Wednesday, 20 February 2019
70th Anniversary of Australia's Formal Diplomatic Relationship with the State of Israel
What a momentous 70 years it's been, particularly with the Australia-Israel relationship. As the Leader of the Opposition noted yesterday, it was the first foreign policy decision of Australia in the post World War II world where Australia struck out independently from Britain in foreign policy. Of course, the British abstained on the partition of Palestine and Australia strongly supported it. In fact, Dr Evatt and the then foreign spokesman of the Labor Party led the charge internationally. We in Australia supported, as we do now—both political parties—a two-state solution to the Middle East.
Dr Evatt was very far-sighted back then and his policy was endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition in his speech in the House the other day. There were some correct points made by the Prime Minister, too, on the obsession there seems to be with this situation at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. It is incredible that the UN has resolution after resolution—tens of resolutions—dealing with issues in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but the 300,000 people in concentration camps in North Korea, the million people in prison camps in Xinjiang and East Turkestan, the Muslim people of Darfur in Sudan and the many much worse situations around the world get little mention.
It is interesting, too, that the very day the Leader of the Opposition moves that supportive resolution recognising Australia's longstanding relationship with Israel is the very day that the British Labour Party splits over this issue. Some of the people in the British Labour Party—including my friend Luciana Berger—as correctly characterised in The Times of London today, were driven out of the Labour Party by anti-Semitism because, unfortunately, the leadership of the British Labour Party can't distinguish between legitimate criticisms of a state and obsessive criticisms of a people in a state. That led the British Jewish community and great Labour MPs like Luciana Berger to say that their party has been overtaken by bigotry. What a terrible thing for a social democratic party to have happen to it. It's incredible, when you think of the British Jewish community, who have not been the most assertive political group in the United Kingdom, with 250,000 of them amongst some 80 million Britons, that they have to stage demonstrations outside Westminster that say, 'Enough is enough.'
Recently, in Warsaw, countries from all around the world gathered to evaluate what was happening in the Middle East. If you looked at it from an Israeli point of view, the Arab nations, Asia and Africa all seemed to be creating a positive experience and worked together. Israel's relations with Asia and Africa seemed to be particularly productive. They all identified—particularly, very interestingly, Israel and most of the Sunni Arab states—that the threat to order in the Middle East is terrorism in Lebanon with Hezbollah, in Syria with Iran's support of the Assad regime and in Yemen, where it is providing long-range missiles to the Houthis. That is the existential threat not just to Israel but to peace in the Middle East. Unfortunately, when Iran resumes its nuclear weapons program, I'm afraid that Saudi Arabia and various other countries are going to go nuclear as well.
If one's looking at the situation of Israel 70 years after its declaration, it's an amazing story. From 600,000 people at the time of independence, it has a population exceeding eight million now. In the long history of the Jewish people, the destruction of six million Jews in Europe during the Shoah, the Nazi mass extermination, has been responded to in historical terms by there being amongst the Israeli population—20 per cent of whom are Arab-Israelis, who have equal rights—at least six million Jews. So there's a really symbolic victory in the re-establishment of the Jewish commonwealth in that part of the world.
In demography, it's very interesting to see too that its future seems guaranteed by its own population, something I think we need to focus on in Australia. It's a very unfashionable point of view, but I think the truth is that demography is destiny. Israelis seem so satisfied or happy with their lives that people, even secular people, have on average 3.3 children per family. That's very different to other Western societies. Australia is relatively better than other comparative societies. We have 1.9. It shows a confidence in your own society. Amongst the Arab-Israeli population, interestingly enough, as their economic prosperity has advanced, their population growth has gone down to 3.6 from about six or seven. As populations economically prosper, the traditional pattern is for their reproduction to decrease. It's not the case in that country. People in what's called the happiness index seem to be doing very well.
The productivity of that society is seen in the huge contribution that it makes in technology, in its economy and in the number of doctors it has, say, compared to people in surrounding societies. It's interesting that its GDP per head is now in excess of US$45,000 per capita. There are still great inequalities there that need to be addressed, but compare that to Egypt, which has US$3,000 per capita, or Jordan, with US$9,000. It is interesting that the Israeli economy, from an Australian trade point of view, is bigger than the combined economies of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria—eight million people, with their incredible high-tech production and a productive society. It shows you the benefit of transparent, open democratic societies compared to authoritarian countries where there isn't that type of transparency.
There will be an election in Israel on 9 April. Elections are always a good, cleansing democratic experiment for the soul and for the population. If I were an Israeli voter—and I am not—I would think that perhaps the current Israeli government has had its time. It is always good to have change; we can feel that in our bones in Australia as well. I might not be voting for Mr Netanyahu, although, from a security point of view, I would have to concede that he has done a very good job. From the point of view of the economy, he has done a very good job. From the point of view of ignoring the hatred of his country from societies in Europe, he has turned to Africa and Asia, which seems to have borne great fruit. However, given the fact that the Arab countries are relatively sympathetic to Israel, now seems to be the time to seize the day and grab the Arab peace plan and negotiate with them including to try and solve the Palestinian issue along the formula that Australia has long supported—a two-state solution.
Of course, you have Palestinian intransigence; as the late Abba Eban used to say, they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. The Americans are offering them a huge aid package if they agree to a state alongside Israel with clear and recognised borders. All of us know, as President Clinton did when he negotiated with Arafat back in 2000, what the formulation is going to be: you can keep most of the Israeli people across the green line by including those settlements in land swaps. Let's hope for that positive and forward-looking society, that scientific and technological nation, that they have a good election and their future is bright alongside the people next to them. (Time expired)
I am pleased to speak on the 70th anniversary of Australia's formal diplomatic relationship with the state of Israel. I appreciate the good relationship between Australia and Israel but there is a big problem, a Palestinian problem. I want to take us back to a few important dates in time, and those dates start from World War I. After the Battle of Gaza and the Battle of Beersheba, British forces, including Australians and Palestinians, fought off the German backed Ottoman Empire. In the 1920s, Palestinians were promised their own homeland where they could live for a thousand years. In 1948 the British government promised Israel a large portion of Palestine as their new homeland. The Palestinians were booted off their homeland and some are still in refugee camps today.
