Ambassador Mark Sofer visits Sydney

December 5, 2017 by Henry Benjamin
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Israel’s new ambassador Mark Sofer has visited Sydney to meet members of the Jewish community’s leadership, welcoming discussion on situations impacting on Israel and diaspora.

Peter Wertheim, Ron Weiser, Ambassador Mark Sofer, Norman Seligman, Richard Balkin and Jeremy Spinak                      Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

It was the London-born diplomat’s second visit to the harbour city having attended meetings last year. He said: “It was that first meeting in Sydney that changed my mind and make me decide to come to Australia. It was the meeting with Jewish community. It was the feeling that this was a special Jewish community leaders…not just another Jewish community. Not in Sydney but also in Melbourne and in Australia as a whole.” He later mentioned that he had been learning Japanese.

He said he had been in the diplomatic service for 36 years and that the Australian community is unique commenting “how high Israel is on your agenda.” Ambassador Sofer stated the relationship between Australia and Israel has reached “a pinnacle” adding “I don’t think we have had a relationship like this with any other country in the world. We may have equal relationships but none better.”

Having had a whirlwind fortnight in Australia he commented that the relationships were bipartisan and he expects them to remain as such and having accepted that the political relationships are “vibrant,  we to find avenues we have not touched in Australian-Israeli relationships”.

Ambassador Mark Sofer
Photo: Henry Benjamin/J-Wire

He focused on the political  and public arenas.  He said: “In the political arena there are problems and issues to be dealt with.” He spoke about forces who are “working against us”. He referred to Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy who has been visiting Australia and New Zealand and with whom Mark Sofer admitted to not agreeing with anything he says..but still pointed out the “strength of our democracy” which allows Levy to air his views.

On the future he commented: “We plan to work strongly with our friends and allies of which there are very many in the Australian community at large and the Australian body politic.”

Ambassador Sofer is committed to maintain the pinnacle he referred to stay at its peak…or even grow.

Switching to the public arena Ambassador Sofer questioned what can be done to improve the relationship between Australia and Israel. He listed technology, cybersecurity and innovation. “It’s an eye to eye relationship between Israel and Australia. We will cooperate together…there is enormous willpower on both sides.” Mentioning successful delegations which have visited Israel he said that more should be encouraged adding “I will”.

Talking about the current situation in the Middle East and the 500,000 killed in Syria over the last five year, Ambassador Sofer said of new alliances being developed: “No-one knows which way it is going, nobody understands how to move it forward in a direction which would be good for us, good for you, good for the peoples in the neighbourhood, good for the Israelis and also good for the Palestinians,,,we don’t want to do them any ill. The better off your neighbour is the better a neighbour he or she will be.”

He said Israel does not want to be an island of wealth surrounded by poverty. He said that Israel should be working to raise the living standards of those who lived in neighbouring countries mentioning the Palestinians, Egypt, Jordan…”we will and we should do that”.

He added: “It demands unity of purpose, unity of direction from both of us and from the Jewish people around the world and the friends of Israel wherever they may be.”

Ambassador Sofer welcomes differences of opinion. He said: “We don’t have equanimity of opinion and it’s good that we have differences of opinion both in Israel and in the Jewish world. The only place I can think of which has everyone thinking the same way is North Korea.”

The recent vote in the UN over the future of Jerusalem was next on his agenda posting out it had caused eyebrow-raising from some Australian Jewish commentators. He told those gathered: “This has been going on for 60 years…this is not he first time. Australia has abstained on similar resolutions for 20 years.”

He believes that individual organisations releasing statements  could create “repercussions we will have to deal with later”.

He pleaded to any organisation to talk to the embassy to discuss anything to Israel in order to maintain unity. “We need to tackle this together.” He would have preferred to discuss the UN vote before the statement was released.

His final remarks: “I have had a 100% plan to work closely day by day with the Jewish community in Australia. You are lucky to have a country which is so supportive.”

Ambassador Mark Sofer was welcomed by The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies  president Jeremy Spinak, the Zionist Council of NSW Richard Balkin and Ron Weiser…and entertained by Chazan Shimon Farkas and his granddaughter Eden Shifroni.

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