ZFA conversation

August 17, 2015 by Henry Benjamin
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The 150 delegates attending yesterday’s Zionist Federation of Australia’s Plenary Conference in Sydney were treated to an entertaining, but informative, one hour conversation between Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Israeli journalist and analyst Shmuel Rosner.

ZFA President Danny Lamm and Malcolm Turnbull   Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

ZFA President Danny Lamm and Malcolm Turnbull Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Before the conversation took place various constituent organisations tabled their reports and a special resolution was tabled by Sol Salcman appointing Sydney’s Dr Ron Weiser as a life member of the ZFA Executive. “It gives me particular delight to move this resolution.” Weiser is currently a Life Member of the State Zionist Council of NSW.” He told J-Wire: “This is a great honour for me.”

ZFA president Dr Danny Lamm introduced the two conversationalists.

Rosner began by asking Turnbull if there was any  reason to be concerned about the prospect of keeping Israel as a  bipartisan issue in Australia.

Turnbull: Yes. I think there is reason to be concerned. I think it is very important that support for Israel is bipartisan. I have always resisted the temptation to rev up a party approach.  I am thinking in Israel’s interest and our national interest. There is a weakening commitment to Israel. We saw this at the Labor Party conference. But the views expressed there are not entirely inconsistent with the view that many Israelis express…about the two state solution, about settlements.

Turnbull agreed with Rosner’s interjection that the context was different.

Shmuel Rosner and Malcolm Turnbull   Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Shmuel Rosner and Malcolm Turnbull Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Turnbull: We see ourselves as having shared valued with Israel. We see Israel as being in the first trench…in the first line of the battle against extremists and terrorism. We are definitely on the same side. We are determined to provide all the support we can to ensure that Israel remains a Jewish State within secure borders.

Rosner: I wonder about the undercurrents driving the erosion of bipartisan support in other countries. Why would anyone in Australia suddenly decide  to question previous policies towards Israel?

Turnbull: My party has not changed its approach. Bob Carr has clearly changed his view…and you would be best to ask him about that. I think it is important to hold Labor to account on this. As you can see with the BDS issue there is a clear campaign to delegitimise Israel. It’s insidious and it is very important to call it out for what it is and stand up to that. You cannot seriously ask Israel to do anything that will puts its existence in peril. Some proposals and suggestions may be well-intentioned but we cannot allow Israel to put its security at risk. You cannot do that to any country.

Rosner: I did not find very strong references from the Australian government  oon the Iran deal and I am not sure what is your position on this agreement.

Turnbull: We have welcomed it cautiously. The best that you can say for the agreement it is better than the status quo because it does introduce some degree of over sight. I recognise and empathise with the anxiety in Israel but as for just continuing the sanctions indefinitely…the judgement’s been made by the P5+1. Continue the sanctions will not be successful. Military intervention is not going to happen.

Malcolm Turnbull then started to question the questioner stating that ISIL does not seem to be as big an issue in Israel as it is in Australia. He questioned Rosner’s feeling about Iran playing a part in the fight against Daesh.

Rosner: Israel has to have its priorities straight. Iran is a serious threat to Israel. Other factions in the region do not pose a threat as serious as Iran.

Turnbull: How does Israel see Daesh?  Friends have told me it will burn out in five years. But on the other hand there are much more apocalyptic interpretations.

Rosner: I would warn you against always listening to Israel predictions. At least one Israel defence minister predicted about four years ago that the Assad regime in Syria would collapse within three or four months. It hasn’t happened yet. Dash is not strong enough to be a threat to Israel. What Israel is worried about and I think there should be more worries about it globally is the chaos that we see throughout the Middle East. Regimes which were at least accountable are now being replaced by instability and chaos.

Turnbull: The one thing that is not in short supply in the Middle East is bad options…they seem to be proliferating.

Turnbull asked Rosner about the position between the Sunnis and the Shi’ites. Rosner replied that he would support the forces “that support stability in the Middle East”.

Rosner guided the conversation back to Iran.

Rosner: Do you truly think that the current agreement with Iran is likely to prevent Iran from becoming a military nuclearised State?

