Trade Unionists report on Israel visit

November 25, 2015 by J-Wire Staff
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Australian trade union leaders who recently returned from an intensive visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority organised by the Australia Israel Labor Dialogue (AILD) and AIJAC’s Rambam program have explained the unparalleled value of seeing the country, discussing challenges with experts and meeting the people.

eter Remfrey, Dr Colin Rubenstein AM, Alex Claasens. Jeremy Jones AM, Polo Guilbert-Wright

Peter Remfrey, Dr Colin Rubenstein, Alex Claassens. Jeremy Jones, Polo Guilbert-Wright

Discussing the trip in Sydney last week, Alex Claassens, Secretary of the NSW branch of the Rail, Tram and Bus Union (RTBU), Peter Remfrey, Secretary of the Police Association of NSW and Polo Guilbert-Wright, National Executive Officer and Public Policy Co-ordinator at the Transport Workers Union (TWU) expressed their gratitude to the trip’s organisers at the luncheon, attended by community leaders and Labor figures.

“You can’t even scratch the surface of something so complicated,” said Remfrey. “It was an unforgettable insight that can only be had from seeing it first-hand.”

“We received very mixed perspectives which opened our eyes to think about the issues,” continued Remfrey. “It was an opportunity that exceeded all expectations.”

“I feel I’ve come back richer and more informed about the issues,” said Guilbert-Wright, who commented on Israel’s advances in the high-tech sector.

“What struck me about the Israeli innovation sector is the credo ‘if you haven’t failed you haven’t learnt’. I feel if we adopted the Israeli motto, we in Australia might do better.”

“The collaboration between Jewish and Arab Israelis worked in so many places we went to and worked well,” Guilbert-Wright commented, stressing that he could not think of anything more foolish than wanting to boycott or divest from a pluralist, democratic, open society and that he would absolutely go back to Israel.

Claassens described the trip as “the experience of a lifetime.” He spoke of his own “affinity with the Jewish people” and told the story of his mother who, when living in wartime Netherlands, provided food and shelter for Jewish children who were fleeing persecution, facilitating their entry on to boats departing Europe.

Claassens identified the discussions with locals he met during the delegation as one of the most insightful and meaningful parts of the trip, adding that the visit had given him “a whole new perspective.”

Amongst many highlights, the Union officials reported on the impact of  visits to a Druze village, to the Ziv Medical Centre where Israelis are treating children, women and men injured in the fighting in Syria, contact with Israel’s high-tech sector, a briefing br Rabbi David Rosen and a discussion with former Australian Jewish leader Isi Leibler, now residing in Israel.

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