Liberal Senator calls for apology for Evian “hurt”

March 6, 2011 Agencies
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Tasmanian Liberal Senator Guy Barnett addressed the Senate last week on Australia’s participation at the 1938 Evian Conference convened to facilitate the flow of refugees fleeing Nazi persecution…and has called for an apology.

J-Wire published his speech in full….

Guy Barnett

Tonight I acknowledge Australia’s important relationship with the nation of Israel. In particular, I would like to speak about Australia’s involvement at the Evian Conference in 1938 and call on the Australian government to apologise for the hurt that was caused.

I will also call on the Australian government to support efforts to commemorate the battle of Be’er-Sheva through the establishment of a museum. I will acknowledge the outstanding Indigenous Australian William Cooper and make further comments about the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum in which I had the privilege to participate in 2009 and 2010.
Australia and Israel have long enjoyed a close and productive relationship. In fact, Australia was the first nation to formally recognise the sovereignty of the state of Israel in 1948. Israel, it is said, is trapped between history and hope. From the first day of it being an independent state as authorised by the United Nations on 15 May 1948 to today, disputes, battles and wars have been fought over not only its borders but its right to exist. In 2008 the Australian parliament commemorated Israel’s 60 years as an independent nation and I spoke in the Senate in support of those sentiments. Australia’s relationship with Israel is highly valued.
Within the context of this relationship, however, there have been difficult times. Tonight I want to talk about one such occasion where Australia did not act as a true friend should, and that was in comments made by our representative at the Evian Conference in France in 1938. Reports of attacks against the German Jewish population reached Australia as early as 1933. The German Consul-General denied the reports and the Sydney Morning Herald stated:
It is an unfortunate blot on the progress of the nations towards peace and goodwill that events in Germany include an outbreak of hatred and intolerance against the Jews.
Some prominent Australians also expressed sympathetic attitudes, including the then Premier of New South Wales in 1933, Bertram Stevens, who stated at a public rally:
The Jewish citizens as we know them in this country are excellent citizens, worthy in every way of all rights and privileges that we enjoy under the British flag.
From 11 July to 18 July of 1938 the Evian Conference was held in France, convened by President Roosevelt. Australia was one of 31 countries participating in the conference aimed at creating an international committee to coordinate international refugee policy and facilitate the flow of the increasing number of refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. Australia was represented by the Minister for Trade and Customs, T.W. White, who expressed this sentiment:
It will no doubt be appreciated also that as we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one by encouraging any scheme of large-scale foreign migration …
It is a matter of national shame that White’s statement on behalf of the government of Australia is still visible at the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem as the single representative response for all other nations’ responses of indifference at the Evian Conference and is viewed by thousands of tourists annually.
I note that the foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, expressed regret for Australia’s initial refusal to open our doors to those fleeing Nazi persecution at an address to the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum event that I attended with others last December in Jerusalem. This was indeed a dark spot in Australia’s history. I say ‘initial refusal’ as weeks after the infamous Kristallnacht in November 1938, just a few months after the Evian Conference, Australia decided to reassess its alien immigration policy and decided to then admit 15,000 refugees over three years, compared to the previous quota of 1,800 in that year. Perhaps, on reflection, this was still not enough, but progress was made.
But the hurt remains, and I do not believe that Australia has gone far enough to formally and deliberately apologise for those offensive and insensitive comments. Tonight, I call on the Australian government to make a further and unequivocal apology for those remarks and to do all that we can to remove the hurt that response created as our Jewish friends faced the beginnings of unthinkable persecution. I ask the foreign minister to express regret and an apology on his next visit to Israel as foreign minister or, indeed, as part of the next Australia-Israel Leadership Forum. The formal apology should also be acknowledged on a plaque and presented to the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial in Jerusalem for public display.
