Bob Carr’s ‘Israel Lobby’ claims inaccurate, bizarre

14 April 2014

By Mark Leibler
Bob Carr’s interviews on Wednesday on the ABC’s 7.30 and Lateline, spruiking the publication of his The Diary of a Foreign Minister, make various claims about what he refers to as the Melbourne “Israel lobby” exercising extraordinary influence over the office of prime minister Julia Gillard.

Referring to a meeting in April 2013, Carr says that I adopted a “how-dare-you” tone. For a former foreign minister to characterise a normal, cordial and frank exchange as potentially intimidatory is not only inaccurate but a little bizarre.

Strangely enough, he said nothing at the time or in the following months that would indicate that I had earned his displeasure. Perhaps Carr has a problem with anyone disagreeing with him: Such extraordinary thin skin has Carr. Such a delicate disposition from a man who sees himself as an energetic “gladiator” and describes himself as the “best chairman” he knows, is surprising.

Carr has now publicly criticised the approach of what he calls the “Israel lobby” in its dealings with government. At the breakfast that followed my April 2013 meeting with Carr, where I hosted more than 40 Jewish community leaders, Carr openly praised the manner and tone in which views were exchanged and described them as a model of effective engagement with government.

Carr now claims he was frustrated that he couldn’t express his concern about Israeli settlements. Nevertheless, he managed to do so at every opportunity, loudly and clearly. What he is really upset about is that his view did not always prevail. The person he needed to convince was the prime minister. Much to his chagrin, the prime minister exercised independent judgment in relation to this as well as all other issues.

Were anyone to claim that Carr’s excessive emphasis on settlements was due to anything other than his own independent judgment, he would be outraged, and rightly so. He would say, no doubt, that he is more than capable of making up his own mind. On what basis does he presume that the then prime minister had less capacity to exercise similar judgment.

Carr’s claim that Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and the Jewish community take an extreme right-wing view on Israel is disingenuous. Carr knows that there are quite a range of different views in Israel and within the Australian Jewish community in relation to settlements. The vast majority of the Jewish community, including the AIJAC, support a negotiated two-state solution, as does Carr.

This is the position that has been shared by all Australian governments since the 1993 Oslo Accords. It has also been the position of all US and European Union governments. Thus Carr would also categorise all successive Australian, US and European Union governments over the past 21 years as “extreme right-wing”.

What makes Carr the odd one out is his obsessive focus on settlements to the exclusion of everything else – settlements as the sole obstacle to peace. On this point, he is wrong and we make no apologies for saying so. The real obstacles to peace include the ongoing incitement to hatred of Israel, and the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as a reality in the Middle East.

Carr, attending Holocaust remembrance commemorations and naming Primo Levi’s book as the most important book of the past 100 years does not make you a supporter of Israel or the Jewish people. It makes you a human being.

Bob Carr is a very human, human being.

Bob Carr is not a bigot.

Bob Carr is not an anti-Semite.

Bob Carr is a prime minister that never was, making the best of a lost opportunity.

No doubt he will sell books.
Mark Leibler is National Chairman of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

This article originally appeared in The Age on Friday 11 May 2014

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New ZFA President Dr Danny Lamm welcomes Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s comments from ZFA Biennial Conference

For Immediate Release               Monday 7 April 2014

The Zionist Federation of Australia held its Biennial Conference on Sunday 30 March, at which Philip Chester retired after 8 outstanding years of leadership and Dr Danny Lamm was elected unopposed as President. Danny comes to the organisation with a deep engagement with Jewish community leadership, having led major Australian Jewish organisations as well as holding key roles with the World Zionist Organisation and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Continue reading »

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Beyond Boycotts

4 April 2014

By Emily Gian

Over the years, I have received some fantastic “good news” stories that come from Israel and that really needed to be shouted about from the rooftops.

Whether it has been some technological advancement or a medical breakthrough, I have always wondered why such amazing stories are not usually considered “newsworthy” by media outlets.

So you can imagine how overjoyed I was this week, to open up the Melbourne Age newspaper and to read a two-page spread on what is really one of the most astounding inventions of our time – one which comes from the State of Israel.

