(photo credit:GLORIA DEUTSCH)
In the battle to present Israel’s case to the world, it’s good to have someone
as articulate and passionate as Akiva Hamilton, a lawyer who works for Shurat
HaDin, the Israel Law Center.
Back in his native Australia, before he
made aliya in 2008, he was already active in pro-Israel advocacy, making
important connections in the federal parliament in Canberra through the
Australian Israel Jewish Affairs Council.
But it could easily not have
happened at all. Akiva was born Andrew, a Catholic, and only converted to
Judaism shortly before marrying his first wife, who was Jewish.
to a posh private school in Sydney and until the age of 14 I was a practicing
Catholic,” he says. “Through debating I met a lot of Jewish people, and later
had many Jewish friends at university. I was an intellectual type and Jews
tended to be the same.”
His long spiritual search led him to Orthodox
Judaism, and within 10 months he had completed his conversion. His family were
“My parents are happy for me that I’ve found
something meaningful in my life and my mother has learned to cook kosher for
when I visit,” he says.
He admits that it was hard at the beginning – not
so much the keeping kosher, but the complete break from normal daily activity
required for Shabbat.
“It was weird not to have TV or email or a phone,”
he says. “But then you begin to appreciate the intellectual, spiritual and
emotional space it creates in your life.
Today, without Shabbat, I think
I’d go mad.”
He first came to Israel in 2008 and stayed for a year. He
says the main reason for his divorce was that he wanted to stay here and his
wife wanted to go back to Australia with their two children. Today he travels
back and forth to see them and usually combines his visits with talking about
his work for Shurat HaDin.
It was on one of his visits back to Australia
that he initially heard about the organization, when he went to a talk given by
Nitsana Darshan-Leiter, the lawyer who established Shurat HaDin in
“I was very impressed,” he recalls.
“Using the law to help
fight terrorism made sense. I had already won two important cases in the High
Court and I was more interested in fighting for justice using the law than in
the usual drudge work most lawyers do.”
When he decided to settle here
permanently in July 2011, he wanted to find a job using his legal skills in
English that would be compatible with going to Australia often to see his
children and would also be an expression of his passion for Israel. Shurat HaDin
fit him like a glove.
He solved the small problem of getting a salary
from what is essentially a non-profit organization by arranging his own funding,
raising the money in Australia through his connections there so he could be
employed by Shurat HaDin.
“After I organized my own funding and brought
my considerable experience and skills, they realized it was an offer they
couldn’t refuse and they knew I would be a great addition,” he says with a
Shurat HaDin has had considerable success in its nine years of
existence. According to its website, it has recovered over $120 million that
went directly to victims of terrorism and their families, and frozen assets of
all the terror groups aiming their poisons at Israel – Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic
Jihad and others.
It is currently working on the case of Worldvision – a
large Australian charity which Hamilton and his organization claim is funding a
terrorist group in Gaza.
“They are sending Australian tax dollars to the
Union of Agricultural Work Committees in Gaza, ostensibly for humanitarian
projects. But we know the group is controlled by the PFLP [Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine] and a leading terrorist is their
Hamilton has been working hard to expose the inconsistency,
believing that the people at Worldvision are not anti- Semitic but
“They say he was a convicted terrorist but they allege he’s
reformed,” he says.
“We are still trying to stop them, and the exposure
had an impact, but we may have to bring legal action.”
Before he got into
his legal work, he started a business here during his first year of aliya which
is still going strong, selling the electronic kit for the folding bicycle sold
under the brand name Freedom Ebikes.
“I met someone – a South African
immigrant – who was looking for something to do and we became friends. I had
already started to develop the electric bike technology which we put in our
Freedom Ebikes and, with the help of Mati, a government agency which helps small
businesses to get started, we set up together and today he runs the business
while I am busy with Shurat HaDin. He also introduced me to Yael, to whom I’ve
just become engaged.”
She is an accountant, half English, and the wedding
is fixed for January. Hamilton is looking forward to spending the rest of his
life in Israel and is passionate about what a wonderful country it
“Israel is just a fantastic place to live,” he says. “I’m often asked
about media bias against Israel but actually it’s a good thing.
media told the truth, we’d be overwhelmed.
Everyone would want to live
here and you wouldn’t be able to find an apartment or a parking spot,” he adds
only half-jokingly He starts to enumerate everything that is great about Israel
in his very eloquent and convincing way, and it’s music to one’s
“Everything – the economy, life expectancy, freedom of the
individual, the entrepreneurial spirit, living life to the full,” he says.
“Statistically there is less murder, health problems and car accidents than in
many Western countries. And, as for safety? I think that Israel is the safest
country in the world.”