I would also like to highlight the incredible work of Aboriginal leader William Cooper. After reading reports in the Melbourne papers on 6 December 1938, Cooper led a group of protestors down Collins Street in Melbourne to the German consulate where they attempted to present a petition protesting the cruel persecution of the Jews in Germany to the German consul-general, D.W. Dreschler. Dreschler would not take the petition. Amazingly, at the time of the protest, now known as ‘the only private protest against the Germans following Kristallnacht’, Cooper was 77 years old. Last December in Israel, Cooper’s efforts were recognised when he became the first Indigenous Australian to be honoured with a chair for the study of resistance in his name at the Yad Vashem holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Many of Cooper’s family and friends flew from Australia to witness the event. Our foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, gave a speech in his honour. I was fortunate enough to be there and I visited the museum with the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, but I was also saddened to learn that, of the six million Jews killed by the Nazis during WWII, over 1.5 million were children.
I also want to acknowledge Norman and Barbara Miller, who were at that presentation in Jerusalem last year, for the work they have done to highlight William Cooper’s efforts and to ensure his story is told. I believe William Cooper should also be recognised in Australia today. I recognise the Millers here tonight, together with Pastor Paul Moroney and Hilary Moroney, Graham McLennan and many others from the Australian Christian Values Institute.
The Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, founded and hosted by Albert Dadon, is an excellent organisation. He should be congratulated. I had the privilege of participating in this program in 2009 and 2010, together with my many parliamentary colleagues. There were also members of the business community, such as Ron Cross, who I enjoyed getting to know for the first time, and members of the media. Other highlights of the visit to Israel included meetings with President Ariel Sharon, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other members of the Knesset, including Ronit Tirosh MP and Danny Danon MP. We had a dialogue on issues such as terrorism, the peace process, water, IT and a possible free trade agreement with Australia.
Now to Be’er Sheva. On 31 October 1917 for one dramatic hour, Australian troops spearheaded one of the most strategic and decisive Allied victories of the First World War. The Australian Light Horsemen, armed with bayonets, led the frontal attack that captured the city of Be’er Sheva, in modern-day southern Israel, then Turkish Palestine, by charging about six kilometres across the open plain in full view of 4,600 entrenched Turkish infantry armed with machine guns and artillery. This feat has become known in military circles as ‘the last great cavalry charge in history’. The battle was as significant a victory as Gallipoli was a military failure. With regard to commemorating the events at Be’er Sheva, I support the establishment of a museum at Be’er Sheva near the Park of the Australian Soldier commemorating the Light Horse and which was officially opened by former Governor-General Major General Michael Jeffery in 2008. This site is also very near the Commonwealth war graves where many of the Light Horsemen are buried. I visited this wonderful Park of the Australian Soldier in 2009. It was a great honour.
Among those working to recognise the events at Be’er Sheva and their significance for Australia is a great Australian Kelvin Crombie, author of the book ANZACS and Israel: A Common Destiny and indeed other publications. He is supported in this by Barry Rodgers and there are many others who support the efforts for the establishment of a museum at Be’er Sheva. On a personal note, I would like to note that my wife’s grandfather, Oscar George Bramich, and great-uncle, George Henry Bramich, both trained in Tasmania for the Light Horse, with George Bramich serving with the Light Horse in Israel. But this is about bigger issues, of course—it is about paying honour and respect to those brave men of the Australian Light Horse who served in the Battle of Be’er Sheva and strengthening the relationship between our nation and the nation of Israel. I would ask the Australian government to support the establishment of this museum that is being proposed for Be’er Sheva and to consider positively a proposal for funding such a museum.
In conclusion, I ask the Australian government to give careful consideration to the matters I have raised in this speech—that is, the apology to Jewish refugees at the Evian Conference and the establishment of a museum at Be’er Sheva. I will be writing to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hon. Kevin Rudd, on both these matters.


One Response to “Liberal Senator calls for apology for Evian “hurt””
  1. Enoch says:

    Well spoken Guy Barnett!
    May the Australian parliament across the political spectrum take up the issue about Evian and deal with this shame as you have wisely suggested.

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