In 1967, in the Six-Day War, Israel claimed extra land, including the Golan Heights, and the occupation of Palestine began. In that move, 7,000 hectares was annexed from East Jerusalem to the Jewish people. In 1990, the West Bank divided into three areas—A, B and C. Area C, which was 60 per cent of the West Bank, was totally controlled by Israel. Areas A and B were partially self-governed but Israel still controlled those areas. That included all travel abroad, which university you went to, where you worked and who could visit Gaza. You needed permits to go anywhere, at any time. The register of births, deaths and marriages was with the Israelis.
Four hundred thousand Israelis now live in territories on the West Bank in 200 settlements, and that figure is growing daily. The 1993 Oslo Accords signed in Washington by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the PLO, did little to correct any imbalances. In 2005, Israel completed its so-called disengagement with Gaza. In 2006, Israel bombed the power plant in Gaza. In 2007, Israel imposed blockades on Gaza. In 2009, 2012, 2014 and 2018, Israel conducted military operations in Gaza. In 2017, the Israeli occupation of West Bank and Gaza reached 50 years. Overall, the situation is getting worse and not better.
How do we fix this problem? Should it be a one-state solution or a two-state solution? Of course, Australia favours the two-state solution. Israel still maintains effective control over all of those living in Palestine, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. From the Palestinian point of view, they want to live as equals, have the Israelis as neighbours and be good neighbours. For a two-state solution, Israel must return land taken in the 1967 war and, of course, let the Palestinians be masters of their own destiny and live peacefully with Israel.
There are 134 foreign countries who support Palestine in its aspirations for a better future, jobs for their youth, water security, an ability to run their own lives and not be ripped out of their beds at two o'clock in the morning and have their homes demolished the next day. Little has been done to challenge Israel's policy. The longer the world allows this reality to continue, the worse it gets. The big risk is the radicalisation of youth, as they see no future if the current situation continues.
This week marks the 70th anniversary of Australia's formal diplomatic relationship with the state of Israel, and I would like to acknowledge our profound friendship with the people of Israel. Israel was born out of necessity, with the background of 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the land and as a result of a vote of the United Nations General Assembly to provide shelter to a persecuted people who needed a homeland not only to protect themselves but to preserve their culture and traditions.
In its short life span, Israel has evolved from a vulnerable, weak and resource-deficient country to a thriving democratic and innovative state. Israel, also known as the start-up nation, is advancing the world with technological inventions, ranging from drip irrigation and water creation technology to autonomous driving and breakthrough medical advancements. The ideas and inventions that stem from the existential need of the state in its early years to defend and sustain itself by its own forces has influenced the world and made Israel a technological incubator for the entire world. Israel has the highest amount of start-ups per capita in the world and is the leader in autonomous driving, cybersecurity, enterprise software, clean energy technology and digital health. With thousands of start-ups, hundreds of investors, dozens of accelerators and many other resources, the Israeli technology ecosystem continues to grow and produce extraordinary success.
In Israel you say, 'I can deliver this,' and then you work out how to do it. The Israeli emphasis is on ideas, speed and rollout. This is a winning formula for Israel. Despite having a population of just 8.5 million people in the space of 70 years, the nation has developed more high-tech start-ups than all of Europe in recent years and trails only the US on that score. Silicon Wadi is an area around Tel Aviv on the country's coastal plain that has a cluster of high-tech industries built around military start-up and venture capital communities. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has commented that there are not a lot of benefits to being a small country, but the ability to create a successful ecosystem is definitely one of them.
Israel and Australia share a strong and growing economic relationship. The Australian government opened a landing pad in Tel Aviv, encouraging and supporting innovation from Australian companies. Already 16 Israeli companies have joined the Australian Stock Exchange. Israel is now in the top six among foreign countries with companies on the Australian Stock Exchange. Strong results from these pioneers have even more Israeli companies considering listing as our economic relationship continues to grow and prosper. In 2015 Australians had invested $250 million in Israeli companies and today there are hundreds of Australians investing in Israeli companies and funds.
Trade between Israel and Australia was officially valued at $1.2 billion in 2016. Many of the Israeli companies operating in Australia provide IT services, including cybersecurity, and many companies assist Australia in this area. The real value of this trade relationship has been estimated at $2 billion, as service exports are not included in the data.
Despite geographical distance, Australia and Israel maintain a close economic relationship. We share concerns and interests with regard to cybersecurity, water security and agricultural technologies, to name a few. These are reflected in the economic agreements between Australia and Israel. These include agreements for cooperation with Victoria and New South Wales, as well as a federal R&D agreement. An air services agreement and a technological innovation cooperation agreement were signed during Prime Minister Netanyahu's state visit to Australia in February 2017. A working holiday agreement was finalised in June 2016 and will deepen ties between our nations for the business leaders of tomorrow.
Like Australia, Israel has considerable areas of arid land, making reliable and adequate water supplies a significant concern. Israel has consistently been at the forefront of water management and conservation over the last 70 years. Israel is one-third the size of Tasmania and has many issues in common with Australia, including a large proportion of the land being desert, yet Israel recycles 86 per cent of its water while Australia recycles only seven per cent.
Driven by necessity, Israel has learnt to squeeze more out of a drop of water than any country on earth, as it pioneers new techniques in desalination and water treatment, supported by radical national water policy. Just a few years ago, in the depths of its worst drought in at least 900 years, Israel was running out of water. Now it has more water than it needs. This remarkable turnaround started in 2007 and was accomplished largely by a new wave of desalination plants, supported by national campaigns to conserve and reuse Israel's limited water resources. Israel's desalination technology and water strategies have systematically turned one of the world's driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants in only 11 years. Israel now sources 55 per cent of its domestic water from desalination at one-third of the cost of 20 years ago.
