Friends of Israel and enemies in Marrickville

February 22, 2012 by Henry Benjamin
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At a function launching the revitalised NSW Parliamentary Israeli Friendship Group, Israel’s ambassador to Australia expressed his farewell to the pro-BDS Greens who drove last year’s anti-Israel campaign in the inner-Sydney suburb of Marrickville.

Walt Secord, the Rev Fred Nile, Gabriell Upton, Yuval Rotem, Barry O'Farrell, Yair Miller

The function at which six political parties were represented was addressed by the chair of the Group, Liberal MP for Vaucluse, Gabrielle Upton. She said  the Group believes that Israel has the right “to live in peace and security” and to get on with “that important task of economic development”, adding “Australia and particularly New South Wales will stand alongside democratic nations like Israel. We have a long and strong friendship with Israel based on shared beliefs, rule of law, individual liberty and of course equal rights for citizens.”

During his speech Israel’s ambassador to Australia, Yuval Rotem, said that “BDS is now as dead as  former Marrickville mayor Fiona Byrne’s brief career in international diplomacy”.

She said that the re-established  Group would provide a very and practical and helping hand to that friendship. She added: “Long may it flourish”.

Premier Barry O’Farrell spoke next saying: “This Group and the support Israel has in this Parliament has always been an issue of non-partisanship. There was always a common commitment on both sides of politics to Israel and that continues today.”  He spoke of the time when he was a member of the group at the time when “those terrible bombings in and around Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.”  He said that information given to Members of Parliament from visiting experts, diplomats and politicians is “important in our understanding of the Middle East” adding that Australia is a country that has always “sought to support freedom, democracy and self-determination”. He said that Australia does not have along its borders countries seeking its destruction.

“We do support the concept of peace for Israel. We do support a long-standing settlement of the issues there. It’s only fitting given those young Australians who in that First World War whether part of the mounted troop or the Light Horse who helped liberate Jerusalem for the first time in 400 years from Ottoman rule.” Premier O’Farrell said that they played a part in events leading to the establishment of the independent State of Israel.

He added: “I am very pleased to be here with Leader of the Opposition continuing bipartisan support for a nation that deserves it.”

John Robertson is that Leader of Opposition and said that the Group is “a very important initiative – it is an opportunity for an exchange of dialogue, engagement and an opportunity for all of us to engage in debate. There is nothing quite as effective in building an understanding for the difficulties that Israel faces. This is a Parliament that has had a long and proud history  of association with Israel and the Jewish community. I offer bipartisan support  with the Premier for this Friendship Group and a continuation of the dialogue between New South Wales, Australia and Israel. We support the whole nation of Israel being able to live freely in peace and security for the people of Israel…something we should never back away from and something we should always be prepared to advocate for.”

He made reference to the recent BDS campaigns against the Israeli based Max Brenner chocolate shops saying: “I was very proud to go to Max Brenners and make a stand and make a statement.”

He said that those sorts of actions by very small groups within the community will “not be tolerated, will not be accepted…we will stand up for what is right for New South Wales, what is right for the Jewish community and what is right for Israel”

He spoke about he emotionally moved he was when on a recent visit to the Sydney Jewish Museum and encouraged anyone who had not visited it to do so, mentioning the special feelings he experienced when guided around the museum by a Holocaust survivor.

Walt Secord

Friendship Deputy Chair Walt Secord said Parliament is united as “supporters of Israel and the Jewish people.” He said that 24 years ago he had stood in the NSW Parliament building reporting for the Jewish News on the Parliamentary friends of Israel when Nick Greiner was Premier. He said that today his interests in Israel are “just as strong”.

Premier Barry O'Farrell

He told the meeting : “Last month I spent ten days in Israel traveling from top to well as to Jericho and Ramallah in the Palestinian territories. I remain optimistic that a two State solution for both the Israelis and the Palestinians is possible. The experience of being there first-hand created a depth of understanding that no amount of briefing notes or books could ever convey.”

Secord said that he did not appreciate “the scale of mechanised death in Auschitwz until I stood there four weeks ago”. He added that he “could only understand the sense of danger that is overwhelming in Israel after I visited it.”

The Deputy Chair of the new Group visited the city of Sderot in the Negev and came away with two impressions. He said: “In Sderot you don’t have to wear seat belts for safety reasons. It is 840 meters from Gaza and has experienced missile attacks on a daily basis for the last ten years. If there is an air raid you have fifteen seconds to shelter. But the most chilling is the children’s playground. It’s just like anything you’d see in suburban Sydney except there is colorful caterpillar which snakes throughout the playground. It is a bomb shelter. As a parent standing in that park it was a chilling experience I will never forget.”

He advocated that visiting Israel is the best education for any Parliamentarian –  and experienced an immediate appreciation of Israel’s geography citing the 15km width Israel has across its narrowest border.

He said that the security barrier is “a barrier against terrorism” and said that it is easy to debate issues like this from far away the fact remains that the barrier “saves lives”.  In 2003 when the fence construction began, 73 suicide bombers had killed nearly 300 Israelis and wounded almost 2,000. In 2010 that was reduced to nine deaths.

His Excellency Yuval Rotem has been Israel’s ambassador to Australia for five years. He said that among those attending the function were men and women who had “the right and responsibility for standing up for their State and country. To have them form an Association to stand up for my own is simply an honour.”

Ambassador Rotem acknowledged Barry O’Farrell’s first year as Premier and congratulated Labor leader John Robertson for his time “at the helm of his great Party”.

