Grapevine July 29, 2022: Happy Israel-Australia news

Movers and shakers in Israeli society.

 DANNY HAKIM (left) being congratulated by Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths. (photo credit: JORDAN POLEVOY)
DANNY HAKIM (left) being congratulated by Australian Ambassador Paul Griffiths.
(photo credit: JORDAN POLEVOY)

■ A MUCH happier Australian story is the news that El Al will be opening direct flights to Melbourne. For more than half a century, El Al was interested in flying to the southernmost continent, and operated marketing offices in Melbourne and Sydney. Initially unable to fly to these and other Australian destinations because Australia objected to the armed security guards on all El Al flights. Restrictions were later resolved, but for various reasons, the route was not opened. Australians who wanted to enter Israel via El Al, flew to Hong Kong or Bangkok with other airlines and then made the connection to Israel. Flying in the other direction could sometimes be a nightmare with as much as a 10-hour wait for connecting flights to Australian airports.

Strangely enough, it was the COVID-19 scare, that prompted El Al’s first direct flight to Australia in March 2020, when El Al was conducting emergency flights in which the carrier brought Israelis home from abroad or transported foreign nationals to their home countries. The March 2020 flight to Australia, was a month ahead of a planned trial flight that had been scheduled for April 2020.

The Dreamliner flight from Perth to Ben Gurion International Airport carried 230 Israelis most of who had to make their way from Melbourne or Sydney to the West Australian capital.

This was not actually the first time that a plane with El Al insignia had landed in Australia. When former president Chaim Herzog flew to Australia in late 1986, as part of a three-week multi-country tour, he and his entourage traveled in an Israel army plane that had been temporarily converted to an El Al plane. It was obviously not a direct flight, as Herzog stopped along the way in Singapore, Hong Kong, Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand, but it actually went to Australia twice – the second time for the Shabbat weekend. One of the passengers on that flight was Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who was then a young reporter with Army Radio, and a member of Herzog’s large media contingent. In Australia, Herzog went to Perth, Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane.

 : An Israel El Al airlines plane is seen after its landing following its inaugural flight between Tel Aviv and Nice at Nice international airport, France, April 4, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD/FILE PHOTO)
: An Israel El Al airlines plane is seen after its landing following its inaugural flight between Tel Aviv and Nice at Nice international airport, France, April 4, 2019. (credit: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD/FILE PHOTO)

If the direct flights become a regular reality, flight time, depending on the destination will be cut by five to seven hours, and there will be no waiting around in Asian airports.

■ ANOTHER HAPPY story about Australia-Israel relations involves brothers Danny and Paul Hakim, who separately and together are social entrepreneurs who made aliyah from Sydney, and have succeeded in engaging a series of Australian ambassadors including current Ambassador Paul Griffiths, his predecessor Chris Cannon, and Cannon’s predecessor Dave Sharma in their social activism. All three ambassadors have hosted events for organizations in which the Hakims are active, and Griffiths this year and last hosted a reception marking United Nations Drowning Prevention Day, which in Israel is spearheaded by the Israel Life Saving Federation, which on July 20, in the spirit of the Abraham Accords, signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Royal Moroccan Life Saving Federation, whose friendly and articulate representative Mounia Melhaoui, stayed in Israel longer than she had initially intended and said that she did not want to leave. In conversation with the writer of this column, she said that she had not come with any preconceived ideas about Israel, mainly because she has a lot of Jewish friends, and in Morocco Moslems, Christians and Jews live in the same neighborhood and often in the same building. But she was pleasantly surprised, she said, to see the friendly relations between Arabs and Jews in Israel.

Although Paul Hakim is the president and CEO of the Israel Lifesaving Federation, and Danny Hakim is a member of the Board, Danny is arguably the better known of the two, due to his many initiatives in which Paul has also taken a prominent role, but it was Danny, who two weeks prior to this week’s reception at the residence of the Australian ambassador, had been the honoree at a special reception there to mark his receiving the Order of Australia. He had been listed in the Australia Day honors in January but was unable to travel there for the ceremony, and the medal was therefore awarded to him by the Australian Ambassador. Danny Hakim who founded Budo for Peace in 2004, continues to serve as its chairman and to train Israeli youth of all backgrounds and religions in the use of martial arts for peace rather than war.

He was the founding chairman and remains a board member of the Israel branch of Kids Kicking Cancer which empowers child cancer patients to deal with their pain through mastering martial arts.

He also initiated the annual ANZAC bike ride, along the trail of the Australian and New Zealand military forces who were instrumental in enabling Britain to win the war against the Ottoman Empire with a major triumph in the Battle of Beersheba in October 1917.

In addition, he is a member of the Secretariat of the Maccabi World Union, has produced peace-oriented documentary films and is a board member of the Jerusalem Psik Theater. He is also a director of the Azrieli Foundation Canada, and a founding board member of the Heritage Center for Middle East and North African Jewry.

There was a difference in his appearance between the medal conferment and this week’s event when he showed up on crutches and with a bandaged foot. Notwithstanding his athletic abilities and the medals he’s won in sports he’s also capable of tripping, which he did during the Maccabiah Games.incidentally, both he and Paul were tireless advocates for the inclusion this year of the first ever surf lifesaving competition at the Maccabiah Games, which was hosted at Poleg Beach in Netanya by the ILSF.

Quite a large number of people from the Australian Maccabiah delegation attended the reception hosted by Griffiths this week, in addition to Nippers, the junior arm of the ILSF who are aged 7-13, and who later gave life-saving demonstrations in the ambassador’s pool, and Yesh Atid MK Simon Davidson, who is a past chairman of the Israel Swimming Association and a member of the Israel Olympic Committee. Also present were representatives of the Health Ministry, the Jewish National Fund of Australia, former Israeli swimming champions, and ILSF board members and supporters including among others Ravit Ben-Amitai, Mike Adel, Sarah Vanunu, Dr. Harvey Belik, Lisa Segelov, Yaron Waksman (the founder and CEO of Hagal Sheli “My Wave”), and Colin Bloch, most of who are Australian expats or the offspring of Australian immigrants.

 Both Griffiths and Paul Hakim noted that Australia as an island continent surrounded by water is intensely aware of safety in the water, the need to teach children to swim and how to save people who are drowning. Australia has been active in this respect for more than a hundred years,.

In 2021, there were 248 drownings in Israel in which 208 people were near death and suffered terrible traumas said Hakim, and 40 died by drowning. This year, up until Tuesday night, there were 133 drownings that included 20 deaths.

“Only one death, is one too many,” said Hakim.

Davidson, who has had numerous meetings with Hakim described him as a person “whose whole body is all heart.” In hinting that many of the drownings in Israel are among the Arab population, whose members may not be good swimmers or may not be able to swim at all, Davidson said that this situation is being amended.

The ILSF is active on 12 new beaches, in addition to which swimming lessons were organized for 900 Bedouin youngsters, and a thousand more will learn to swim in the coming weeks. With the opening of the new school year in September, 9000 Arab children will be taught to swim, and a program will be instituted in all schools with swimming instructors coming to talk to pupils to make them aware of the importance of being able to swim and to save lives.

Davidson could not resist a small political plug. Speaking in English he said: “Change is on the way,” then switching to Hebrew, he declared “Yesh Atid” (There is a future) which is the name of his political party.