The quest for water is a very real one. It is a contentious issue for Australia, just as it is in Israel. We have much to learn from Israel in managing and overcoming our own domestic water challenges. During a recent visit to Australia, Professor Noam Weisbrod, the Director of the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research in Israel, shared vital advice: 'Water planning must be bold, it must be long term and decisions must be made on the basis that drought will become more frequent as the world gets hotter and drier. Climate change must be central to water policy.' He also noted that the Israeli system has a central authority that regulates and supports the water industry at a national level. Politics is largely removed, as this is the only way in which necessary long-term policy can be effectively and efficiently implemented. The drinkable water from desalination plants is also economically viable because the government has committed to buy it for 25 years. With that kind of guarantee, companies invest and the cost of water reduces.
Israel is also an innovator in the field of medical technology, with benefits to health systems around the world. Israel runs a lifesaving cardiac unit for children. That is just one example. It's called Save a Child's Heart. It has treated almost 5,000 children suffering heart disease, with 50 per cent of those children coming from the Arab world. Dire circumstances and the marriage of human capital and resolute determination in the face of adversity have allowed Israel to achieve what many advanced economies could only dream of achieving. As the Israeli Ambassador to Australia, Mark Sofer, points out, the fact that modern-day Israel is at the forefront of the world in innovation, technology and economic development is nothing short of a minor miracle.
Can I congratulate the previous members for their statements on the 70th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Israel. It is so important, regardless of the political party we represent and our various political views, that we have a bipartisan approach to this vital bilateral relationship, now 70 years old, between Australia and Israel. Importantly, Australia was the first country to vote in favour of the 1947 UN partition resolution, joining 32 other nations in successfully voting for the resolution. This ultimately led to the creation of Israel as a nation-state. I want to pay tribute to the Labor Party's Doc Evatt for the work he did at that time on behalf of Australia, saying that it was inevitable and just that Israel become an independent state. We, in Australia, extended our recognition of the state of Israel in January 1949 and we presided over the vote that officially and formally admitted Israel as a UN member. The embassies in Tel Aviv and Canberra both opened in the same year, in 1949.
Our two countries share so much. We share important events in history. We share the common values of democracy, decency and humanity. And today we share a commitment to making the world a better place. The relationship has grown over time. I was particularly pleased to be there when Israel's Prime Minister, Bibi Netanyahu, became the first sitting Israeli Prime Minister to visit Australia in February 2017, and I too want to pay credit to the very warm and genuine welcome that then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull extended to Bibi Netanyahu. There was the return prime ministerial visit and 100-year commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba in October 2017, which the Leader of the Opposition spoke about in the parliament the other day. It was a critical event in Australia's history as well as Israel's.
Tell Aviv was announced in 2015 as the first of five offshore innovation landing pads, and that shows our commitment to learning from the start-up nation, namely Israel. More and more Israeli companies are choosing to list on the ASX. Now 17 are listed, most having listed in the last three years, and more are planned. I want to congratulate Scott Morrison as Prime Minister for his strength, for his principle and for his decision to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move our embassy there, when practical, in support of and after the final status determination of a two-state solution and also for his decision to establish a trade and defence office in West Jerusalem, which will help deepen the collaboration in trade in defence-industries investment and innovation. This is absolutely critical in developing our bilateral relationship.
Australia's vibrant Jewish community is very strong and very close and it continues to contribute to the Australian community at large. I pay tribute to the member for Wentworth, who's in the Chamber, and the member for Eden-Monaro, both of whom have strong connections, either directly or indirectly, to that community. There are more than 120,000 Jewish people in Australia. There's been an increase of 10,000, or around 20 per cent, over the last 10 years. Half of those are Israeli-born people who live in my home state of Victoria, and they enjoy the peace, the prosperity and the values that our country extends to all who come here.
Margaret Thatcher said:
Israel is small in geography but large in history … But perhaps even more impressive than the achievements is the spirit of your people: pioneering, brave, resourceful, determined; an example of how indomitable will can overcome almost any problem.
That is the view of one of the world's greatest stateswomen about Israel, and it's a view that has been shared by Winston Churchill and, more recently, by others. Shimon Peres told John Howard that Australia is a beloved country in Israel, and so it is true that Australians admire Israel and Israel admires Australians.
I think we've been very blessed in this country to have had successive prime ministers committed to the bilateral relationship. On the Labor side, Julia Gillard stands out in the way she stood by Israel during some attacks on the country. John Howard was a trailblazer and a longstanding friend of the Jewish community, and so too Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and now Scott Morrison. I think it's because the Australia-Israel relationship is one that goes to the very heart of our being. It's about the values that we believe in; it's about the people who we are; it's about our spirit; and it's about our countries. May the relationship go from strength to strength for more than another 70 years. May it grow strong with the support of both sides of this House.
This motion really should be about celebrating a wonderful history of bipartisanship in this country, and I acknowledge the efforts of the member for Kooyong in forging that bipartisanship aspect and relationship across the chambers in the years that he's been in this House. But, every now and again, we do see some attempts to politicise these things and it's unfortunate that we've just seen that recently, with the Prime Minister coming out in the media and attacking the Leader of the Opposition as not being a true friend of Israel. I would like to completely direct to bipartisan comments in this motion, but I think I do have to reflect at this time on the historical background to this 70th anniversary. It's very appropriate that I do so.
The birth of Israel was effectively something that Labor was a midwife to, and it's an extremely proud part of our tradition. Doc Evatt was the chairman of the ad hoc committee. He actively, vigorously and successfully steered through that committee the support for the partition plan to create the original two-state concept, which we should have had back in 1947 had Israel's neighbours accepted it at that time. Doc Evatt put an enormous amount of work into that, and was widely acknowledged as having been someone who made 'a very vital contribution to the final result'. In fact, Michael Comay, Israel's rep to the UN at the time, praised Evatt for his masterly handling of the ad hoc committee.
It didn't end there, because it had to then get steered through the General Assembly. Of course, Doc Evatt ended up becoming the initial president of the General Assembly. He again masterfully put enormous effort into ensuring that that vote passed in the General Assembly. Australia was one of the very first countries to vote in favour of it, and is well remembered in Israel for that purpose. These are the existential issues about the creation of the state of Israel; this is where it really counts. It's important to note that in later years the then President of Israel, Chaim Weizmann, hailed Evatt for having played 'a momentous role in all the processes which culminated in the birth of Israel'. In 1965 The Australian Jewish News eulogised him as 'the man who piloted the establishment of Israel through the UN in 1948'.
