Tuesday, 17 October 2023
I rise to give my wholehearted support to the motion before the Senate. In doing so, I would like to commence this contribution by quoting from the powerful words of the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. On 12 October 2023, President Jillian Segal addressed the crowd of approximately 10,000 members of the Australian Jewish community and the broader community who gathered to show solidarity with Israel:
Last Shabbat, October 7, 2023—another date that will live in infamy—Israel was suddenly and deliberately attacked by Hamas terrorists, by land, sea and air.
The butchery and savagery that has unfolded in Israel beggars description. Jews were hunted down and murdered in their homes and on the streets. Infants were beheaded in their beds. . Women were raped. The dead were desecrated. Hostages were degraded in public. Whole communities were decimated and buildings burnt to the ground
Not since the Holocaust have so many Jewish lives been taken in a single day.
We are totally shattered as we stand together this evening, mourning the 900 or more innocent lives lost, and praying for the speedy recovery of the injured and the safe release of all of the hostages.
If we had thought that the barbarity of the Holocaust would not happen again, the events of the weekend have demonstrated to the whole world that when Hamas proclaims that it intends to obliterate Israel and its Jewish population, it means what it says.
Hamas, and its backers in Tehran, like ISIS, have once again proved that they are utterly lacking in any concept of the sanctity of human life. There can be no compromise or accommodation with these psychopaths. They must be crushed, and we must brace ourselves for further tragedy.
But we are also filled with a new resolve and a hardened determination. We are fortified by the outpouring of sympathy and support for Israel and our Jewish community from our political leaders, other ethnic and faith communities and hundreds and hundreds of good people from all across Australia, unprecedented since the Six Day War in 1967. Thank you all from the bottom of our hearts.
I would say to our Australian Jewish community and to the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry: I was there with you in spirit when you gave that speech on 12 October 2023.
Now I'm proud to rise in this place to associate myself with the contributions that have been made both by the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Penny Wong, and by the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Simon Birmingham, in relation to the bipartisan support which has been provided in relation to this resolution. This resolution:
… unequivocally condemns the attacks on Israel by Hamas, which are the heinous acts of terrorists, and have encompassed the targeting and murder of civilians, including women and children, the taking of hostages and indiscriminate rocket fire;
Clause (b) of this resolution says the Senate:
… stands with Israel and recognises its inherent right to defend itself;
I want to pause for a moment in relation to that second clause, paragraph (b), under which it's proposed that the Senate stands with Israel and recognises its inherent right to defend itself. It is that clause which the Australian Greens in this place seek to omit and to replace with a clause which seeks to condemn Israel at this of all times. It is a disgraceful amendment being put forward by the Australian Greens, and it follows the actions in the House of Representatives by members of the Australian Greens supported by Ms Tink MP, Dr Scamps MP and Mr Wilkie MP. There were seven members of the House of Representatives who supported that amendment. That's seven members of the House of Representatives who wanted to remove that clause in this resolution saying that Australia stands with Israel and recognises its inherent right to defend itself. Out of those seven, three were Queensland representatives. I make this commitment here and now to remind the electors of the seats of those three Australian Greens every day between now and the election of the position those members took at this point in time. I will remind the electors of Ryan of the position of Ms Elizabeth Watson-Brown MP, who sought to deny in this resolution paragraph (b), which provides recognition of the inherent right of Israel to defend itself. I will remind the electors of the federal seat of Brisbane that Mr Bates MP sought to deny paragraph (b), regarding Israel's inherent right to defend itself. And I will remind the electors in the seat of Griffith that Mr Chandler-Mather sought to deny Israel's inherent right to defend itself.
That inherent right is not just a legal right; it is a moral imperative that was born in the aftermath of the gas chambers and ovens of Auschwitz, where one million Jews lost their lives. It is a moral imperative born in the ravine of Babi Yar near modern day Kyiv, where Einsatzgruppe C butchered 33,771 Jews between 29 and 30 September 1941. It is a moral imperative arising from the banks of the Danube, where Jews were murdered by the fascists of the Arrow Cross movement in Hungary. The Greens amendment sought to obliterate that moral right of the modern state of Israel to defend itself. Their amendment is an absolute abomination. The Greens senators in this place should reflect very, very carefully before they proceed with the amendment in this place. They should reconsider their amendment. Israel of course has the right to defend itself.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, a famous human rights activist, Russian refusenik and former political prisoner of the Soviet Union, Mr Natan Sharansky, who is chairman of advisory boards of the Combat Antisemitism Movement and the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, wrote about Israel's right to defend itself. This is what he said, and how right he is:
It is only a matter of weeks, or days, or even hours until articles will appear in major publications depicting the Israeli government as indiscriminately targeting innocent Palestinians. Human Rights Watch will yet again vilify Israel as an international outlaw, and the United Nations will pass resolutions demanding that we cease our war of self-defense.
