Grapevine: Repaying an overdue debt

There could be no more suitable university in which to honor William Cooper’s memory.

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December 8, 2018 23:38
CHIEF OF STAFF Lt.-Gen. Gabi Eisenkot with President Reuven Rivlin in Ben Gurion’s house in Tel Aviv

CHIEF OF STAFF Lt.-Gen. Gabi Eisenkot with President Reuven Rivlin in Ben Gurion’s house in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

 
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■ EXACTLY EIGHT years ago, descendants and other close relatives of the late William Cooper came to Israel under the auspices of the Jewish National Fund to tour the country and to establish a memorial for him in the Yatir Forest in the Negev. Most people wouldn’t have a clue as to who William Cooper was, or what he did. He was an Australian aboriginal activist who belonged to the Yorta Yorta tribe in a region of the island continent that in his native language was called Cummeragunja (Our Home).

Life was far from easy for indigenous Australians. They were subjected to discrimination, deprived of their ancestral territory and were denied entry into mainstream Australian society. With very few exceptions, their education was minimal, as a result of which they could engage only in the most menial types of employment. Yet for all that, William Cooper in 1938, after learning from newspaper reports about Kristallnacht, led a protest delegation to the German Consulate in Melbourne and presented a petition against the Nazi regime’s brutal treatment of the Jews. Members of the Consulate refused to accept the petition; it was finally accepted symbolically in 2012 by German consul general Michael Richard Pierce.

Last week, on the 80th anniversary of Cooper’s courageous and empathetic act, Australian Jewish billionaire John Gandel and his wife Pauline, in memory of Cooper’s brave and humanitarian spirit, launched the William Cooper Indigenous Scholarship Program at Monash University in the presence of Cooper’s relatives and of Israel Ambassador Mark Sofer.

There could be no more suitable university in which to honor Cooper’s memory. Sir John Monash, for whom the university was named, was an Australian World War I military commander, considered to be the best in Australian military history.

Born to highly educated German immigrant parents, he was a civil engineer by profession and after the war headed the State Electricity Commission of Victoria, and was also Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. Perhaps more important in terms of his Jewish background was the fact that he was the founding president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand.

The Gandel Family Foundation, one of the largest private philanthropic foundations in Australia, this year marks its 40th anniversary, so there were ample reasons to celebrate. The foundation contributes to arts, medical and educational projects and provides grants to charitable community organizations for Australian as well as specifically Jewish causes, such as the fight against antisemitism. Gandel supports symposia, scholarships and adult education programs at Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University and he also has business interests in Israel.

■ THERE ARE anniversaries galore this year, which is one of the explanations for the fact that The Mensch! festival is taking place for the first time at the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem Cinematheques. The dates are December 16 and 18 in Tel Aviv and December 17 and 24 in Jerusalem. The festival is a joint project of Austria, Switzerland and Germany in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The diverse movies being screened deal with social and human rights issues such as hunger and climate change, constant surveillance and poverty, and pay respect to the people who struggle to make this world a more humane place. The Austrian contribution to the festival will be two films by director Werner Boote that will be shown in his presence. The films are: Everything’s Under Control and Population Boom. Other than for the final screening, there will be Q&A sessions after each showing.

■ EDUCATION INFLUENCES attitudes.

What we are taught in our childhood and our youth often stays with us and shapes our characters and our attitudes to our environment and to social issues. In this spirit, Bar Ilan University held a solidarity conference in response to recent activities aimed at eliminating violence against women. The conference was attended by approximately 400 students and faculty members.

“As an academic institution that conducts research and greatly impacts upon Israeli society, we cannot stand aside,” said event moderator Prof. Ruth Halperin-Kaddari, director of the Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women in the Faculty of Law and vice chair of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

Halperin-Kaddari congratulated the university administration for rising to the occasion and paving a path for others to follow.