At both of those steps—the navigating of the partition plan through the ad hoc committee and the General Assembly process, and later in relation to the recognition of Israel and its admission to the UN—the coalition opposition of the day, every single step of the way, bitterly opposed every step Labor made in that direction. The Liberal and Country parties that were in coalition as the federal opposition at that time were incredibly anti-Israel. They were just slavishly following the British policy at the time, and they severely criticised our Chifley-Evatt government's support for that process. They in fact made some outrageous comments, which you can check the Hansard for. One of them was an outright anti-Semitic statement: that the UN decision, they claimed, resulted from political pressure by American Jews and was thus illegitimate. Such a statement today would be roundly condemned, but that's the statement they made at the time.
The opposition also criticised the raising of funds by the Jewish community here, implying that it had been done under duress and could be used for anti-British purposes in Palestine. It was one of the reasons why the Jewish youth paper Banativ at the time praised Australia, which they said:
… unlike Britain … is not lending her support to any plan of settlement which gives territorial concessions in Israel to foreign invaders …
Banativ also criticised members of the opposition who had attacked Dr Evatt for failing to follow slavishly the anti-Israel line adopted by Britain. These were the realities of the time.
The community in Australia was very much supportive of the recognition of Israel in its submission to the UN, particularly in those recognition arguments and debates that were going on, which as I said the opposition at the time, the coalition, opposed. There were leaflets supported by the trade union leaders, academics and clergymen published by the historian Brian Fitzpatrick in July 1948 calling on the government to recognise Israel. Of course, on 29 January 1949 the Chifley government announced that the Australian government had decided to give full recognition to the Jewish state of Israel and regarded the nation of Israel as, 'a force of special value in the world community.' That's the voice of Chifley.
One of the reasons Chifley and Evatt were so keen to do this was that it was in very recent memory the support that the Jewish community of Israel had given to our soldiers, including both of my grandfathers at the time, which I'm extremely grateful for, considering the suffering they later went through in the fight against the Japanese. That community provided extensive welfare arrangements and looked after our troops with great care. Chifley and Evatt were also aware that the leadership of the Palestinians, who'd let their people down severely at the time, collaborated closely with the Nazis. Haj Amin al-Husseini, one of their leaders, was in Germany helping to orchestrate the Holocaust at the time and recruiting for the SS. They were well aware of that, and it was one of the reasons why their attitude was shaped in the way it was.
Again, Britain opposed the de jure recognition of Israel, and the federal opposition at the time supported Britain in vehemently criticising the Chifley government. As I said, the Labor government also supported Israel's admission to the United Nations, despite, again, opposition by Britain and the coalition here. That took place on 11 May 1949—again, through the fantastic and vigorous efforts of Doc Evatt, who became president of the General Assembly on 21 September 1948. When the foreign minister of Israel, Moshe Sharett, got up to make his acceptance speech of that recognition, he thanked Doc Evatt and described him as 'one of the foremost personalities responsible for the birth of Israel' and presented him with a certificate of the Jewish National Fund in recognition of his services to Israel. Immediately after that, they exchanged diplomatic missions. That was a proud tradition, a proud process, that had begun in 1947 and followed right through to the final recognition and admission of Israel to the UN.
Being one of the first countries to do that, the Jewish community here was quite concerned about the opposition positions on this issue. The Banativ youth magazine, which I referred to earlier, was deeply concerned in the 1949 elections about what the policy would become if the coalition were to win. They called on their readership to vote for the Labor government, which, 'consistently supported the cause of Israel, Jewry, and the UN.' They warned:
… a Liberal Government would result in the growing tide of anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist feeling being heard more loudly in parliament, but this time from the government benches.
Those, I would describe as bad old days. Look, we should freely admit to periods of Labor policy honestly, such as our support for the White Australia policy over time. It's important to recognise bad parts of our history. That was a bad time. I think members of the coalition will recognise that their position in those days was wrong. It's good to see that from the mid-fifties onward there was a deep and abiding bipartisanship, and we all know the stories, and of course Bob Hawke's efforts and the like, in getting Soviet Jewry out and supporting Israel.
Where we are today of course is moving the peace process forward. What we should be doing is looking for ways to make that two-state solution happen to deliver the final piece of this story. That's why we have issues with this decision about the embassy move. It was a clumsy attempt to intervene in the region, in the issue and in the process for the purposes of a by-election. It was not done in consultation with the Quartet, the stakeholders or the parties involved.
With a major diplomatic step like that, you always use it in the process. We could have gone to Israel and said, 'We'd love to do this, but we'd like to see more action on dismantling illegal outposts.' We could have gone to the Palestinians and said, 'We want to do this, but if you, for example, would stop what's going on in the Gaza Strip with Hamas and its brutal treatment of gays and lesbians and women and its outlawing of free trade unionism et cetera, we'll only do this in the context of a recognition of East Jerusalem.' Those are the things we could have worked through, which is what I believe the Trump administration is doing at the present time. But, no, it was this ham-fisted, stumble-bum approach to getting involved in the intricate and difficult politics of the Middle East. So I would say: let's not try and play politics with this. We need to retain a bipartisan approach to this issue and to carefully craft our way through using diplomacy to get to that two-state solution, which we would really like to see, and in a way that helps the Palestinians build the mechanisms of the state and also encourages them down the path of a democratic, secular state that respects human rights—and that is the objective of all of us. (Time expired)
I'm pleased to be making a statement today on the 70th anniversary of Australia's diplomatic relationship with Israel. I refer to the Opposition Leader's speech in the parliament yesterday in which he referred to the personal connections that members of this House and Australians in general share with the people and nation of Israel.
