Arrivals: Articulate advocate

A father, businessman, lawyer, Akiva Hamilton is as devoted to his children as he is to defending Israel.

Akiva Hamilton (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Akiva Hamilton
(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.
“I went 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 very understanding.
“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 2003.
“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 smile.
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 president.”
Hamilton has been working hard to expose the inconsistency, believing that the people at Worldvision are not anti- Semitic but naive.
“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 is.
“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.
If the 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 ears.
“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.”