Just as Israeli politicians and dignitaries travelling abroad raise the issue of resurgent antisemitism in their conversations with world leaders, so are Australian politicians and dignitaries voicing concern over the delayed extradition of former school principal Malka Leifer, who sexually allegedly abused her students – girls from religious homes attending a religious school.
A bipartisan delegation of former Australian legislators currently on a five-day visit to Israel has broached the subject in meetings with President Reuven Rivlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.
The delegation, which is led by former prime minister John Howard, who has consistently spoken out on behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, has also met with Amos Yadlin, the head of the Institute for National Security Studies, and Isaac Ben Israel, the president of the Israel Space Agency.
The visit is a coordinated effort between the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA), the Israel Foreign Ministry – whose director general Yuval Rotem is a former ambassador to Australia – the Israel Australia Chamber of Commerce (IACC) and the Australian Embassy in Israel.
In his talks, Howard cautioned that the close relationship between Israel and Australia should not be taken for granted.
Following an inspiring address that he gave earlier to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors, Howard – in another extemporaneous address at the Begin Heritage Center on Tuesday evening to a gathering co-hosted by the ZFA and the IACC – spoke glowingly of the impressive contribution made to Australia on every level by members of the Jewish community. He also reaffirmed Australia's bipartisan support for Israel, which he had said had been part of Australia's foreign policy under a successive series of governments.
The delegation will be in Beersheba on Thursday to commemorate the anniversary of the victory of Australian and New Zealand forces over the Turks on October 31, 1917, in what has become known as the Battle of Beersheba. This battle led to the arrival in Jerusalem a month and a half later of British Forces Commander General Edmond Allenby.
In a speech at the Begin Center, Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog pointed to the panoramic view of Jerusalem from the windows of the center and said: “Look at the walls of the Old City that your army liberated more than 100 years ago."
This support for Israel has continued to the present day. Under Howard's leadership, "Australia became a trail-blazing global supporter of Israel," said ZFA president Jeremy Leibler in his speech.
He added that Howard had long been a passionate advocate for Israel and the Jewish people.His first visit to Israel was in 1964, when he stayed at the local YMCA. Only two decades later did he “cross the road to the King David Hotel," where he had stayed as prime minister.
With every visit, Howard said, he has been impressed by Israel's progress and resilience, and how Israel has become "a prosperous and powerful nation" after the Jewish people had experienced one of the most traumatic periods in history.
Howard stated that it was not possible to come to Israel without acknowledging the existential threat under which Israelis live, adding that, “the world is in awe of the professional capabilities of the Israel Defense Forces."
He said that everyone wants to see peace between Israel and the Palestinians, "but there have to be concessions on both sides."
Despite the impasse in peace negotiations, Howard has seen for himself that "there is co-operation on the most decent levels of humanity, which are an example to the world."