On that note, I want to reflect on my own personal connections to the Jewish people, which date back to the 1960s and specifically 1963, when my family and I moved to Carlton, an inner city suburb in Melbourne, where I grew up. It was a time of mass migration to Australia, and it was a suburb that had very many migrants from southern Europe, in particular. More importantly, a large Jewish refugee community, Holocaust survivors, preceded us there. We lived amongst that community. My mother, in particular, had formed a friendship with a Polish Jewish woman, whose name was Rosa. Mum and Rosa worked together in the local factory. Rosa was one of the many Jewish women whom my mum and our neighbours worked with. Rosa would come to our home, if not every day after work, certainly on many occasions. I would serve as the interpreter. Rosa spoke English and I spoke English but mum didn't, so I would interpret for the two women as they sat down and had coffee together.
I was a young girl at the time and I've never forgotten Rosa's face. The impact on her from her time in Auschwitz was so profound that that's all she ever talked about. She showed us her tattoo on her forearm—it was the first time that I had ever seen this—and she always carried with her photographs of members of her family who had perished. This was the essence of Rosa's grief. For my parents but for my mother in particular, the fact that she had met a Jewish person was quite fascinating. My parents had lived on the island of Lefkada, in the Ionian Sea. They were there as 10-year-olds during the Second World War. My island of Lefkada was the only one of the seven islands in the Ionian Sea that had German soldiers occupying it, and that was because it was a strategic place for them. They had their radio antennas and so forth set up there. My parents always talked about the Germans in the village, and they had heard the stories about what Adolf Hitler was doing to the Jewish people, but of course in those times there was no media and no newspaper; no-one had access to anything. These were by and large things that they remembered being told, and it was incredible that they came to Australia and finally met Holocaust survivors. I guess in many ways it's a reflection of the kind of country that we have built over those years in that they finally did meet people whom they had learnt about and heard about during the Second World War.
That intersecting of the Jewish refugees in Australia was part of the bigger Arthur Calwell migration program. As the member for Calwell, I would like to acknowledge that, despite the difficulties around the White Australia policy, Arthur Calwell did oversee a migration and refugee program that welcomed, among others, Jewish refugees and they were included in that program here in Australia. I want to acknowledge Arthur Calwell. Certainly, the Jewish community acknowledges the support that he gave them. I also want to acknowledge Mary Elizabeth Calwell, his daughter, who has maintained a strong relationship with the Jewish community here in Australia.
Australia and the Labor Party have a historical relationship to Israel. As many members here have said, Doc Evatt, as President of the United Nations, participated in voting for the creation of the Jewish state. Also, the Australian Labor Party, as the Leader of the Opposition affirmed, has always pursued and supported a two-state solution. On this day, the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel, we also need to acknowledge the creation of the Palestinian state. The right of the Palestinian people to have their own state, as agreed to with the two-state solution, needs to be fulfilled. Peace and security in the region, and ultimately for Israel, depends on the actualisation of the two-state solution.
After 70 years of statehood, Israel has grown into a very vibrant country. It is a leader in many areas of technology and it is an innovative and exciting place. But Israel's peace and security still lies with the need to make peace with its Palestinian neighbours through a two-state solution—two peoples, recognising each other's rights to exist in peace within secure borders. The great former Prime Minister of Israel, the late Yitzhak Rabin knew this. He understood profoundly that peace and security for Israel lay in making peace with the Palestinians. That's what drove him to make the decision to move in the direction of partnering with Yasser Arafat to participate in the Oslo process, in the hope that that peace could be achieved.
Sadly, all the hopes and expectations of that process and that time ended abruptly with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and then the death of Yasser Arafat. Since then, things have not gone very well for either people. It is heartening, however, to see that there still is a will for peace among Israelis and Palestinians. I say that having been to the region, most recently with the member for Flynn, and having spoken to many Israelis and Palestinians as well. There is still a hope and a desire for peace. They said to us that making peace is something their politicians can't seem to find a way forward on but they have a strong will to do so. They look to Australia, knowing our history and relationship with Israel. They look to us again to help in this process. I believe that Australia can lend a hand again, just like we did 70 years ago.
I would like to leave the chamber with this thought, something that has been impressed upon me in all of the time that I have pursued this issue in this parliament: pursuing the rights of Palestinian people and defending them doesn't make you anti-Semitic; on the contrary, it is a genuine desire to see how we can assist in helping to achieve peace in that region. But we are told that the time is running out for a viable two-state solution and a genuine peace. There is a lot of anxiety and concern in Israel and Palestine—and it should concern us—that a failure to find a way forward soon will risk Israel's future security and its democracy. So to fail will risk continued tensions and conflict in the region, it will risk the security of the state of Israel and it will risk the stability of the region. As the Leader of the Opposition said yesterday, the Labor Party has always supported bipartisanship in pursuit of a two-state solution. We continue to support that and we will do whatever we can to treat this issue with the sensitivity that it requires. The member for Eden-Monaro made a very strong point about the complexity of this issue and the need to understand its many layers, to treat it sensitively and to treat it with understanding. I want to say that the Prime Minister's hurried announcement—a bungled announcement, actually—about moving our embassy to Jerusalem wasn't well thought through. To be honest and frank with you, I was in the region in January, and people there weren't very happy with it either. It wasn't very helpful. The best way we can continue to contribute is to work together in bipartisanship to realise a two-state solution.
I rise to speak on the 70th anniversary of Australia's formal diplomatic relationship with the state of Israel. I'm very honoured to be able to address the parliament in a very important discussion in this parliament, which is also a discussion which has been held with speakers from both sides of the parliament. I follow on from my friend the member for Calwell and her deep commitment to peace in that region, which is well known and recognised by many, not only in this country but right across that region as well. I'm following on also from the member for Eden-Monaro and the Treasurer of Australia and from the statements in the House of Representatives from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
Throughout the world, Australia is lucky to have many great nations as close friends and allies, but perhaps, of all of our wonderful partnerships, it is Israel that we share the most in common with. Today we recognise the 70th anniversary of the formal beginning of Australia's friendship with Israel. It was not long after David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, publicly read the declaration of independence of Israel on 14 May 1948 that Australia and Israel formalised our partnership together. When officially announcing in 1949 that Australia would recognise Israel as a state, Prime Minister Ben Chifley said Israel would be 'a force of special value in the world'. Since that time, it has proved to be so. In the 70 years since then, the friendship and mateship between our two countries have only grown closer.
