FORMER prime minister John Howard was keynote speaker at a unique Liberal Party Shabbat dinner hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies last Friday night.
A key plank of the JBD’s outreach work, the organisation regularly invites key sectors of civil society to attend a Shabbat service, followed by dinner in an adjoining hall.
Attended by 120 people, the Liberal Party event was held at Kehillat Masada Synagogue in St Ives, with Rabbi Gad Krebs officiating at the Shabbat service.
The guests comprised a sizeable contingent of federal, state and local government politicians, including Jason Falinski MP, Paul Fletcher MP, Julian Leeser MP, Alister Henskens SC MP, Jonathan O’Dea MP, Scott Farlow MLC and Natalie Ward MLC, as well as Hornsby Mayor and NSW Liberal Party president Phillip Ruddock, Kuringai Mayor Jennifer Anderson, a dozen councillors from Bayside, Ryde, Northern Beachesl, Sutherland Shire, The Hills Shire, Waverley and Woollahra, and NSW Liberal Friends of Israel president Yosi Tal.
Reflecting on his unswerving support of the Australian Jewish community and Israel, Howard recalled his multiple visits to Israel as Opposition Leader and then as Prime Minister, praising it as the only democracy in the Middle East. Covering a wide range of issues with his customary forensic approach, he interspersed anecdotes of his encounters with Jewish humour – such as having been dubbed a “goyishe kop” after making a mistake as a young solicitor by his boss, Myer Rosenblum – with his avowed admiration for the contribution of Jews to Australian civil society across a range of fields. He challenged guests to strive for freedom and liberty, particularly freedom of religion.
Presiding over the dinner, Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff said that “in the final four years of the government led by John Howard, Australia became one of a handful of nations willing to put principle ahead of politics and stand up for Israel in the sea of jaundice and anti-Israel hostility casually referred to at the United Nations. There have been over 400 anti-Israel resolutions in the UN General Assembly since Israel was established,” he said, “more than against all the other members of the UN combined. Between 2003 and 2007 – the final Howard years – there were 36 resolutions condemning Israel at the General Assembly. In resolution after resolution, while about 164 nations typically voted to condemn Israel, just five courageously stood with it – typically, the US, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau and Australia.
“Four years ago, John Howard was awarded the George S Wise Medal – Tel Aviv University’s highest honour – in recognition of his unwavering advocacy of Israel, his abiding friendship with the Australian Jewish community and his condemnation of international terrorism”.
The mantle that the Howard government adopted in the international arena has been picked up by Malcolm Turnbull’s government, Alhadeff said, citing two examples. “Last month the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning Israel in regard to the recent crisis at the Gaza border. In the 815-word resolution, the word Hamas did not appear once. Twenty-nine nations voted in favour, 14 abstained, just two voted against – the US and Australia. This was followed days later by a similar resolution at the General Assembly, where again Australia was one of a handful of nations to oppose it. Once again, putting principle ahead of politics.”
Alhadeff cited as a local example of the friendship of the Liberal Party “the momentous event which occurred on Macquarie Street three weeks ago when the Crimes Amendment (Publicly Threatening and Inciting Violence) Bill 2018 became law. For 15 years the Board of Deputies has been lobbying state governments of various hues to plug a gap in the law – a gap which meant that one could, with immunity, publicly incite violence or even death to fellow Australians. It was this state government, led by Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Attorney-General Mark Speakman, which listened to the people and made it happen, and the bill proscribing incitement to violence against others based on a range of categories including race, religion and sexual orientation passed unanimously through both Houses of Parliament.
“It was a great day for the people of NSW, a great day for this country, and we look forward to every government in this country emulating the fine example and benchmark set by this NSW government. That it was on this party’s watch that the law changed is a credit to the NSW Liberal Party and the governing coalition, and current and future generations will be indebted to you for that.”
Alhadeff also commended a motion which was passed days later by the NSW Young Liberals to congratulate the government on the legislation.