This is the story of “ReWalk” which has deservedly won its place in the top 5 of Time Magazine’s 25 best inventions of 2013 (it has been around longer). Developed by Israeli company Argo Medical Technologies, ReWalk enables individuals with lower limb disabilities such as paraplegics to stand, walk and take steps independently. Even on paper, the benefits of this invention are remarkable, but I have now had the pleasure of seeing this demonstrated live in an event hosted this week by the Zionist Council of Victoria and the Israel Trade Commission.

The suit was worn and demonstrated by Radi Kaiuf, an Israeli Druze who was shot in the spine while serving in the IDF in 1988. He was confined to a wheelchair for more than twenty years, but thanks to ReWalk, he is now able to do everyday tasks that we often take for granted such as playing in the park with his children and getting around at the shopping centre.

Watching a man, who a few minutes earlier was sitting in a wheelchair, actually stand up and walk blew me away. When he told a story of walking down the aisle, and being able to stand eye to eye and give his wife a hug for the first time, I had tears in my eyes and goose bumps on my skin.

Sadly, the first thought that came to my mind was about of the BDS movement and how this organisation would not hesitate normally to boycott such an invention because it is the product of Israeli minds and Israeli technology and for no other reason. BDS was set up purely to harm Israel and put an end to the one state in the world which is a homeland for Jews. BDS does not have at heart the interests of peace or the progress of mankind.

I used the world “sadly” because the thought immediately lowered this wonderful innovation into the dark world of cheap propaganda.

Israel is much better than that. Radi’s story made me realise that when we talk of the fruits of the labour of the people of Israel whether they be in the arts, in science and education or in the pursuit of true peace with their neighbours, it is a useful exercise to consider what each of these things actually do and what they can achieve for the world at large.

Seeing the ReWalk demonstration, and then watching some testimonials online as well, made me realise what a life-changing invention this is; the world would be a poorer without it.

So I have made a decision that from now on, and I going to focus far less on what the hate mongers in the BDS Movement have to say. It is, after all, a lot easier for them to boycott an orange or some hand cream than it is to boycott a vaccine that could cure a wide range of cancers or an organisation that improves the quality of paediatric cardiac care for children from developing countries who suffer from heart disease.

If they want to boycott innovation, advancement and the prospects for a peaceful future, I say go for it, but I will not lower my sights to their level of mindless stupidity and hatred for some of their fellow men and women who do things in their daily lives to make the world a better place.

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Speech from The Hon Bill Shorten MP addressing the ZFA Biennial

Sunday 30 March 2014

The Hon Bill Shorten MP“It’s great to be here today. I’ve long been a supporter of Israel – and an admirer of its success and its many accomplishments.

In 2012 I led a Ministerial delegation to Israel. I was keen to learn how it has made high-tech exports and entrepreneurialism its point of competitive advantage.

I was curious, how can a country with a population of less than 8 million can support a thriving venture capital industry that produces more successful start-ups than much larger economies like Japan and Korea? The answer was simple. Israel embraces science – and isn’t afraid of failure. Israel’s commitment to innovation – and commercialising that innovation – is hard-wired into key institutions.
There is a Chief Scientist in every Government Department, and a defence industry that drives innovation for industrial use. Above all, there is a tolerance for risk and failure, because investors realise that it’s often an entrepreneur’s second or third business that will be their most successful. It’s an inspiring story that shows Israel is determined to let every citizen fulfil their potential. It’s an example that Australia can draw a lot from – and I think there is much more we can do in the way of innovation partnerships with our good friends in Israel.

