22 November 2000
TRANSCRIPT OF THE PRIME MINISTER
THE HON JOHN HOWARD MP
ADDRESS AT AUSTRALIA/ISRAEL & JEWISH AFFAIRS COUNCIL AND UNITED ISRAEL APPEAL, MELBOURNE
Thank you Mark for those very kind words of introduction. To the Premier of Victoria Mr Steve Bracks and his wife, to the acting Governor of Victoria, to former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, former Governor General Sir Zelman Cowan, Mr and Mrs Frank Cicutto, Mr and Mrs Liebler, my federal and state parliamentary colleagues, the Ambassador of the State of Israel, ladies and gentlemen.
It is, for Janette and I a very special occasion to be amongst you, to share some reflections with you about our visit to Israel in April of this year, but also more importantly to take the opportunity of expressing particularly at this time of such distress and anguish about what is occurring in the Middle East, to express to you on behalf of the Government and I know on behalf of all of your fellow Australians, a sense of great compassion and great concern for what is occurring in the Middle East.
To say to all of you that you have in the Government of Australia and you have in the people of Australia both an understanding Government and an understanding group of fellow countrymen and women.
Our visit to Israel in April of this year was my third and Janettes first. As Mark said I went to Israel long before my entry into Australian politics. In part that visit was inspired by some deep friendships that Id formed with members of the Australian Jewish community first at Sydney University and more generally within the community afterwards. It was an experience that reminded me of the great tenacity and capacity to survive which has had to be a hallmark of the existence of the State of Israel since its formation in 1948. It brought home to me for the first time in a very vivid way how important that part of the world has been to the creation of many of the spiritual streams of the entire world. The contribution that it made not only to Judaism but also to Christianity and to Islam.
I went again in 1988 as Leader of the Opposition. I felt I hadnt travelled all that far because in 1964 as a relatively modest traveller, or a traveller of modest means as well as being a modest traveller, Id stayed at the YMCA in Jerusalem. In 1988 I returned to stay just across the road at the King David Hotel. So things hadnt moved all that far.
So it was with a great sense of anticipation and genuine warmth that I went to Israel for the first time as Prime Minister of Australia. I preceded my visit to Israel with a visit to Gallipoli on ANZAC day and subsequently to the battlefields of the Western Front in France. I was reminded of course on both of those occasions of how deeply entwined and embedded in the history of this country is the contribution of the Jewish people. One of the seven Australians who won a Victoria Cross at Lone Pine was Jewish and of course the greatest field commander of World War I and arguably Australias greatest Jewish son was of course Sir John Monash. And those references are a metaphor for the partnership that we have enjoyed down through the years, for the contribution that Jewish people have made to our country and the way we have worked together to shape the destiny of this most tolerant of nations.
The situation in the Middle East now is nothing short of heartbreaking. The sense of optimism and hope that was clearly present in April and which I experienced, and might I say to demonstrate my understanding of how very committed to the peace process, not only the people of Israel but also the Jewish community here in Australia, I remember announcing for the first time on Melbourne radio that I would when visiting Israel, go and see the Chairman of the Palestinian Council, having previously been unwilling to invite him to visit Australia because I did not believe the peace process had advanced far enough. I was questioned about the wisdom, or perhaps the consistency of that decision and I responded to the interviewer to the effect that circumstances had changed and it was in the interests of the peace process that all of those who were friends and staunch allies of Israel, as well as acknowledging the legitimate aspirations of the people, the Palestinian people to have their independence, that we should all get together and do what we could to encourage the peace process. And I was greatly encouraged to know that later in the day I think both Mark Liebler and Colin Rubinstein rang the station to express support for the decision that I had taken. That demonstrated the passionate desire of the Jewish people of Australia as well as the desire of so many around the world to see the peace process succeed.
I was encouraged to go to visit Yasser Arafat. I was encouraged by the Government of Israel. I was accompanied on that visit by members of the Australian Jewish community. I still have a photograph of the Chairman, Isi Liebler and myself. It was a reminder of how close in a sense the world had got to achieving an absolutely wonderful breakthrough. And to see that now in great peril is of course tragic and heartbreaking to so many people.