Ambassador Yuval Rotem

He said that the Coalition and Labor parties had “a history of standing up for the rights of people here and abroad”. In thanking Gabrielle Upton and Walt Secord for their efforts in re-establishing the Group he made mention that many of Upton’s constituents in Vaucluse are Jewish and “have family and friends in Israel”. He acknowledged the work of Walt Secord and the the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies for their efforts.

Ambassador Rotem said that NSW enjoyed “Israeli technology, trade and tourists as we do your own”. He had words of praise for NSW-based politicians Gough Whitlam, John Howard and Doc Evatt who helped “the negotiation of the re-foundation of the State of Israel and cast the first vote in the UN Assembly in 1947”.

Moving on to last year’s events in Marrickville, the ambassador said that NSW political leaders have “an unwavering sense of values. Your leaders have embodied a firm knowledge of what they know to be right with the courage and the confidence to pursue it. Today’s leaders when faced with the wrong of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in 2011 also called upon these values in their courageous response.”

He continued: “It has been close to a year since the last State election since Marrickville when the BDS issue found a national stage. It was one of  the achievements of not just the Australian Jewish community but the Coalition and the Labor Party that  BDS faced an abrupt rejection on that stage.

The concern throughout NSW was that the row during the BDS  debates was expected. Commonsense does not comply  with a local council self-imposing economic sanctions on one nation which is locked in a struggle for peace.

Senator Lee Rhiannon’s Greens  looked likely to pick up a cluster of seats in the NSW State election but were left demoralised finishing behind Labor on primary votes in the only seat they ended up winning”.

Ambassador Rotem continued: “The candidate for Marrickville, Fiona Byrne, tripped over herself in many public statements…confused that her Utopian vision of a world with a weakened Israel was poorly received outside the confines of her urban hamlet.

BDS in Australia has since then become  another a failed movement of radical activists which shamefully attached itself to a municipal council for a few months.

This humiliating public defeat of the BDS was an achievement of the people in this room. The politicians,  Liberal, National, Labor and some Greens. When we hear about BDS now, it’s not coming from the mouths of prominent politicians or mayors or respected journals. It’s been shouted from poorly-attended protests or the back of police cars or from Communists who stayed with Stalin.

One year on and the movement in New South Wales to undermine the economy in the Middle East’s only democracy is as dead as Fiona Byrne’s brief career in international diplomacy.

I thank the people in this room on behalf of the State of Israel for their courage during that time. I thank Premier Barry O’Farrell and his colleagues for their uncompromising stand for the future of that Council. I thank the Leader of the Opposition John Robertson and his colleagues for mounting the progressive case for the future of Israel…and especially I want thank those Greens MPs and candidates who stood tall and opposed BDS citing their own values of principal and justice for which some of their colleagues have no tolerance. I thank all involved who have helped see off this anti-Jewish  and anti-Israel sentiment in our community, in our newspapers and in our streets. We must also thank the voters of New South Wales.”

Gabrielle Upton

Ambassador Rotem said that in Marrickville, the Council had reversed the boycott and had a new mayor. He said: “I encourage them to learn more about my tiny, tiny miraculous country in the Middle East, awash with the principals of democracy, values, freedom and a culture not enjoyed by the autocratic and theocratic regimes that surround us.”

The performance in Marrickville of an Israeli Israeli jazz singer was co-hosted last year by the Israeli embassy.  He said the audience “forgot Israeli politics and enjoyed Israeli music.” He continued: “It was another example of the way we defeat Israeli detractors in the West, using our minds, appealing to the common sense and exhibiting  our culture, our innovation, our way of life, our language, our technology, our art…unleashing our contribution to the world.”

Turning to today’s situation, Ambassador Rotem said “In Georgia , Thailand and India…in the last two weeks we have seen attacks against our embassies and personnel perpetrated by Iran. On TV we see Iranian scientists proudly inserting rods into nuclear reactors. We hear posturing from leaders in Iran and their proxies in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon dreaming of a world with no Israel. Over our back fence we have a civil war raging in Syria where a president sees fit to shell towns in his own nation.”

He said that Egypt had shown little social progress since its revolution. A generation of Muslim Brotherhood members will “soon walk into power” previously unknown to them in a unstable country.

Ambassador Rotem said: “We see a supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority welcome Hamas into their fold…a terrorist organisation committed to the ethnic destruction of a sovereign nation of an ancient people…and we watch a jury of nations in New York City dominated by corrupt regimes and imperfect democracies either unwilling or unable to take meaningful action to protect the freedom of people it was founded to defend.

In the face of the challenges we are grateful in Israel for the bipartisan support of Australia as provided throughout our history. Australia has embraced since that inaugural vote for Israels’ independence in 1947 to September last year when your country opposed the fashionable bid to give Palestinian leaders their own State as a reward for their consistent failure to compromise.

I know that leaders and legislators of NSW support the defence of democracy in the Middle East. I know that they look upon this struggle as not one to avoid but one to steadfastly support as it represents strength of the values of faith of innovation and enterprise in the face of lasting threat.

I know that they look upon Israel as a society like their own  blessed with the sounds and the colours of multiculturalism, freedom of democracy, the prosperity of a world-leading economy, the technology and innovation that drives growth and the values that fashion greatness.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies president Yair Miller closed the meeting.













2 Responses to “Friends of Israel and enemies in Marrickville”
  1. Jon says:

    Its like ive always said. Any logical person after seeing all the facts would support israel. some one who just sees propaganda obviously wouldn’t. And its hard not to be logically sound when fighting for israel.

  2. Ben says:

    So the Israeli ambassador is talking openly about Australian internal politics. What will he say to the Greens federal leaders ?

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