Today is an important chance for me to lay out the principles that inform Labor’s view of the Middle East. The Labor Party will always be proud of the role it played in the birth of modern Israel. We continue to have mutual security interests in the safety of our people against international terrorism and governments that support them, and I am proud of the elevated levels of defence cooperation that were reached during our Government. This included significant procurement of Israeli equipment in the areas of Battlefield Management Systems, UAVs, helmets, combat bandages, Typhoon weapons stations and other systems on our vessels, and the joint Thales and Plasan Protected Mobility Vehicle project. We also cooperate closely on methods of dealing with those insidious and indiscriminate Improvised Explosive Devices that have maimed and killed so many in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Labor’s belief in the right of the Israeli people to live within secure and recognised state boundaries has never wavered. We also have great hopes for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East. The best way to achieve this just peace is a two-state solution. And let me be very clear what I mean by that: One state for the Palestinian people. One state for the Jewish people. Two homelands for two peoples. We believe both sides need to demonstrate a willingness to engage in direct negotiations without pre-conditions and to move as quickly as possible to resolution of final status issues. It is at the negotiating table that these issues should be resolved. This is why I strongly support the efforts underway by Secretary of State John Kerry to reach a framework agreement – and ultimately a comprehensive peace treaty. Both sides face a moment of truth in these negotiations.

I have no doubt in the courage of the people of Israel to make the hard decisions in the interests of a just and lasting peace. And I firmly hope the same pertains to the Palestinian Authority. Labor acknowledges that the settlements and infrastructure Israel has built in the West Bank will need to be considered in drawing a final border. We will support an approach that enables  agreed border adjustments, including through the principle of a land swap which has been under discussion between the parties for a long time. We do acknowledge that some settlement activity in the West Bank is illegal under Israeli law and we encourage the Israeli authorities to act effectively with respect to this. But this issue, as difficult and emotive as it is, also has a solution:  a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine. The issue of Israeli settlements will be definitively concluded when there is a peace treaty, with defined borders – and then everyone knows the territory that Israel has, and that Palestine has. So the real answer to the settlements is to reach a settlement. And the sooner that is done – the better.

I also want to register my profound opposition to those promoting an anti-Israel boycott. I reject it.  It has no place in our universities and it has no place in the commercial marketplace. I stand for engagement with Israel at every level.

Let me turn to Iran: On the question of relations with Iran, I am not opposed to the principle of negotiating with Iran regarding the elimination of their nuclear weapons ambitions. I am an optimist – and I believe in the power of negotiation. We need to tread carefully though. We need to have our eyes open – and all options on the table. Regardless of our instincts in favour of consensus and negotiation, there are serious caveats that we should apply when seeking engagement with Iran. We need to consider carefully any undertakings made by a regime of the kind currently in power in Iran. Any progress in talks should be underpinned by the most rigorous of verification regimes. Sanctions have proven highly effective in putting pressure on Iran to begin a serious discussion of preventing Iran’s development of nuclear capability.

Sanctions should not be relaxed in any of the key areas affecting the regime’s nuclear applications. The international community should think carefully before depriving ourselves of negotiating positions by being too quick to unwind sanction measures in other areas. I remain cautious in regard to the Iranian regime. It is a regime that brutalises its own people. It maintains a foreign policy premised on maintaining support to global terrorism. Iran’s foreign policy advocates the destruction of Israel, supporting Hezbollah and Hamas with sophisticated weapons and training, backing the brutal Assad regime and threatening the Straits of Hormuz. None of this is acceptable – and it is easy to see, if you take Iran at its word, why Israel faces an existential threat from an Iran that has nuclear weapons. And it is not only Israel that feels this way.  Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey – all these Muslim states are deeply troubled and feel threatened by Iran and its posture.

As a proud democracy, as a peace-loving nation, as a country that has always believed in a world that is free and equal and as a great friend of Israel – Australia will not be silent on these matters.

Given the events of the last week, I thought I should also speak to you about another important issue in our political debate.

This is, of course, the Liberal Government’s proposal to repeal Sections 18B, C, D and E of the Racial Discrimination Act. I believe this is a colossal mistake – and a dangerous one. Now, issues like this stir up strong passions – and so they should. I am strongly opposed to the idea of watering-down the hate speech protections in Section 18C. As the representative of an electorate where 51 in every 100 citizens speaks a language other than English at home, I am proud of Australia’s migrant tradition. I think migration has made us the greatest, most multicultural nation on earth. I believe we should treasure and welcome all those who become Australians by choice.

In the last week – hundreds and thousands of Australians have made it clear that they feel the same way. The important thing for all of us who care deeply about this issue is to make sure that our passion for the rightness of this   cause does not consume the straightforward, sensible arguments against weakening the protections in 18C.

