Parliamentarian addresses NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Plenum

October 17, 2012 by  
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Charismatic Member of the Legislative Council Walt Secord has addressed the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies monthly plenum.

Secord is also the Deputy Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.

Secord said

Walt Secord

“Thank you for providing me with the honour of addressing the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum – the Parliament of the NSW Jewish community.

Admittedly, this is a familiar forum to me.  Almost 25 years ago, I covered the deliberations of the Board of Deputies as a journalist for the Australian Jewish News.

Over my four years – 1988 to 1991, I witnessed the different administrations of three very different, but effective presidents – Professor Graham De Vahl Davis, Mr Gerry Levy and Mr Michael Marx.

But over the years, I also got to see the great work of Isi and Mark Leibler, Yair Miller, Peter Wertheim, Stephen Rothman, David Knoll, Ron Weiser, Dr Ian Kern, Robin Margo, Albert Silver,
Josie Lacey, Ian Lacey, Robert Goot and the inexhaustible and prolific, Jeremy Jones.

I was exposed to the wisdom and compassion of the Sydney Orthodox and Reform rabbinate – Rabbis Apple, Feldman, Fox, Freedman, Kamins, Kastel, Rogut and Lampert included. You will notice that I named the rabbis in alphabetical order.

Over the years, I was fortunate to cover:
·         Yom Hashoah ceremonies;
·         The birth of the Sydney Jewish Museum;
·         Chanukah in Martin Place, Bondi and Double Bay;
·         Yom Ha’atzmaut;
·         the activities of Habonim, Netzer, B’nei Akiva and Betar;
·         the Yeshiva Gedola;  Wizo, the NCJW, the JCA and the UIA;
·         The integration of Russian and South African migrants;
·         every visiting Israeli professor, Knesset members and IDF figures; as well as the inter-working of the various temples and shule boards.
For that experience, I will be forever truly, thankful.

So I would also like to personally thank Vic Alhadeff, who is now Board ofDeputies CEO, who was my deputy editor at the Jewish News – who gave me my first break in Australia.  And for the record, I still subscribe to the Jewish News.

Vic Alhadeff and his editor, Susan Bures, took a chance on a non-Jewish Canadian-born journalist – who happened to have an unexpected knowledge of Judaism.

Born in Canada to a Mohawk-Ojibway Native American father and an Anglo-Canadian mother, I was the product of an inter-racial marriage and was raised as a nominal Christian. I have to admit that it was an unlikely profile for an Australian Jewish News reporter – but, it is not  — if one looks to my life story.

Many of you are aware of my personal story, but, for the benefit of those who do not; it is suffice to say that my entire life has been connected to Judaism.  It has shaped my views on racism, intolerance, education and social justice.

As I told Parliament in my inaugural speech in June 2011, my links to the Jewish community predate my coming to Sydney and stretch back to an Indian reserve in Canada.

I also owe a special debt of gratitude to a wonderful Jewish man, a mentor from my childhood.  He is the late-Godel Silber; a Holocaust survivor who became friends with my father when they worked together in scrap metal recycling.  Mr Silber always saw the best in people and supported anyone who asked to help.

He lived by the Hebrew phrase Tikkun Olam – repairing the world. Mr Silber believed that Jewish people were not only responsible for creating a model society for themselves – but, they were also responsible for the welfare of society at large.

Mr Silber was extremely observant and worshipped at an Orthodox shule in southern Canada. He taught me about kashrut, the shabbat, the State of Israel, the Shoah and the need to fight racism and intolerance.

Mr Silber was born near Warsaw in June 1921 and was transported to Auschwitz in late 1942. Somehow, he survived.  After liberation, he married another Holocaust survivor, Cilka and they made their way to Canada.  Mr Silber saw something in me and insisted that I go to university.

Like Mr Silber, I believe that education is the great leveller in an unfair society. Education was my opportunity. He reinforced one message to me over and over again: Get an education.

He used to say in a sweet Yiddish accent, “Walt, be a good boy and study; study; study.”

I am proud to have known him; and by doing, so changed my life. Because, as unlikely as it seemed on an Indian reserve in Canada in the 1970s …I stand here today as a Labor Member of the NSW Parliament – and as the Deputy chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.

So, being here, tonight is about catching up with old friends.  I have maintained numerous friendships from those days at the Australian Jewish News. I still remember meeting Mrs Josie Lacey for the first time. We became friends and we have shared countless Shabbat meals. She has become my de facto Aussie mum.  But being here tonight is also about continuing long-standing work.

In 1988, Mrs Lacey came into the Jewish News’ office and explained why NSW need anti-racial vilification laws and why inter-faith dialogue, while challenging, is absolutely necessary.

She also explained why the Australian Jewish News must get on board – and to his credit, Vic Alhadeff did.

Now more than 24 years later, I am proud to have given notice of new legislation in the NSW Parliament – to create a specific offence of racist graffiti – which I trust will be debated shortly in the Legislative Council.

I believe that a person caught putting a Nazi symbol on a synagogue should carry the stain on their criminal record well beyond just “graffiti”. They have committed racist graffiti – a crime of incitement and hatred – and should be judged by society, accordingly.

In the last 17 months as an MP, I have spoken on many other issues of interest to the Jewish community and indeed, all those interested in freedom of belief and expression.