University rector Prof. Miriam Faust said, “As faculty members and students in a university that invests considerable resources in research and teaching to promote Israeli society, we demand that the problem of violence against women in our society be addressed immediately and comprehensively. In the Jewish tradition, it is customary to halt the course of daily life and gather together to protest social injustices. We are joining this tradition by gathering to express our shock at the increasing violence toward women in our society, which is testimony to the level of violence in society as a whole. Some 24 women were murdered this year and many more suffer from violence of varying degrees. This is a situation that does not allow us to step aside.” Additional speakers included university director general Zohar Yinon, author and journalist Anat Lev-Adler and Prof. Rivka Tuval-Mashiach, director of the University’s Gender Studies Program.

The conference was held in cooperation with the Rackman Center, the Gender Studies Program and the Student Union.


■ AMONG THE recent visitors to The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, was 1997 Nobel Prize laureate in physics, Algerian- born French-Jewish physicist, Prof. Claude Cohen-Tannoudji, who came to Israel to participate in a scientific conference.

Accompanied by museum CEO Dan Tadmor and chief curator Dr. Orit Shaham-Gover, Tannoudji toured the museum and was surprised and emotionally moved to find himself in the “Heroes – Trailblazers of the Jewish People” gallery.

He watched the film about his life and career and said afterwards that he was delighted to be included in the category of the greatest Jewish scientists of the world.

He also visited other exhibitions, including the new Synagogue Hall and the new exhibition about Jewish humor, “Let There Be Laughter.”

■ ALTHOUGH HE is a proud Jerusalemite who constantly lauds the capital, President Reuven Rivlin does make occasional forays to Tel Aviv and last week visited the historic Prime Minister’s Residence where David Ben-Gurion had established his office in the Templar building in the Sarona settlement at the end of the War of Independence. The facility has now has now been restored and was opened to the public in September.

The president, who was invited by Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Eizenkot to tour the building, readily accepted and heard from Eisenkot about some of the strategic decisions taken there over the years. Rivlin, who was born nine years before the proclamation of the founding of the state, said that the building symbolizes both the establishment of the state and the establishment of the IDF. “Anyone born here, even those born before the State of Israel was established, comes into this house and is carried away by its history,” he declared. “It fills me with pride.”

Rivlin added that every school in Israel should make it a must to visit Ben Gurion’s house, just as they visit the Knesset in Jerusalem and Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. Echoing Rivlin’s sentiments, Eisenkot urged all Israelis to come and visit this important symbol of the nation’s heritage.

■ WHEN SHE came to Israel at the end of October, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland warned that the Jewish Community of Canada, which is the third largest in the Diaspora is likely to be targeted for hate crimes. Unfortunately, she was correct. The Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has called on federal authorities to take action in response to a new report from Statistics Canada, which indicates a surge in hate crimes reported to police.

The report reveals that hate crimes targeting the Jewish community increased by over 60% from 2016 to 2017. While the Jewish community remains the most frequently targeted group (in absolute terms and per capita), hate crimes directed against Muslims, Afro-Canadian, Aab or Western Asian communities and LGBTQ have all increased.

“Although most Canadians reject antisemitism and all forms of hatred,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, the CEO of CIJA, “the new wave of hate crimes against the Jewish community and other groups in Canada is alarming. To think that an antisemitic crime occurs every 24 hours in our country is deeply troubling. History teaches us that those who target Jews and other minorities are a threat to society as a whole. All Canadians should exercise vigilance against hate.”

Koffler Fogel added that following the report, CIJA reiterates its call to the government of Canada to adopt three key measures in the fight against hatred. 1) While appreciating what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done to improve the security infrastructure program, CIJA urges the government to increase its coverage of the cost of training for emergency situations, especially those involving the saving of lives, with the aim of preventing attacks such as that which occurred in the Pittsburgh Synagogue. 2) A national strategy against online hate is also required, because, says Koffler Fogel, experience shows that hateful rhetoric online foreshadows violence offline. 3) Thirdly, the federal government should strengthen law enforcement capacity to fight against hate crimes, beginning with tools to fight hate speech, and should create local units to fight hate crimes in places where such units are lacking.

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