The case for clear protections against bigotry in the Racial Discrimination Act is strong enough without indulging in inflammatory rhetoric. So let me make this point clear from the outset. In opposing the changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, I am not accusing the Prime Minister, his Attorney General, or the Cabinet of being racists or bigots – or condoning racism or bigotry. Even if Senator Brandis has reached the appalling judgment in his legalistic journey as Attorney-General that it is a core value in our society for people to have the right to be bigots. Our country is far better than that pernicious view. Surely we aspire to something far better for our society. I’m not that interested in whether this change is just a matter of Tony Abbott keeping a promise he made to a think-tank.

Labor’s major concern is not the motivation behind the changes.  It’s the effect that the changes will have – it’s the message that the changes send.

I think any move to water-down protections against hate speech is a seriously retrograde step. It sends a dangerous, insidious signal that this issue isn’t as serious as it was before. That somehow, in some way, the need to protect people from prejudice is reduced. This is wrong. There is no place for bigotry, no place for racism, no place for hate speech in the modern Australia. That’s the message we should be sending. It’s the view of more than 150 community leaders who have come forward in the last week to denounce the government’s proposed changes.I don’t propose to list them all – but I do think it is worth noting that the head of the Prime Minister’s own Council on Indigenous Affairs has called this a ‘mad’ decision and one that will let bigots off the chain. And the Australian of the Year, Adam Goodes, who showed such courage in standing up against racist abuse last year, has voiced his concerns that the new act will provide a ‘loophole’ for racist abuse.

Ladies and Gentlemen, you know better than me, better than anyone, that the Jewish people have been the target of bigoted abuse – of anti-Semitism – which is an old and wicked problem, and which is still with us today Section 18C empowers minorities with the ability to fight back, with the force of the law and the sanction of our State, in the face of the outrageous and malign, which could otherwise be the first step down a dark and evil path. It sets a moral standard on behalf of the nation that says who we are.

To me, there is no greater example of the value and importance of 18C than the case of Holocaust denier Frederick Toben. This was a man who:
-       Said that homicidal gas chambers at Auschwitz were unlikely
-       Accused Jewish people who are offended by, and who challenge Holocaust denial of limited intelligence
-       Argued that Jewish people, for improper purposes, including financial gain, exaggerated the number of Jews killed during World War II and the circumstances in which they were killed.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry used section 18C to have these hateful, bigoted, ignorant statements removed from the internet and their author prosecuted. And last week, the Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said that under the Government’s new version of these laws – this significant case, and all those that the ECAJ has won against this kind of abhorrent anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial, would have been extremely unlikely to succeed. To me, this is proof enough that the Government should not be tampering with these protections.

The final point I would make on this issue is that the real measure of the effectiveness is Section 18C is the fact that the overwhelming majority of cases are resolved through conciliation. Most of the time, the trained conciliator, the offender and the victim engage in a respectful dialogue, the offence is explained and an apology is given. Evidence shows that both parties perceive this as a fair process, and a mutually satisfactory one. We’ve got six weeks to change the government’s mind on this issue. I say ‘we’, because the government expect the Labor party not to agree with them. They will listen much more closely to your voice, the voice of the people, than they will to those of us who sit on the other side of the Parliament. So if you feel strongly about this – make it known.

Send a message.

Engage in the political debate and help keep Australia a tolerant, multicultural and peaceful nation.”


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Writing the story of peace

24 March

By Emily Gian

Some years ago, while researching for an assignment for University, I came across an interview with Israeli author Amos Oz. He was asked if it is true what they say about a writer writing the same story all of his life, to which Oz replied, “I hope it’s not true. But I’m afraid it is”.

At the time I could relate to this in that I often felt exactly the same – as if I were writing the same story over and over.

Without trivialising the concessions that will need to be made by all sides in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, I always have the same feeling when reading and writing about the events as they unfold.

When US Secretary of State John Kerry announced last July that there would be a resumption to the peace talks, he stated that their “objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months”. Flanked in a press conference by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Saeb Erekat, everyone spoke about “courageous leadership” and “difficult paths”, about “making history” and the challenges ahead”.

