Wednesday 25 April, 7.30pm
National Theatre, St Kilda
Mr Mark Dreyfus, Cabinet Secretary and Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, representing the Prime Minister, the Honourable Julie Gillard, The Hon Mr Andrew Robb, Federal Member for Goldstein, Mr David Southwick, Co-Chair of the Victorian Australia-Israel Parliamentary Friendship group, Mr Martin Foley, State Member for Albert Park, Elected officials, dignitaries, community leaders, distinguished guests, Shalom, good evening and Chag Sameach!
It is a pleasure to address you here tonight, on the occasion of the 64th anniversary of Israel. As an Israeli diplomat, to celebrate Yom Haatzmaut outside of Israel is a very warming experience, because it serves as a reminder that Israel’s strength is greater than just that which comes from within. At the same time, Jewish communities today know well that the Jewish people have a home, the Jewish State, Our State; The State of Israel.
Particularly, celebrating here in Melbourne, I am reminded that although the Australian Jewish community is far from the largest in the world, it is certainly one of the most vibrant; representing a wonderful cross-section of the best of Jewish values and culture.
I would like to commend the organisers of this grand event, on their achievement in unifying multiple community organisations, which I know is no easy task, particularly with Jewish organisations! … but you have proven it possible!
I pay tribute to the efforts of the Zionist Council of Victoria, the Jewish National Fund, and the United Israel Appeal in bringing this event to fruition. In union there is strength – to fight the challenges faced not only by the State of Israel, but by Jewish and democratic communities across the globe. Though it is said that for every two Jews you have three opinions, the unity that underpins the Jewish nation is our greatest strength.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have spent 64 years talking, fighting and praying for peace and security. Upon the pages of our history books are tales of great battles, heroic events and courageous struggles - from the floors of the United Nations to the hot, dry sands of the Sinai. They tell of profound losses and astonishing victories; of land, people and the Jewish spirit. The children in Israel are raised on these stories of battle and courage. Our calendars are marked by memorial days for fallen soldiers. At school we learn the purpose of the Jewish state is to secure the Jewish future. Soon after we join the IDF and serve with this belief.
Amid a context of profound challenges, this steady focus on security is unsurprising. We face threats from a country on the brink of attaining nuclear weapons, paired with calls for our nation’s destruction. We sit in a region rife with instability as our Arab neighbours falter between springs and winters. And of course, we are compelled to pursue the endless campaign to affirm our very right to exist.
To many, this is the story of Israel.
But I suggest that this is not the full story; that it is missing a chapter.
In 1945, as we recounted our losses from the Holocaust, and questioned how we could move on from the depths of horror we had been submerged in, the goal was plain, though far from effortless. Back then, ours was a discourse of survival, hope and endurance. We had losses to mourn, families to re-group and a nation to re-build. We had to survive and move forward.
64 years on, we can take pride in how far we have come from that point. 2000 years after our people were banished to the corners of the globe, we were able to re-establish the Jewish State, from the ashes of the Holocaust. We have defended this state against unshakeable odds, continuing our discourse of survival.
But while survival is undoubtedly necessary, it is not sufficient. And by spending so much time training, fighting and praying for peace and security, many have forgotten that this is not our purpose as a people and a state.
We crave more than just survival. We aim to thrive, and we need to remind ourselves and the world what it is we are trying to build. Not just to be another country, but to become “a light unto the nations”. This does not mean being perfect, or being better than anyone else. It means making a contribution to the world, or in the words of Steve Jobs as he defined his dream for Apple, it is the wish to make “a dent in the universe”.
64 years on from the re-establishment of the State of Israel, we must stop wallowing in the narrative of crisis and survival. We are no longer the victim. We are no longer homeless, voiceless and defenseless. Israel is strong, and will continue to be.
From the clutches of foreign Empires, from the inhumanity of the Holocaust and from the depths of the Diaspora, our forefathers and mothers worked to turn an ancient piece of real estate in the Middle East, into a thriving oasis of intellectual, political, religious, and commercial activity, where people live with freedom and liberty. They constructed a democratic society, with room for debate and dissent; a judicial system considered to be among the most pro-active in the world. It is a society in which protests are full and vibrant, where 1/8th of the nation’s population can flock to the streets with the support of the police and the absence of violence – not to overthrow the government, but to challenge the costs of living. Our forefathers revived a sleeping language, re-established a nation and re-created the Jewish homeland as a first-world society.
Over the last six and a half decades, we have fought off enemies vowing our destruction on all fronts, and amid this, we have nurtured our lands, sowed seeds of education in the minds of our young, and seen generations of ‘sabras’ and new immigrants blossom in the land of Israel.
Our deserts and economic markets are blooming, and we have, finally, found our place among the nations. Though we are not liked by all, we command respect for the contributions we have made to science, agriculture and technology; for the disproportionate appearances we make at Nobel Prize ceremonies, for the speed we offer supplies and aid in the wake of natural disasters, and for the conferences we run to teach developing nations how to yield food from parched earth.
What we lack in oil and natural resources, we make up for in chutzpah and innovation. This year, Israel will be the first country in the world to begin ending its addiction to oil. We will start replacing our gas-fuelled cars for electric cars on a mass scale. They will be cheaper, more convenient, and no less powerful than their oil-run equivalents. From Israel, the spark lit by this innovation will be shared with Denmark, and then Australia.
Our operation template is borne out of necessity and fuelled by tenacity. We are a people living in a hostile neighbourhood. We are a people who have shed blood, sweat and tears for our nation. We are a people of chutzpah, and that is what drives us forward.
But from this background comes a mentality of stubbornness –we have come so far, and lost so much, that we cannot afford to just ‘be’. We must be something; create, innovate and share the fruits of our successes.
Through our successes in these fields and others, we have showed the world that ours is no longer a discourse of survival. Rather, we proudly demonstrate what we are surviving for. Our vision is not peace for the sake of peace only. Our vision is peace so that our engineers can focus on buildings, not bombs; our programmers on education instead of iron dome systems; our defence force on peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance, rather than border security and war training exercises. This is why we crave peace. This is the vision we seek to materialize.
Survival and the inception of a State are only the very beginning of our discourse. 64 years on, we look back with pride, but also continue to ask ourselves what we are surviving for – what sort of society we want to be; what we still need to work on and how we can harness achievements and leverage them for the future.
I started by praising the unity of this community tonight, and I will end with a call to continue with that spirit of unity into the future, because this is one of our greatest strengths.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We will not let enduring conflict distract us from our vision, or confuse us into thinking survival is our only goal. Survival, by itself is not a purpose. As Israel settles into middle age, let us remember and be guided not merely by survival, but what we are surviving for – to make our dent in the universe. This is the reason for our celebration tonight, and for many years to come.
I wish you all Yom Haatzmaut Sameach.