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United Israel Appeal Dinner: 50th anniversary of Israel, Sydney Convention and Exhibition Centre, 10 March 1998: address.

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10 March 1998


It is a real pleasure to be invited here tonight by the United Israel Appeal, to share with ills members and other guests this very special occasion in celebration of Israel's fiftieth anniversary. I always feel very much at home in the welcoming warmth and friendship of Australia's Jewish community - and tonight is no exception.


It is a special honour to be here this evening in the company of one of Israel's most highly regarded statesmen, Shimon Peres. In various capacities over the fifty years of Israel's statehood, including three periods as prime minister, you have been an instrumental figure in setting Israel's course for the future Your presence here tonight brings a special significance and lustre to these anniversary celebrations.


Anniversaries are not just a time for celebration. They are also a good time - for both individuals and nations - to reflect on the events and achievements of the past, to take heed of the lessons of what's gone before, and to look forward.


By any measure, it has been a remarkable fifty years for Israel - years of struggle, years of war, and the terrible price of senseless terrorism.


It has also been fifty years of democracy, of fighting for principle, of survival in the face of constant attacks on Israel's very right to exist.


This message of determination anchored in principle is not only the key to Israel's first fifty years - it is also the key to its future, and the achievement of a lasting peace in the Middle East.


50 years - and much to celebrate


For the Israeli people, and Jewish communities all over the world, there is much in the first half century of Israel's statehood to celebrate. It is a history of which there is much to be proud and to take heart from for the future of the Israeli nation


Almost fifty years ago, on 14 May 1948, David Ben-Gurion read out before a small gathering in Tel Aviv - much smaller than the number of people here tonight - the declaration of the establishment of the state of Israel.


The fundamental elements of that declaration - the unbreakable spiritual and historical attachment of the Jewish people to the land of Israel, the commitment to welcome home Jewish people from all parts of the world, and the pledge of a society based on equality, freedom, justice and peace - have been durable fibres in the social and political fabric of Israel's first fifty years as a modern state.


They have helped forge a nation which values its robust democracy and engages in vigorous and fearless debate about political and social issues; a nation which takes pride in a diverse and vibrant culture that - like Australia's - has been enriched by the influx of people from all over the world.


Like Australia, Israel is a nation strengthened by immigration. Over the past fifty years Israel has been a haven for Jewish people, initially mainly after the second world war years and then from the countries of the former Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia. The welcoming of immigrants into Israeli society and their integration into the building of a nation are in effect the story of Israel's development.


Building on the traditions of centuries of adversity and exile for the Jewish people, Israel epitomises indomitable spirit and fortitude.


Israel's survival, and the security of its people, have often been threatened in the last fifty years - by war and by terrorism. Within hours of David Ben-Gurion reading the declaration of its establishment, the fledgling state was invaded by forces determined to end its existence. The unshakeable will to survive and to overcome have united the Israeli people, who have drawn strength from their faith and from the common purpose of meeting these challenges and threats.


Australia and Israel


The many links between Australia and Israel go back a long way, longer than the fifty years of formal statehood. We were there at the beginning of the formation of the Israeli state. Australia gave strong political support in the United Nations to the creation of Israel, including voting for the partition plans in the belief that it represented a workable compromise. In 1949, Australia was one of the first countries to recognise the State of Israel and to establish diplomatic representation there.


Since Israel's foundation, Australia's support for Israel's right to exist within secure and recognised borders has been unswerving. I have long been personally committed to Israel and its people. I assure you of the continuing strength of that commitmen t for the future.


Over the past fifty years, Australia and Israel have built together a strong and mutually beneficial relationship, spanning a broad range of political, commercial and cultural ties.


I am glad to note that it is a relationship nurtured by history - but by no means stuck in the past. It keeps changing - as it must - to meet the challenges and opportunities of contemporary times.


I am told, for example, that the recent trade mission to Israel organised by the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce and led by the Victorian Treasurer had a strong focus on high technology. Given the burgeoning growth and success in this area of both Australian and Israeli businesses, there is great potential for us to work together through investment and cooperative ventures.


One of the strongest links binding Australia and Israel is our Australian Jewish community.


You have been and continue to be a most effective and valued channel between Australia and Israel - a channel for friendship, for understanding, and a constructive dialogue between government and the community on a range of issues, including foreign policy issues affecting Israel.


Through your organisations such as the UIA, and especially its Refugee Relief Fund, you are a generous source of assistance to Israel and its people, reaffirming the strong Jewish tradition of helping those in need.


I would like to take a moment to recognise the important work of the Fund. Since its inception in 1992, the Fund has helped refugees make new lives in Israel through the provision of immediate care and maintenance, education and vocational training. This has been practical demonstration of your community's commitment to a cohesive and harmonious society welcoming of different cultures and perspectives.


Securing a safe homeland is etched in the Jewish psyche. It is consistent with the enduring tradition of the Jewish family long before the establishment of the State of Israel. This is what the UIA and its Refugee Relief Fund is all about.


For 2000 years, Jews have reached out to other Jews in distress. Now you are reaching out and bringing your people home, as you have with the long lost communities of Jews in Ethiopia and the Hazzars of the Caucusus, and refugees from the former Yugoslavia -regardless of differing colour or culture.


