On Friday, April 1, the former prime minister of Australia, Mr. John Howard, planted a tree in Jerusalem. Mr. Howard, who was accompanied by the Israeli ambassador to Australia, Mr. Yuval Rotem, was greeted by leaders of JNF Australia and the KKL-JNF Chief of Protocol, Mr. Andy Michelson, who said that "it is with great pleasure that we invite you to the Australian Park in KKL-JNF's Jerusalem Forest, which provides a green lung for the residents of Jerusalem."
Mr. Grahame Leonard, JNF Australia Federal President, noted that this year, KKL-JNF is celebrating its 110th anniversary: "KKL-JNF is probably the oldest environmental organization in the world, and is dedicated to improving the quality of life of Israel's citizens. In the past, Israel and Australia have cooperated on common issues and will continue to do so in the future. For example, in another couple of weeks, scientists of both countries will be meeting here in Israel to discuss ways of dealing with the water crisis we both face.
"Mr. Howard, you will always have a special place in the hearts of the Jewish people in Australia and Israel, due to your solid and unwavering support of Israel as a Jewish and a democratic state.
Former Prime Minister Howard, Australia's 25th prime minister, said that in the past, he has had trees planted in his name: "I even have a forest named after me, but this is the first time I am planting a tree in Jerusalem, and I must say that I am delighted. In an area of the world where people are demanding democracy for the first time, Israel stands as an oasis of freedom and democracy. It is difficult for me to understand why certain countries don't appreciate this fact. Israel may be facing a difficult vote in the United Nations in September, and I hope the Australian government votes in the same manner that the government I led would have voted. Whatever the outcome, I am certain that Israel will continue to exist. No one can force Israel to do anything or to go in a direction it doesn't want to.
"I feel affection for the Jewish people and the state of Israel and wholeheartedly support you. I came to Israel for the first time in 1964 and have been here a number of times since then. This has been a wonderful visit and it's great to be back. God bless Israel and may she prosper forever."
The former Federal President of JNF Australia, Mr. Michael Naphtali, read the Planter's Prayer in Hebrew before the former prime minister planted his tree. Mr. Rob Schneider, JNF Australia CEO, translated the prayer into English.
After the ceremony, Rob Schneider remarked that in 2001, which was KKL-JNF's centennial year, John Howard attended KKL-JNF Australia's gala centennial dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament in Canberra. In honor of his powerful support of JNF-KKL and the state of Israel, KKL-JNF planted the John Howard Forest south of Beersheva in the Negev, in the area of Nahal Assaf.
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