I sound cynical, and perhaps I am. MK Livni had an answer for the cynics at that moment, declaring that she believes that “history is not made by cynics. It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream. And let us be these people”.

But even still, 8 months later, short sound bites now run through my head – “Peace talks have hit a stalemate”, “Peace talks are reaching their deadline”, “Israel wants the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish State”, “Abbas threatens to take the issue of statehood for the Palestinians to the UN if an agreement is not reached”.

Perhaps certain players have changed, but the essence has remained the same. And time is ticking on Kerry’s nine-month deadline.

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Netanyahu called again for PA Chairman Abbas to recognise Israel as a Jewish State (it’s hard to believe we are still having this discussion over 20 years after Oslo), and just last week, Abbas met with President Obama in Washington.

Meanwhile, high-level officials on both sides have irritated the United States with statements made over the past few weeks. In a speech at Tel Aviv University, Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon accused the United States of “demonstrating weakness” when it comes to Ukraine. On the topic of Iran, he declared, “at some stage the United States entered into negotiations with them, and unhappily, when it comes to negotiating at a Persian bazaar, the Iranians were better”. A US State Department spokesperson responded that his statements were not constructive and demanded an apology. His statements followed on from earlier statements he made in January were he accused Kerry of being “obsessive and messianic” and that he hoped Kerry “gets a Nobel Prize and leaves us alone”.

Earlier, the Palestinians also drew the ire of the US State Department when Saeb Erekat told Al-Jazeera that “turning to international tribunals, to UN bodies, and joining a call for economic sanctions – all that will come if Kerry’s initiative fails”. He also said, “We will not extend the negotiations for one minute beyond 29th April”.

A report on Israel Radio yesterday said the United States was worried that the talks were on the verge of collapse and that they were seeking a solution in order to move forward.

I am no expert on the Middle East, and it is possible that President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry are not bashing down my door for my analysis on the situation but it would appear that the solution that they are looking for needs to be radically different to every solution that has been proposed for the last 20 years.

This would require an evaluation of two major issues. Firstly, the sticking points, namely final status negotiations on issues such as Jerusalem, borders and the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. These tremendously difficult issues have always been left to the end of every discussion, but maybe they need to be the starting point? Secondly, the obstacles to peace such as incitement to violence and the constant glorification of terrorists continue unabated.

Clearly, the approach adopted by leaders from the US, to Britain and the EU, has not worked. In the meantime, the only history that is being made is another failed attempt and the danger that they are also destined to write the same story over and over.



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Statement from ZFA President Philip Chester PM on Netanyahu’s visit to Australia in July

Thursday 20 March 2014

Philip Chester said, “We are very excited at the prospect of the first ever serving Israeli PM accepting PM Abbott’s invitation to visit Australia in July. Continue reading »

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Forwards and Backwards

14 March 2014

By Emily Gian

Returning last week to my work desk after a long maternity break, I was reminded of the famous quote from Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard that “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards”.

The newspapers strewn on the table told of the controversy stirred up by the ABC Four Corners program “Stone Cold Justice” which dealt with the supposed poor treatment by Israel of Palestinian children in the West Bank. The basis of the report came from unsubstantiated claims made to the Australian Newspaper’s reporter John Lyons and published in early February of this year. Much of that journalist’s work has been discredited and his own newspaper’s foreign editor Greg Sheridan recently carried out a demolition of those efforts in ‘Evil and Deeply Untrue’.

It is important to note that Four Corners and Lyons failed to inform that Israel does not take such allegations lightly and has rightly taken a number of steps to deter instances of mistreatment of Palestinian minors and to deal responsibly with these claims and punish any offenders.

Despite the fallout from this affair, Lyons’ response in the Weekend Australian, entitled ‘Distant “experts” choose to ignore Israeli realities’represented little more than a shameful attack on the country’s Jewish leadership and completely missed the point about the appalling anti-Semitism the Four Corners episode elicited on an ABC website. Lyons’ crude piece exposed his own bigotry in failing to understand the hatred that his shoddily researched work encouraged and in neglecting to condemn what Sheridan described as the subsequent “shocking outburst of rank anti-Semitism”.