The Jewish community has made a lasting contribution to the Australian nation. No matter where you go in Australia, whether it be in politics, the arts, business, the professions, science, sports or other areas of community life, you find members of Australia's Jewish community who have helped build Australia and are helping shape its future


A great strength of the Jewish community has been the promotion of genuine Australian values common to all of us:


* the primacy of family life and its importance in building strong and enduring communities;


* the value of enterprise, the work ethic and reward for effort, and


* the active recognition of the obligation to give back where benefit has been received.


Y ou attach great importance to the expression of your spiritual and cultural heritage, and -especially valuable and deserving of recognition - you attach equal importance to respect for the heritage of others. At the same time, Jewish Australians have shown great loyalty to Australia, to her national interests, and to the liberal democratic values which remain at the heart of the Australian way of life.


Looking to the next 50 years


Just as Australia looks beyond her impending centenary of Federation, no doubt Israel's fiftieth anniversary is also a time also for her to look ahead.


It is safe to predict that, just as Israel's first fifty years has been dominated and shaped by her relations with her neighbours, so will her future.


The 1948 declaration offered to Israel's neighbours 'peace and good neighbourliness' and committed Israel to doing her share in a common effort for the advancement of the Middle East.


That offer, and Israel's right to exist, were rejected - setting the scene for the tumultuous struggles which have threatened Israel, destabilised the region and provided the conditions for terrorism to flourish.


It is even more imperative today - for the true fulfilment of the aspirations of Israel's founders, for Israel's future and for the stability and well-being of the region as a whole -that a path is built to a comprehensive and lasting settlement in the Middle East.


For the past two months, the world's attention has been focused on the continuing efforts of Iraq to evade its obligations under the Security Council resolutions and to hide and protect its capacity to make and use weapons of mass destruction - weapons which Saddam Hussein has shown in the past he is ready to use against his own people as well as against Iraq's neighbours.


My Government was convinced that Iraq could not be allowed to continue its blatant defiance of the will of the international community and the authority of the United Nations, destabilise the region and threaten international security. We therefore decided to commit Australian military forces to the coalition forces in the Gulf


Meeting with our troops as they prepared to leave Campbell Barracks in Perth, I conveyed to them the justice of their cause. I was impressed by their understanding of the need for their mission.


They are serving in the nation's direct national interest. It is not a situation that is remote and unconnected from Australia but something that in the long run, if not properly dealt with, would have serious consequences for our country.


It should be a source of great sustenance to our troops - and to their families and fellow Australians - that they serve in the Gulf with superb training and skills. Most importantly, they serve with the goodwill of an immensely proud Australian nation and the overwhelming support of the Parliament.


In wishing Godspeed on behalf of all Australians, I expressed my sincere hope that military force would not be needed.


If conflict is avoided, however, it will have been overwhelmingly due to the willingness of Australia, Britain and the United States and others to demonstrate their preparedness to act militarily if necessary.


We welcomed the agreement reached with Iraq by United Nations Secretary-General Annan - achieved only because, as the Secretary-General has acknowledged, his diplomatic efforts were backed up by the firm resolve of the United States and its coalition partners to use force if diplomacy failed.


That agreement now has to be tested comprehensively. Saddam Hussein has broken agreements before and we cannot assume he will keep to this one. He must understand that he cannot break it with impunity so coalition forces remain in the Gulf while that testing, through UNSCOM inspections, is undertaken.


Iraq's behaviour - now and in the past - is a potent reminder of the threatening security environment in which Israelis have struggled to survive and build their nation.


It is also, however, an equally powerful reminder of the need to make progress towards a comprehensive and lasting settlement in the region.


Important steps have been taken on the path to peace - beginning with the Madrid Conference in 1991 and gathering momentum through the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, the peace treaty signed by Israel and Jordan in 1994 and the 1995 Israeli/Palestinian interim agreement.


That process brought to the people of the Middle East - and the rest of the world - a sense of hope for an end to the years of bitter conflict and the prospect of a future of peace with security


As a staunch and true friend of Israel, I feel able to say that now is the time for Israel - and for the other parties to the peace process - to make a renewed commitment and to redouble their efforts to achieve a lasting settlement.


I don't pretend that the obstacles to a settlement are trivial or easily resolved. The issues at stake are of fundamental strategic, human and spiritual importance, involving land and security and the faith and way of life of millions of people.


There must be a return to the negotiating table. The parties must talk - directly, frankly and thoroughly - about the full range of issues. There is no substitute for genuine commitment from the parties to flexibility and creativity in negotiating a sett lement.


The United States deserves our praise and support for its role in building the stepping stones of the peace process. And it will continue to be a crucial player in moving the process ahead. But, as the United States recognises, it cannot substitute for direct, good faith participation by the parties.


I want to finish by emphasising the earnest wish of the Australian Government - and the friends of Israel in Australia - that the peace dialogue be resumed with a sense of purpose and urgency:


The qualities which have served Israel so well over the last 50 years - determination, commitment to the ideals and principles on which Israel was founded - are a strong foundation from which to move ahead with the peace process.


We look forward to a time when Israel can be confident about its future and about its relationships with its neighbours.


May that time come soon.