Turnbull: I think it is less likely that that will happen with the agreement that it would,  given the absence of the agreement. What we in the West, and that includes Israel, want is for Iran to have a change of political culture.

Rosner: You favour regime change…but most experts say the Iran deal will strengthen the current regime.

Turnbull said that sanctions imposed by the USA on Cuba simply entrenched Castro’s regime saying “it was completely counter-productive.”

Turnbull: What are Australia’s priorities in the Middle East? Restoration of stability…and a key priority is the safety of Israel.

Turnbull said that Australian security forces are “working overtime” to monitor extremists in Australia.

Rosner: There is a view that Israel contributes to the radicalisation of the Middle East by its failure to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You hear this in Britain and several other countries. Do you agree with this sentiment.

Turnbull: No, I don’t. I don’t think the Sunni and Shiites are killing each other in Syria because of the settlements policy of the Israeli government. This is a civil war that the vast majority of the victims are Muslims. Israel must be remain very alert as to the impact of its policies.

Rosner: Should Israel change its policies concerning the peace process with the Palestinians in particular and the world in general?

Turnbull: I don’t know and I can’t express view. We support Israel and we are very committed to Israel remaining as a Jewish State operating within secure borders. We wish Israel well. People would laugh at me if I expressed opinions as to where Israel would establish settlements.

Rosner: What can be done to make Israeli-Australian relations better than they are?

Turnbull: They are very good. Israel is very highly regarded although it has it critics here as it does within Israel. We need to collaborate more in matters of science and technology. We are doing that but we need to do more.

Malcolm Turnbull commented how Israeli start-ups which have had setbacks are seen as a benefit to the State to invest on new ventures involving people who “have had a go” and failed..but have earned from this. Addressing the audience about Israel technology Turnbull said “you’re all fans. I’m a fan”. He added that Australia has to become more innovative and better at science. “Israel’s experience is absolutely critical for us to learn more from.”

Israeli ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel  Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Israeli ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel                                  Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

Israeli Ambassador to Australia Shmuel Ben-Shmuel also addressed the plenary.

Ambassador Ben-Shmuel said that Israelis are “sure of their capabilities and possess a healthy sense of ambition and a sense of self-motivation”. He said that James Packer recently launched a new venture capital project aimed at sowing seed capital into Israeli start-ups. He quoted Packer: “These are relatively small investments with tremendous potential.”

He commented on how Israel has bounced back after “wars, boycotts and global financial crises”.

On Iran, he said that Israel is “deeply concerned” about the Iran deal. He said that the deal “fails to deliver a lasting reprieve from Iran’s nuclear proliferation.” He added: “We cannot be confident that the terms of this agreement allow for the comprehensive monitoring required to curb Iran’s enrichment and weaponisation of nuclear materials.” In a blunt warning Shmuel Ben-Shmuel added: “Make no mistake. Iran remains committed to the destruction of Israel.”

The ambassador that as a result of the Iran deal the country could expect hundreds of billions of dollars and he guaranteed that “some of this money will flow through to its proxies – Hezbollah, Hamas and supporters in the entire region.”

Speaking on the peace process, ambassador Ben-Shmuel said: “The road to a two-state reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians must be grounded in genuine bilateralism and is not a process that can be forced.”

Speaking of the Arab Spring, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel said: “Five years on, it has resulted in the de facto disappearance of several States and an upswell in radical terrorists and brutal warlords masquerading as governments.”

Shmuel Rosner spoke on Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State and ran a workshop on Jewish Values and Israel’s use of Force in Armed Conflict

The plenary was chaired by Roger Selby.

Attending were representatives of:

UIA NSW president Lance Rosenberg and JNF president Pam Kraill  Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

UIA NSW president Lance Rosenberg and JNF president Pam Krail                                                                                              Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

All state Zionist councils: NSW, VIC, QLD, WA, SA
ACT Jewish community
Arava Australia partnership
Union of Progressive Judaism
Friends of Likud
Maccabi Australia
Jewish Agency For Israel
Mercaz Masorti Australasia
JNF Australia
WIZO Australia
Australian Forum of Russian Speaking Jewry
National Council of Jewish Women Australia
P&F Habonim
Emanuel School
Shlichim delegation from across Australia
United Israel Appeal

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