Our support for Israel has been long and unwavering. It was only two years earlier, prior to our formal partnership, that Australia was the first country to vote yes to the 1947 United Nations partition plan that called for the establishment of a Jewish state. Of course, it was Australia's Minister for External Affairs from 1941 to 1949, the great Doc Evatt, who presided over the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as President of the General Assembly of the United Nations, who also chaired the committee that recommended to the United Nations that Israel be welcomed into the international community of nations.
We are deeply indebted to the Australian Delegation for its consistent and effective support of our cause in the Assembly and its organs through all the stages of the consideration of our problem by the United Nations.
We are grateful to you for the decisive part you played in the proceedings.
It was under your chairmanship and thanks in so large measure to your determined lead that Israel was admitted to the United Nations when barely a year old.
The manner in which you steered to a vote the second historic Resolution, representing as it does the culmination of the process initiated by the first, the warmth and eloquence with which you welcomed Israel into the family of nations, have earned for you the undying gratitude of our people.
This shows the depth of our two great countries' bonds with each other from the very start. Evatt would later write in his memoirs:
I regard the establishment of Israel as a great victory of the United Nations.
There is no doubt now that Israel is a progressive and forward-thinking state, and our two countries share not only many of the same values but also a close bond.
We've always had warm relations, with strong economic ties due to the close people-to-people links and our commercial relationship for many decades. The trade between our two nations, as we've heard today from the member for Wentworth, is about $1.2 billion. We continue to explore partnerships to strengthen our economic ties to this day. We cooperate internationally with Israel in many fields, including international development assistance. Importantly, this includes Australia's international development assistance in Gaza and the West Bank, which supports human development, institution building and economic growth, which is so important for peace in that region.
I also rise today to place on record my strong support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that we may see peace for all people of Israel and the region. I last had the privilege of visiting the region and Israel in 2017 as part of a delegation alongside new members of this place. I hope to visit again soon. It was an honour to visit and be guided by experts through a series of in-depth meetings alongside parliamentary colleagues, officials, academics, union and community leaders, and other Israeli representatives. The trip also coincided with the 100th anniversary since British politician Arthur Balfour, later Lord Balfour, presented a declaration of the British government stating the case for the Jewish homeland.
That year was also the 90th anniversary of the Zionist Federation of Australia, and today I'd like to acknowledge the following: the current ZFA president, Jeremy Leibler; immediate past president, Dr Danny Lamm; the treasurer, Mr Ben Simon; the secretary, Ms Rebecca Lacey Ehrlich; and my good friend and the president of the State Zionist Council of Queensland, Tony Leverton. They are all hardworking and dedicated members of the federation. Whilst today we celebrate the 70th anniversary of our friendship with Israel, we also look to the future of our two great nations for what will no doubt be another 70 years of working closely side-by-side and peace in the region.
I rise today, as my colleagues before me on both sides of the House have, to speak on this motion to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Israeli-Australian diplomatic relationship. I do so as a proud member of the Australian Jewish community and with the full gravity of the significance of being one of the limited number of Jewish-identifying members of this parliament. This is a significant milestone worth celebrating, as are a number of longstanding ties that we hold within the global community as a nation. Australia has an important economic bond with the State of Israel, and it's my sincere hope that our relationship will continue to prosper over the years to come. But I do think it's very important to remember the history of our relationship and how the State of Israel arose.
As members of this place would be aware, our relationship with Israel dates back to 1947, an important period in history for not only both of our young nations but for the entire world. The relationship was fostered under our 16th Prime Minister, Ben Chifley, and his Minister for External Affairs, HV Evatt, who ultimately officially recognised Israel in 1949. Both of our nations were navigating the challenging waters in the immediate post-World War II era, and in trying times such as this the significance of establishing diplomatic relations with another nation cannot be understated.
The history has been spoken about a little. HV Evatt, a Labor icon, was the Minister for External Affairs and chairman of the committee that gave rise to the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel. It's very important to understand the pressures that Evatt was put under by the British government and by conservative political forces in Australia not to agree to this arrangement. Through strength of character and through the support of the Chifley government, he was able to force through the resolution for the partition of Palestine and the creation of Israel. It's very important to note that this was under such considerable pressure. It may not have happened so quickly if it weren't for HV Evatt. It was a very important moment in our history where government was able to stand up to the British government and forge our way ahead. It was another one of the remarkable feats of HV Evatt.
It's also important to understand the trauma that the world was recovering from at that time. I have recently been to Germany to visit my daughter and my new grandchild. I visited the museum of terror in Berlin, which describes, documents and informs about the holocaust and the terrible, terrible things that happened at that time, and you cannot fail to understand what a symbol the state of Israel was and is for the Jewish people. As one of the few Jewish people in Australia who has never been to Israel, I still see it as a place of sanctuary which the Jewish people found after the terrible trauma of the Second World War. One needs to understand that history when understanding how important it was for Australia to recognise Israel.
My own electorate of Macarthur's links to Palestine and to Israel go back even further. Every year, we have a commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba, the last great cavalry charge of war time, where the Australian Light Horse charged the Turkish and German forces at Beersheba and overcame them, which led to the rapid advancement of the Allied forces in the First World War. On 31 October every year, at Menangle Park, we have a celebration of the 4th Australian Light Horse, who trained and camped at Menangle prior to embarking for the Middle East where they undertook that great feat. My father-in-law was one of the last of the Light Horsemen who were dismounted in the Second World War to fight in New Guinea. So our electorate of Macarthur has a strong link with the Middle East and with Palestine.
A number of noteworthy Australians have contributed to and fostered the relationship between our two nations. Perhaps the most significant of these was none other than General Sir John Monash, a famous Jewish Australian renowned throughout the country. Our diplomatic relationship, as with all other nations with which we hold bilateral relations, will overcome adversity through time, surpass governments which come and go and, I hope, stand the test of time. In the modern globalised world, our relations with our neighbours bring us together as one and help to break down barriers between language, distance and culture. The role of trade and diplomatic relations cannot be underestimated in negating global conflicts and bringing us closer together. It is of vital importance that we continue to foster economic ties with Israel, which is a rapidly developing country with wonderful new start-up occurring almost every minute. We are as strong as we are united and as weak as we are divided, and we are united with Israel.
