Victorian parliamentarians visit Israel

August 27, 2013 Agencies
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A delegation of Coalition members of the Victorian Parliament has spent a seven-day study visit to Israel organised by the Rambam program of the  Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).


From left:  Ahron Shapiro (AIJAC Liaison), Georgie Crozier MLC (Southern Metropolitan Region), Dr. Colin Rubenstein AM (Executive Director AIJAC), David Southwick MP (Caulfield), Geoff Shaw MP (Frankston),  Andrew McIntosh MP (Kew), Bill Sykes MP (Benalla))

From left:  Ahron Shapiro (AIJAC Liaison), Georgie Crozier MLC (Southern Metropolitan Region), Dr. Colin Rubenstein AM (Executive Director AIJAC), David Southwick MP (Caulfield), Geoff Shaw MP (Frankston),  Andrew McIntosh MP (Kew), Bill Sykes MP (Benalla))

The group held high-level briefings with Israeli and Palestinian officials, journalists and NGOs to learn about Middle East realities.

The group was brought together by  the Member for Caulfield, David Southwick MP, and was comprised of Georgie Crozier MLC (Southern Metropolitan Region), Andrew McIntosh MP (Kew), Bill Sykes MP (Benalla), Neil Burges MP (Hastings) and Geoff Shaw MP (Frankston).

Last week, members of the group discussed the highlights of their trip at an AIJAC luncheon .

Southwick, Parliamentary Secretary for Police and Emergency Services, said that while the group were strong supporters of Israel before they left, they were now more-well informed to understand the complex challenges Israel faces. Southwick noted that in this term of the government 22 members of the Victorian parliament from both sides have travelled to Israel and that “you will not find a more informed, a stronger, a more supportive parliament, than do you right now, thanks to AIJAC.”  Southwick said it gives him “naches” to see other members of Parliament speak up in Israel’s defence.  Southwick also noted that there are a number of proposals being developed to strengthen cooperation between Israel and Victoria, including a Victorian trade mission to Israel in August to look at water sustainability.

Crozier, Parliamentary Secretary for Health, said that the trip surpassed her expectations and allowed her to see first hand the challenges Israel faced. She noted that the group had travelled to Nahariya, and it was a site of a recent rocket attack.  She was also interested to learn about Israel’s medical services when the delegation attended meetings at Hadassah hospital, in particular the centre established for children dealing with ongoing stress disorder from rocket attacks, as well as the hospital’s terrorism response systems.

Andrew McIntosh noted that Israel “is a beacon of democracy” in a region surrounded by conflict. He also discussed his visit to Beersheva, and said that the Pratt memorial park to Australian soldiers “is a testament to the Jewish community and all Australians.” McIntosh also said that he believes that Australians and Israelis share similar traditions and values. Similarly, Geoff Shaw said that he was moved by the Australian cemetery in Beersheva, the seminar on Palestinian incitement presented by Palestinian Media Watch as well as the visit to the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem.

Parliamentary Secretary for Primary Industries, Bill Sykes said, it was the “best parliamentary tour I have been on”, noting that the trip exposed the group to “a very wide spectrum of views and experiences”.  Sykes mentioned that a personal highlight was visiting an absorption centre in Jerusalem, and learning about Israel’s approach to absorption, in which a key component is to learn Hebrew.  Sykes also said that he will have “nightmares forever” following his visit to Sderot, where he learnt that people living in Sderot have only fifteen second warnings to reach bomb shelters when faced with a rocket attack.

The group also agreed that they appreciated hearing a diversity of views including from both Israelis and Palestinians, which provided important insights into the challenges and complexity of the region.

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