanding and promoting mutual trust between the NSW Jewish community and diverse ethnic, cultural and faith communities in NSW, especially Muslim communities.
As a student leader in South Africa, Mr Margo was an active opponent of Apartheid, and was denied a passport for many years. He was eventually allowed to migrate to Australia in 1977.
“NIF strives to promote the vision of Zionism that is contained, indeed promised, in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, namely ‘equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex’,” said Mr Margo.
“NIF supports a Jewish democratic state and pursues those Zionist ideals by working to increase social justice in Israeli society. We have been encouraged by the way NIF’s values seem to resonate with many in the Australian Jewish community, including many of its younger members. They are similar after all to what we all wish for Australia.”
Mr Margo’s deputy is Melbourne-based Ric Benjamin, the immediate past president of Jewish Aid Australia, which was founded in 1994 in response to the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda, to mobilise the Australian Jewish community in the pursuit of humanitarian relief, poverty alleviation and social justice for disadvantaged communities in Australia and overseas.
Mr Benjamin, JAA’s president for 11 years, stepped down in 2009, and is now CEO of VicRelief Foodbank, an independent charity that delivers food to people experiencing hardship through a network of more than 480 registered community organisations.
He is also a former president of the Australian Zionist Youth Council. “As a Jew and a Zionist I am proud of the principles of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (healing the world) that are involved in my humanitarian work at Foodbank. To me, NIF Australia’s support of welfare agencies in Israel is a natural extension of the way I judge the strength of any society – by the value it places on supporting the most vulnerable in the community.”
Also on the NIF Australia board are Mandi Katz, Irving Wallach and Liam Getreu.
Mandi Katz is a former Victorian chair of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students. A former lawyer, she now works in financial services and has been active in Jewish women’s issues. Her husband, Ashley Browne, is a former editor of the Australian Jewish News. They have three teenage children, who attend Jewish schools in Melbourne.
Irving Wallach, the son of Holocaust survivors, is a former head of Betar Zionist youth movement and former chair of the Zionist Youth Council of NSW. During his student years he fought against the anti-Israel campaigns of the Australian Union of Students.
He has also served as National Secretary of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, Secretary-General of the World Union of Jewish Students in London, board member of Mount Sinai College, board member of Moriah College, and as a Deputy, Honorary Secretary, and Executive Member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. A barrister, he is married to Ronni Kahn, the founder of Oz Harvest, and has a daughter.
Liam Getreu is the immediate past president of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students and will provide a link with young people supportive of NIF and its values. He is a graduate of Bialik College and Habonim Dror youth movement, a former president of the Australian Zionist Youth Council and was AUJS president in 2010.
The New Israel Fund works only within Israel. Over more than three decades, it has provided in excess of $US200 million to more than 800 amunatot (NGOs), all recognised by the Israeli government.
NIF is widely credited for the role it has played in building Israeli civil society, promoting rights for women, the disabled, the GLBT community and minority groups, and for furthering religious pluralism and equality and democracy for all Israelis.
Organisations funded by the NIF have made many significant contributions in helping Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, become a fairer and more just and inclusive society. The following are a few examples only out of a very long list.
One grantee, The Coalition for Affordable Housing, this year successfully lobbied for housing projects in Tel Aviv, Ashdod and Ra’anana for Israelis with limited financial means.
Another, Tebeka, successfully defended the right of Ethiopian Jews to equal participation in Israeli schools.
The leading human rights organisation in the territories, B’Tselem, seed-funded by NIF, was acknowledged recently by the Israeli government for assisting the IDF to improve its procedures for urban warfare designed to minimise civilian casualties.
The NIF’s current president is three-time Knesset member and former Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Professor Naomi Chazan, and one of its international board members is the Australian-educated academic and former US ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk.
The Australian branch will be officially launched in June by Professor Chazan, who is being brought to Australia by NIF in conjunction with the Union for Progressive Judaism.
She is scheduled to speak to Jewish audiences at Limmud Oz in Sydney on June 12 and 13 and at Glen Eira Town Hall in Melbourne on June 16, as well at various Progressive synagogues in Sydney and Melbourne.
She will also speak at the Sydney Opera House on June 19, The Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on June 14 and the University of Melbourne on June 16.
“Attempts by some in Australia and overseas to denigrate the NIF have failed to dent the enthusiasm we are seeing for the establishment of NIF in this country”, said Mr Margo.
“These attacks are ill conceived, based on selective or demonstrably incorrect facts, and ignore important context and other relevant facts,” he said.
“More fundamentally, they miss the point of what is required to realise the vision of inclusion, pluralism and diversity in the Declaration of Independence. We welcome open, rational, civil debate about the fulfillment of the Zionist vision and the strengthening of Israeli society. And we look forward to constructive discussions about these issues, which will be prompted by Naomi Chazan’s visit in June.”
NIF also has branches in America, Canada, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. NIF Australia has been in development for more than a year.
“The new Australian branch will add to the strength of our growing organisation,” said NIF’s CEO Daniel Sokatch.
“My visit there last year impressed me with the depth of commitment the Australian Jewish community has to a strong Israel and to equality and justice for all Israelis.”
Peter Wertheim, the Executive Director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry told J-Wire: “The Committee of Management will meet later this month. The NIF Australia is not on the agenda but it is likely to be discussed.”