But as Mark said we must not surrender hope because when you surrender hope than you are ultimately of course giving in to those who dont ever want to see peace. I dont believe any Prime Minister of Israel could have offered more than did Ehud Barak at Camp David. As Mark said he went 90% of the way in relation to territory and he was agreeable to joint suzerainty in relation to Jerusalem. It was an offer that should have been accepted and it is tragic in the extreme that it has not been accepted. But we must all of us who remain staunch and reliable friends and allies of Israel, we must all of us continue in our different ways to encourage diplomatically and otherwise the resumed move towards peace. In the end I believe there is a deep desire, certainly in the hearts of the people of Israel and I believe also in many Palestinian hearts for peace. That is what I find as I move amongst the different communities here in Australia. People are tired of the killing, they are tired of the terror, they are tired of the insecurity and they want a brighter future for their children. I believe Barak displayed very great courage and he should be encouraged for the efforts that he has so far displayed.
I believe that all countries have a responsibility to urge commitment, renewed commitment, to the peace process. Only today I received a letter from the Israeli Prime Minister detailing the terrible circumstances of the bombing of the bus carrying those children in Israel. And yet despite the understandable anger expressed in that letter, there was a continued commitment to the process of achieving peace.
So my message to you tonight, ladies and gentlemen, is two-fold, in two senses. Its a personal message from John Howard, a long standing friend of the Jewish community of Australia and a long standing admirer of what the state of Israel has achieved against such tremendous adversity in the last 50 years. Its also a message from the Prime Minister of Australia on behalf of the Government and the people of Australia, that we admire the contribution of your community to our country and to our countrys history. We admire the way in which you have contributed to every facet of Australian life, the values of family, of hard work, of loyalty, of charity and civic decency, that your community has always been famed for. It is also a message of renewed hope, I suppose, that somehow the peace process in the Middle East can be back on, can get back on, track. And I believe that there is residual good will in the appropriate areas for that, with appropriate application to be achieved.
Your contribution to Australian society has been immense. And the contribution of the Jewish people around the world, to wisdom and to culture and to learning, has been absolutely legendary. That great and famous part of the world has given great gifts to the people of the world. And that makes the present time of peril and present time of distress all that much harder to bear. But the hallmark of the Jewish people and the hall mark of the state of Israel has always been faith and commitment and tenacity. You, and they, have displayed it in the past and I know it will continue.
Often in life when all apparently seems lost, out of that sense of despair, new hope can be retrieved. I think all of us must hope that that will be what occurs in the Middle East. All of us must hope and pray in our different ways and according to our different faiths, that that can be brought about. Because the desire for peace is very deep, and its very strong and the desire of the friends of the Jewish people and the friends of Israel, all around the world, not only to continue to enjoy their great company and their great contribution to our different societies, but also the desire to see the home land of the Jewish people in Israel live in security and peace, that desire is very strong.
My Government will always remain committed to the territorial integrity of Israel, the right of the people of Israel to live in peace behind secure, defined and defendable boundaries. We also recognise, as we have for many years, the proper and legitimate right and aspiration of the people, Palestinian people, to aspire to have their own state. And we feel for them in relation to the suffering and the aspirations that they legitimately have. We can all hope that good men and women will triumph, and good will and the desire for peace will in the end win out.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it was an honour for me to represent our country in Israel as the Prime Minister of Australia. The vitality of the state of Israel, the obvious and the overt friendship of the people of Israel towards the people of Australia, the burgeoning information technology and other economic links, the honour conferred on me by the Bar Ilan University, the particular pleasure that I derived from being a accompanied or assisted when the degree was conferred on me by two distinguished members of the Australian Jewish community. All of that left an indelible impression on me.
Israel has been a wonderful source of inspiration to the Jewish people of the world, its been a wonderful example of racial harmony and tolerance and of openness and a willingness to receive people from all around the world, not unlike, of course, our own country. And as many people have remarked, there are many similarities, and of course many differences, between our two societies. We are both robust democracies, we sometimes have noisy Parliaments, both of us. We have a very strong commitment to the rule of law, we each have a very strong sense of independence, and a willingness to defy difficult odds. Its a close friendship and its a friendship that I hope I have made a small contribution towards nurturing and improving. I will remember with very great affection the three visits Ive paid to the state of Israel. None of course will be remembered with greater pride than the most recent one, because I not only went there as John Howard a friend and admirer of the state of Israel, but I also went there as John Howard Prime Minister of Australia, a strong, reliable and faithful ally and friend of the state of Israel.
Thank you very much.