Macarthur has a limited number of Jewish Australians residing within its boundaries. However, no doubt Australians from all backgrounds can revel in the success of such a longstanding relationship. Both our nations have experienced a great deal of growth and change throughout our 70-year friendship. As the Leader of the Opposition stated, this anniversary serves as 'a reminder of Australia's capacity to be a constructive, effective international citizen' and it should encourage us all to continue to seek to break down the perceived barriers that have historically divided us.
The geopolitical climate in the Middle East is a difficult one, and division and war still continue to plague the region. However, a democratic society such as Israel should serve as a beacon of hope in this difficult climate and no doubt it offers hope to the people of other nations who still fight a constant battle for freedom from oppression and tyranny. The people of Israel should be supported by diplomatic friends. The right to prosper safely and freely within their borders should be defended at all times. That much is undeniable.
As an ally of the state of Israel, Australia should continue to speak openly and frankly with our close friend. I have no issue in saying I am a strong supporter of a two-state solution. I believe in a two-state solution. I have hope that peace can be found in this region and that the people of Palestine and Israel can, with willingness from both sides, coexist and live harmoniously. As with all borders and barriers, the things that unite us as human beings far surpass the things that divide us. We just have to want to see an end to conflict and be willing to live in harmony. I've said that the people of Israel should be able to live safely and securely within their nation, and I'll say the same thing for the Palestinian people. Certainly there are barriers to overcome, and no-one should deny the complexity of this situation, but that does not make the goal unobtainable. We have to believe that these obstacles can be overcome and tirelessly pursue a two-state solution, if we truly desire to bring stability to the Middle East.
Our actions and decisions as a nation matter, if we are to help our allies bring peace to this difficult region. The impact of world leaders making sweeping statements on the location of diplomatic postings should not be under-estimated, especially if these statements are empty and made with the goal of swinging a few votes in a marginal seat. Our words and our decisions do matter. Australia's role as a global citizen, as with all nations, should not be placed at risk as a result of ill-conceived actions or notions put forth by an individual without appropriate research and understanding. Our relationship with our allies should outlast governments, which come and go. Our world leaders must act as responsible custodians of the offices they hold, to ensure that these relationships continue to thrive in the future.
Israel is facing an election in the near future. The government may change. But we will continue our relationship with the people of Israel, and we believe in a pluralist, liberal democracy being in place in the Middle East and hope that, for the rest of the people of the Middle East, it is achievable as well. I hope that, with increasing prosperity and education, the people of Palestine and the people of Israel can live in coexistence, in harmony.
I will just make a brief contribution on this auspicious occasion, the 70th anniversary of our formal diplomatic relations with the state of Israel. I'll start by acknowledging what I think was a truly heroic achievement by Doc Evatt: to overcome what, at the time, was fairly institutionalised prejudice against the Jewish people, to push through the Australian parliament and the Australian government the recognition of the state of Israel. I think that was an enormous achievement for him.
Looking on the achievements of the state of Israel, they are many and enormous. They are a shining light for democracy and freedom in the Middle East. I was fortunate enough to visit Israel in May 2018. That visit was very kindly sponsored by AIJAC. It was a wonderful visit and gave me a much greater understanding of the situation on the ground. I will never ever claim to be an expert on Middle Eastern politics, but it certainly does help to visit, to meet with some of the players. My visit included a visit to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian people to discuss some of the issues that confront them and the geopolitical situation in the Middle East generally.
But today we're here to talk about the 70th anniversary of our diplomatic relations with Israel. Australia and Israel have been good friends and partners in the international community throughout that period. I would like to echo the Prime Minister's comments in the House yesterday regarding some of the disgraceful motions condemning Israel's human rights record that have been moved in the United Nations by countries that certainly have no claim to a squeaky-clean human rights record themselves.
I will return now to my visit to Israel, to touch on a few issues that I think were important for my understanding—and for others', I'm sure, if other members of parliament have had the opportunity to make that visit. As I mentioned, I made a visit to the West Bank to speak to Palestinians about their position, their dispossession and the challenges that they face. We visited refugee camps, and one of the things that struck me about the refugee camps, which I had not been aware of previously, was that refugee status is passed down through the generations. Some of the people in those refugee camps are, indeed, third generation, since 1948. They are the only refugees in the world who are able to access that generational refugee status. It seemed to me that this had the potential to perpetuate what is a very difficult situation into the future.
We visited Sderot, which is a small town of around 20,000 people on the border with Gaza. I think most people who have followed the news would be aware that Sderot has suffered many, many missile attacks over the years. The people of Sderot have an air raid warning system which allows them around 15 seconds to seek shelter. It was quite remarkable to see children's playgrounds where the caterpillar—a piece of playground equipment for children to climb and play on—was actually also a bomb shelter. This was in schools and other areas. That gave us some sense of the threat that the Israeli people live under, and it was quite an eye-opener. But what was also eye-opening was the character and courage of the Israeli people. There's actually a waiting list for people wanting to move to Sderot. Those people who aren't in the armed forces see moving to a town like Sderot as being in the front line and doing their bit for their country. As I say, it gave us some sense of the character of the people and their willingness to stand and fight for their country and the democracy that they have built in the 70 years since the formation of the nation of Israel.
It was a wonderful trip, and, as I say, I'd recommend that all members of parliament take the opportunity to visit Israel and learn a little bit more about the situation on the ground there. It will give them a somewhat better understanding of what it's like to live in a democracy in the Middle East, surrounded by many people who would like to see your demise. My congratulations to the nation of Israel! I'm very pleased to be able to recognise 70 years of diplomatic relations with their state. Thank you.