I was a member of Israel's security cabinet when we made crucial decisions about how to fight terror during the second intifada in the early 2000s, at a time when hundreds of Israeli civilians were targeted and killed simply for living in the Jewish state. At that time, I also had regular conversations with my colleagues in the U.S. government about how they handled such asymmetric warfare.
In light of these experiences, I know with certainty that Israel expends more effort than any other country during wartime in trying to minimize harm to innocent civilians on the enemy side. These tools include special warning missiles and even text messages and phone calls, in addition to thorough pilot training and other measures, designed to warn Palestinian civilians of pending attacks and to give them time to get to safety.
Hamas terrorists, by contrast, position themselves and their weaponry in heavily populated areas, including in mosques, hospitals and schools, confident that every innocent person killed is another propaganda victory.
The only way to help neutralize this despicable unconventional weapon in the coming days would be for leaders of Western democracies and responsible Arab rulers to make this message absolutely clear: Every innocent Palestinian killed in this conflagration is the victim of Hamas.
The horrific events of this past Saturday can have no silver lining, but the world would benefit immeasurably if the attack were to prompt free nations, together with leading human rights organizations, to finally unite completely in the fight against terrorism—and in the belief that every state, Jewish or not, has the right to defend itself against the indiscriminate murder of its citizens.
That's Mr Natan Sharansky, the famous Russian refusenik, in relation to Israel's right to defend itself.
I am honoured to have the opportunity in the Senate this evening to stand by Israel at this time of need, and Australia stands by Israel. The vast majority of Australians stand by Israel, just as we stood by Israel at the time of its creation and just as we stood by Israel when we voted against UN resolution 3379 in 1975, which equated Zionism with racism. We were one of 35 countries around the world who voted against that vile resolution. We stand by Israel today as it exercises its legal right to defend itself against the evil terrorist attacks launched by Hamas on 7 October 2023. Again, I call upon the Australian Greens to reconsider their amendment in this chamber to this resolution. I ask them to reconsider that amendment—to withdraw that amendment—so that this chamber can give a unanimous response of support to Israel at the time of its greatest need.
I should also say that I have been contacted by members of the Muslim community. People who know me well know that I consider myself a friend of both the Jewish community and the Muslim community in Queensland. Perhaps the best way to summarise my thinking in this regard is to tell a story, in concluding this contribution. It is a story of one of the members of Yad Vashem, the Righteous Among Nations—a Muslim man, by the name of Ali Sheqer Pashkaj. This is the story, as told by his son, of how Mr Ali Sheqer Pashkaj, a Muslim, saved a Jew during World War II during the Holocaust:
Our traditional home is in Puke. My father owned a general store with food provisions … One day a German transport rolled by with nineteen Albanian prisoners on their way to hard labor, and one Jew who was to be shot.
My father spoke excellent German and invited the Nazis into his store and offered them food and wine. He plied them with wine until they became drunk.
Meanwhile he hid a note in a piece of melon and gave it to the young Jew. It instructed him to jump out and flee into the woods to a designated place. The Nazis were furious over the escape, but my father claimed innocence. They brought my father into the village and lined him up against a wall to extract information about where the Jew was hiding.
Four times they put a gun to his head. They came back and threatened to burn down the village if my father didn't confess. My father held out, and finally they left. My father retrieved the man from the forest and hid him for two years in his home until the war was over. His name was Yeoshua Baruchowic. There were thirty families in the village, but no one knew that my father was sheltering a Jew. Yeoshua is still alive. He is a dentist and lives in Mexico.
Why did my father save a stranger at the risk of his life and the entire village? My father was a devout Muslim. He believed that to save one life is to enter paradise.
That is the story of Ali Sheqer Pashkaj as told by his son, Enver alia Sheqer. On 18 March 2002, Yad Vashem recognised Ali Sheqer Pashkaj as 'Righteous Among the Nations'.