I have spoken in Parliament on:
·         The wonderful Rona Tranby Trust – linking the Jewish and Aboriginal communities;
·         Yom Hashoah commemorations;  Support of AIJAC’s study tours;
·         Irving Wallach’s wonderful tribute to the woman who hide his mother in Poland during the Shoah; The Auburn Gallipoli mosque open day; and
·         Against the racist Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel; the desecration of the Commonwealth war graves in Libya; and against the recent extreme Islamic protests in Hyde Park.
I have spoken at length about genocide.  I have spoken of:
·         The Shoah;
·         the Armenian Genocide;
·         the Srebrenica massacre;
·         the massacre of the Dharawal people near Campbelltown – 196 years ago;
·         Saddam Hussein’s genocide against the Kurds; and
·         the recent persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt.
I have been pleased to have brought these matters to the NSW Parliament.   Not only for their relevance to specific communities in NSW like the Jewish, Armenian, Kurdish and Aboriginal communities, but for the NSW community as a whole.

Of course, it would be uncharacteristic of me not to make at least one political point tonight … so here it is:  I have most recently spoken out against the $1.7 billion in education cuts and how they have impacted on independent, Catholic and Jewish dayschools.

I understand the Australian Council of Jewish Schools has said the costs of these cuts could be up to $3 million.  And I hope the Premier sees the sense to reverse these cuts to public, Catholic and Jewish education. Education in NSW is an investment; not a cost.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the leadership of Yair Miller, Vic Alhadeff and Richard Balkin as well as the Israeli Ambassador for helping with the reformation of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel.  This is the largest parliamentary friendship group in the NSW Parliament.

In a Parliament, where parties divide on so many issues… I can say:  we are united as supporters of Israel and the Jewish people.

Members will be aware that my colleague, Gabrielle Upton and I have both agreed to participate in a NSW Jewish Board of Deputies-led parliamentary mission in January 2013.

It is a visit that I look forward to with great excitement … as I was in Israel just nine months ago. In January, I spent 10 days in Israel, travelling from top to bottom. While my travel was self-funded, I would like to thank AIJAC for providing me with a driver for two days.  I visited:
·         Tel Aviv; the suburbs of Jerusalem; Yad Vashem; the Gadot Observation Point near Syria; the Jordan River; Tiberias; Nazareth; the Dead Sea; Masada;  the Yitzhak Rabin Crossing Point at Eilat; Gush Etzion; and Sderot.
I also visited Jericho and Ramallah in the Palestinian territories as well as Jordan.

Despite the current stalled peace process, I am still optimistic that a two-State solution and reconciliation is possible for both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Many times, at the Australian Jewish News, I reported about the March of the Living tours.

I promised that one day I would undertake one myself.  So, in December-January, I organised and paid for my own genocide study tour.  But before going to Israel, in a planned sequence of trips and visits, I travelled to Armenia and its national genocide museum in Yerevan.

I believe that all genocides require constant remembrance.   After all, the perpetrators of such atrocities rely on their deeds being overlooked in time.

For deputies, unaware, it was Adolf Hitler himself who, asserted that Final Solution would be forgotten by history.  He famously said in August 1939: “Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”  Hitler was referring to the 20th century’s first orchestrated genocide – the Armenian Genocide.   Between 1915 and 1923, 1.5 million out of a total 2.5 million Armenians were systematically murdered or killed on death marches by Ottoman Turks.

After Armenia, I travelled to Warsaw, Krakow and then to Auschwitz-Birkeneau and then immediately to Israel to see the survival of the Jewish people.

After Israel, I travelled to Iraq to see where Saddam Hussein tried to exterminate the Kurds. I visited Halabja, 10 kilometres from the Iranian border, where in March 1988, he unleashed chemical gas attacks on the Kurds murdering 5,000 people.  Between 1987 and 1989, Hussein destroyed 4,500 villages and murdered 200,000 Kurds.   I visited the national monument and museum there and met the survivors.
And in all cases, the experience of “being there” first hand created a depth of understanding that no amount of briefing notes or books can convey.   For example, I did not fully appreciate the scale of mechanised death of Auschwitz until I stood there on a freezing January day.

Similarly one cannot appreciate the survival of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, without being there.  Visiting Israel is the best education for any parliamentarian.  You get an immediate appreciation of Israeli geography.  You discover what a “nuclear Iran” means to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

But finally, a visit to the Security barrier was the most enlightening.  Put simply, it is a barrier against  terrorism.  While it is easy to debate such things from far away……the fact is that, on the ground, the security barrier saves lives.

In short, a colleague asked if my visit to the Middle East had changed my views on Israel.  I said it had.  It had made me an even stronger supporter of Israel.

I hope I have conveyed my connection with Judaism and how it has influenced my approach to public and political life.  I owe my education and opportunities to a person of Jewish faith who opened my eyes to a greater world.
Therefore, I intend to use the privilege of my position as a Member of Parliament to advocate policies and arguments that – I hope – will make the Jewish community proud.

I also hope to continue that and look forward to catching up with old friends again in future.

Thank you. It has been an honour and a privilege to address you.

Comments

One Response to “Parliamentarian addresses NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Plenum”
  1. Shirlee. says:

    Walt

    It was a pleasure speaking with you last night and an even greater pleasure hearing your ‘life story’

    Thank you

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