It is an honour for me to be able to stand up here and make my contribution in this formal recognition of the 70th anniversary of the diplomatic relationship established between Australia and the state of Israel. In 1853, Louis Monash and his wife, Bertha Manasse, made the very momentous decision to emigrate from Prussia to Melbourne. It was, like every decision to emigrate, one which was momentous and difficult and which profoundly changed their lives. For this young Jewish couple, it was a decision that not only had an impact on them but would ultimately have a great impact upon our nation. In 1865, Bertha gave birth to their son, John, who would grow up to become Australia's greatest military figure and one of the giants of the allied cause in the Great War.
Simcha Baevski arrived in Melbourne as a Russian refugee in 1899, at the age of 21. Along with his brother Elcon, he set up a drapery store in Bendigo. With a dedicated commitment to the adage, 'The customer is always right,' combined with a complete sense of honesty, they built a department store empire. Simcha later changed his name to Sidney Myer, and his efforts during the Depression to keep people working in Melbourne is now a matter of legend. In 1934, after his sudden death, there were 100,000 mourners lining the streets to pay their regards to this great Australian.
From John Monash to Sidney Myer, from Frank Lowy to David Gonski, from Solomon Lew to the Pratts and the Lieblers, the Australian Jewish community have played a huge role in Australia's development, and we are very much the beneficiary of them. Indeed, among their number are an estimated 25,000 Jews who emigrated to Australia within the period of 1945 to 1961, in that process doubling the Jewish community in this country. As a result, we have in Australia the greatest proportion of holocaust survivors, per head of population, of any other country, other than Israel itself. This story of emigration binds our two nations together.
Madam Deputy Speaker Vamvakinou, you will know that the Australian Labor Party has been a beneficiary of this contribution as well—from earlier figures, like Senator Sam Cohen, who was the first Jewish Australian to be elected to the Senate, to Barry Cohen, who served as a minister in the Hawke government; the current shadow Attorney-General, who was the Attorney-General during the Gillard government; the member for Macarthur, who just made a contribution; the indomitable member for Melbourne Ports; Phil Dalidakis and Marsha Thomson, who served as ministers in the Victorian government; Jennifer Huppert; and Syd Einfeld. They have made a great contribution to our party. It again serves as an example of how close Australia and Israel are by virtue of this community.
The birth of Israel occurred over a significant period. It perhaps dates from the birth of modern Zionism in 1897, as founded by Theodor Herzl. Emigration to Palestine saw 400,000 Jews living in Palestine prior to the Second World War. In 1939 the British government published a white paper about the establishment of a single Palestinian state after a 10-year period. Included in that white paper was a prohibition on immigration to Palestine of more than 75,000 Jews over a five-year period and that emigration was subject to the acquiescence of the existing Arab population, which was unlikely to ever occur.
The British policy of limiting Jewish emigration to Palestine placed what then occurred in the Holocaust in very sharp focus. As the war ended and the true horror of the Holocaust became apparent, the hundreds of thousands of European Jews who sought to emigrate to Palestine but were denied by virtue of this British policy created a desperate moral question, which was addressed at the 22nd Zionist Congress in Basel in 1946. Really the creation of the modern state of Israel at that point became a cause of global moral justice.
Israel at the outset was founded on principles of collectivism, democracy and social justice. The first Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, had been the Secretary-General of the Histadrut, what is now the Israeli trade union movement and which predates the state itself. After David Ben-Gurion's retirement he was living in a small bungalow on a kibbutz, at Sde Boker, in the Negev desert. Two pictures adorned his walls: one was of Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, and the other was of Mahatma Gandhi, who stood for the moral dignity that could be derived from the passive change that he sought to bring about. These images stood for the ideals that Ben-Gurion was about but also what he hoped Israel itself would be about.
In April 1947 the paths of two countries—Israel and Australia—inadvertently, I suppose, crossed by virtue of the role of Doc Evatt in the United Nations. Doc Evatt was a leading figure in the establishment of the United Nations and would become the President of the General Assembly in 1948. Prior to that he was established as the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question. There is absolutely no doubt that he was the critical figure within the UN process that ultimately saw the motion to establish the state of Israel pass through the United Nations. He was a tour de force in this and he did it in the face of opposition by some, ambivalence by others and even trepidation by the United States itself. In the aftermath of the UN vote, when the US gave de facto recognition to Israel, it was by Doc Evatt's hand, as the foreign minister of Australia, that Australia gave full recognition to the new state of Israel. He was later to say in his memoirs, 'I regard the establishment of Israel as a great victory of the United Nations.'
Since then Israel has grown into being an extraordinary state, but it would be remiss not to mention that in the process there is another question which has arisen, and that is the question around the existence or the creation of a Palestinian state. From the late sixties and early seventies, as we saw independent movements across the world gain momentum, the plight of the Palestinian people—a group who sought to have their own self-determination—also came into focus. There were terrorist tactics used in respect of this cause, which gave it some complexity, but at the end of the day the existence of this community who sought a nation was a fact and a cause which could not be denied.
I do understand, as a supporter of Israel, the desire for Palestinian statehood and I sympathise with it. If global justice is to be our measure, it will not be fulfilled until the Palestinian people have an opportunity to live within a fully fledged nation of their own. I know that there are many in Israel who share that view. I know that there are many in Israel who are opposed to the movement to establish Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. That said, it is absolutely essential that Israel itself is able to live within its borders in peace and security. The ever-present threat of Islamic-extremist terrorism in Israel is a fact of life, but it shouldn't have to be. The governmental task of providing national security in Israel is one that is unimaginable to us. It's in that context that I support what is really the bipartisan policy of Australian foreign policy: a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.
In the meantime though there is a wonderful relationship to be built with both the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. We have a development assistance program in the Palestinian Authority, which is important in terms of building that community's resilience. But in the State of Israel itself, we now have a high-tech, incredible country from whom we have so much to learn and so much to gain by building our bilateral relationship. I have been privileged to visit Israel, as I have the Palestinian Authority, on a number of occasions, and know the opportunity that it presents. Australia was there at the very beginning of the creation of Israel. We are very much a close friend of Israel, and it is an enormous honour today to be able to celebrate the 70th anniversary of those diplomatic relations.