Tribute to Richard Pratt at Israeli military commemoration

November 2, 2009 by Michal Marmary
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About 400 people from Australia and Israel’s military, diplomatic and Jewish communities gathered here on Sunday for the annual commemoration of Australia’s Light Horsemen, who wrest control of this southern desert city from the Turkish army in 1917 and helped pave the way for the establishment of the State of Israel.

Jeanne Pratt, second left, and Major General Digger James, second right, with Australian troops, next to a monument in The Park of the Australian Soldier, in Be'er Sheva, Israel, November 1, 2009. Photo by Ahikam Seri

Jeanne Pratt, second left, and Major General Digger James, second right, with Australian troops, next to a monument in The Park of the Australian Soldier, in Be'er Sheva, Israel, November 1, 2009. Photo by Ahikam Seri

But this year, commemorators remembered the contributions of one more Australian:  Richard Pratt, the late Melbourne philanthropist and billionaire head of VISY Industries. The tribute was a posthumous thanks to the philanthropist who donated upwards of A$30 million to more than 350 Israeli causes in the last ten years.

Australia’s ambassador to Israel, James Larson, Major General Digger James, one of Australia’s best-known ex-servicemen, the defense attaches of the United States and France, Jewish youth from Australia and Australian soldiers were among those who gathered on Sunday to lay wreaths at the Park of the Australian Soldier in Be’er-Sheva in commemoration of Australia’s 1400 fallen troops who served in the Middle East during World War I.

At the same time, those gathered paid tribute to Pratt, who initiated the park and dedicated it exactly one year, to the day, before he died of cancer. He was 74.

“Richard Pratt was undoubtedly a great Australian,” said Ambassador Larson, who added that Pratt’s contributions to Israel reflected Australia’s shared bond with Israel, which “draws on shared history, values, experiences and people to people links.”

Pratt’s philanthropy in Australia is well-documented. The extent of his charitable activities in Israel, though, hadn’t attracted as much publicity.

But Pratt’s deep commitment – and deep pockets – with regards to Israeli society was apparent a few days before the Be’er-Sheva memorial, when a large swath of representatives from Israel’s civil service, academic, arts and business communities came out of the woodwork to pay their respects to his widow, Jeanne, and members of the Pratt family at a gathering on Friday.

“The State of Israel owes much to Richard and (widow) Jeanne Pratt,” said Avishay Braverman, Israeli government minister of minority affairs, at the Friday gathering. “He had such a commitment to the Jewish people.”

Pratt’s affinity to Israel was due to his “belief that the State of Israel should exist,” said Jeanne Pratt.

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