The controversy took me back exactly three years to the time of my marriage in Israel. As my family and I spent a quiet weekend in Tel Aviv before the wedding, Hakim Awad, then 17 years of age, together with his 18-year-old cousin, brutally murdered the Fogel family while they slept. Included among the victims were three-month-old Hadas (whose head was severed), her two young brothers Yoav and Elad and their parents Ehud and Ruth. The murderers proudly confessed to their killings and showed no remorse.

Awad was then classified as a minor, making him one of Lyons’ Palestinian “children” and among the several hundreds of minors who have taken part in terrorist activities against Israelis since 2000 most of them encouraged and incited to act by the terror groups including members of the Palestinian leadership in both Gaza and the West Bank.

The Four Corners program somehow missed this, particularly ignoring the incitement to violence that routinely comes from within Palestinian official circles which many consider to be the root of the problem. This would however, provide context to this story but I suspect that doing so was never really part of the producer’s agenda or that of Mr. Lyons.

The day after our wedding three years ago, the main news item in Israel (but hardly anywhere else in the world) was the interception by the IDF of a cargo vessel “Victoria” en route to Egypt carrying 50 tonnes of lethal Iranian weaponry most certainly en route to Gaza. Just a few days later, Grad rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, just to remind us exactly what happens when these weapons fall into terrorist hands.

Times haven’t changed and moving forward to the present, another ship carrying arms was intercepted by the IDF last week and taken to Eilat where it landed at the weekend. The shipment from Iran, disguised as a cement shipment and carrying an alarming array of weaponry including 181 heavy mortars, 400,000 bullets and dozens of M-302 rockets capable of striking almost anywhere in Israel, was prominently displayed for the world’s media but again aroused little interest. Just like the previous incident, Gazan terrorists have fired over 70 missiles into Israeli towns and villages over the last few days – more war crimes against civilians targets.

The Melbourne Age gave prominent front page coverage to the events which took place on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in June 2010 and its sympathetic reports on the IHH terrorists killed on board that ill-fated ship as it attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza (later acknowledged as legal by the United Nations Palmer Report) somehow earned one of its journalists a Walkley Award (and a Dishonest Reporting award from our friends at Honest Reporting).

Given the prominence the Age gave to the blockade story, I scoured its world section on a daily basis this week in an attempt to find a scrap of information about the arsenal whose interception serves to justify the Israeli blockade but I found almost nothing. The Age has also seemingly lost interest in providing any context to the news from this region.

My conclusion after many months away from my work, sadly, is that our media’s coverage of these events is moving backwards, not forwards.

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Statement from ZFA President Philip Chester on the intercepted Iranian arms

Tuesday 11 March 2014

The Zionist Federation of Australia strongly condemns the shipment of dangerous weapons that Iran attempted to smuggle into the Gaza Strip last week. Disguised as a shipment of cement, it contained 180 heavy mortars, 400,000 bullets and dozens of M-302 rockets that have the capability of striking almost anywhere in Israel and was about to find its way into the hands of those who have repeatedly warned of their desire to do so, even at civilian targets.

Continue reading »

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Natan Sharansky to visit Australia

Communal Events: Sydney – 27th March. Melbourne – 1st April


Sydney Communal Event Details:-

Melbourne Communal Event Details:-


Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency will be a guest of the ZFA in Sydney and Melbourne together with the ZCNSW, ZCV and UIA. He will arrive in Sydney on the 26th March and events will be held over three days including a large communal event on Thursday evening 27th March at The Central Synagogue. The communal event in Melbourne will be held on Tuesday 1st April at the Beth Weizmann Community Centre. Sharansky will be the special guest and keynote speaker at the ZFA’s Biennial Conference on Sunday 30 March in Melbourne. He will also undertake a series of events with various groups in the community, including students, young adults, and members of the Israeli and Russian Jewish communities.

Sharansky has this to say about his upcoming visit: The Australian Jewish community, with its emphasis on Jewish education and its strong connection to Israel, is in many ways a model for the Jewish world. I look forward to visiting my friends down under and experiencing the vibrancy of Australian Jewry.”

Sharansky was born in the Soviet Union to a Jewish family in 1948. He was a chess prodigy who graduated with a degree in Applied Mathematics from Moscow. Sharanksy was one of the foremost dissidents and spokesman for Soviet Jewry. Arrested in 1977 he spent years in the notorious prison camp in the Siberian gulag. He arrived in Israel in 1986 and was greeted by then Prime Minister Shimon Peres.  He is one of the most famous Soviet refusniks, an Israeli politician, author and human rights activist.

Philip Chester, ZFA President remarked: “The ZFA is honoured to bring Natan Sharansky to Australia in his capacity as Chairman of the Jewish Agency. He is no stranger to Australia having visited here in 2008, Sharansky has always had a huge impact on those who hear him speak. I have admired him from when he was an iconic dissident and a key player in the ‘let my people go’ campaign and to see his professional and personal evolution makes him a personal role model. His presence at the ZFA Biennial and events in both Sydney and Melbourne promise to engage with community and he will certainly resonate across the generations. We look forward to him sharing his story with the community. His incredible biography, activism and involvement as Chairman of the Jewish Agency is inspiring and we welcome him, his voice and his narrative.”

More event details to be released shortly

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“Lehitraot” as Aussie gap year participants leave for Israel

Youth movement participants organised by the AZYC from Bnei Akiva, Betar, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair,

Hineni and Netzer in flight

It was an emotional afternoon on the Australia Day public holiday 27th January

Shlichim, Madrichim, family and friends came to send-off the participants from Bnei Akiva, Betar, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Hineni and Netzer, with over 600 people at Sydney and Melbourne International Airports present to farewell the Shnatties (Australasian Zionist Youth Council program participants) as they departed for their respective programs.

Shlichim, Madrichim, family and friends came to send-off the participants from Bnei Akiva, Betar, Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Hineni and Netzer coordinated by the AZYC.

They were farewelled amid chanting, singing, cheering, flag waving and emotional renditions of Advance Australia Fair and Hatikva.

In Melbourne, ZFA President Philip Chester addressed the group, reiterating the ZFA’s commitment to Zionist youth movements and wishing them a wonderful, fulfilling year and looking forward to seeing them assume positions of leadership in the community on their return. He said: – “The ZFA is involved because we believe in Israel and as many people experiencing this special place as possible and we believe in you, because when you come back to Australia you’re going to be leaders not only in your movements but also in the community itself. You’re going to learn a lot, and you’re going to have fun. You’re going to come back with a lot of knowledge, experience, spirit and ruach – all of the things to make our community a better place.”

The Shnat participants from all the youth movements will kick off their year with an intensive 5 day “Opening Seminar”, presented by the Australian Zionist Youth Council in conjunction with the ZFA.

The shnat programs focus on education, leadership training, Jewish learning, community service, touring, hiking and more. The programs give the participants skills to be educated, competent and passionate leaders in the Jewish and wider community.

Colin Picker, Eli Picker, Lois Cohen, Zachary Picker

For many this is a tradition with their parents having gone decades before. Habonim Shnattie: – Zachary Picker, 19, Randwick says “Both my parents went on Shnat when they were my age and I thought it would be a really fun and exciting experience. They (his parents) would be upset if I didn’t go. I’m most excited about the food and the smells of Israel.”

Guy Sussman 18, Maroubra said: – “Both my parents went on Shnat. It feels like my whole up bringing has been leading to this and it’s crazy that it’s actually happening!”

Lily Edelstein and Mikaela Higgins (Lily’s Madricha) 

For some like Netzer Shnattie Lily Edelstein, 18, Haberfield it is about the experience

Lily says “I’m really excited and really nervous, well not that nervous just overwhelmed. It’s huge having everyone here and knowing that you’re not going to see them for a year… I’m hoping that I’m going to meet a lot of new people and I used to speak Hebrew so I’d like to pick that up again.”

This departure marks the start of Australian gap year programs heading to Israel. 120 participants on youth movement shnat programs, 56 on AUJS Aviv and 67 on Israel By Choice will be starting their programs in the coming week.  353 people heading to Israel this year on long term Israel programs in 2014, supported by grants and scholarships from the Masa program. A record number of 21-30 year olds are participating in a wide range of programs, including study abroad, career internships and special interest programs.


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