Former Australian prime minister John Howard, who is visiting Israel this month, in October last year called for the Australian Embassy to be moved to Jerusalem. During a previous visit to Israel in 2011, Howard, at a dinner with a large group of Australian expats who have made successful careers for themselves in Israel, said: “I’m an unapologetic friend of Israel’s.” He added at the time that he had been a supporter of Israel for all of his adult life, and that during the period in which he had been prime minister (1996-20007), he had made sure that Australia voted in Israel’s favor at the United Nations and other international forums on all issues that mattered.
Howard’s first official visit to Israel was in 2000, when he came as the guest of then-prime minister Ehud Barak. During that visit he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Bar-Ilan University, and also participated in the Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony at Yad Vashem. Howard has visited several times since then. A Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund forest in the Negev was named in his honor in 2007.
■ DESPITE THE Malka Leifer affair, which has cast a cloud over Australia-Israel relations, Australia has been one of Israel’s oldest and most reliable allies, and on November 29, 1947, played a vital role in securing a majority vote for the UN resolution on the partition of Palestine.
But long before that, on October 31, 1917, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps soldiers of the 4th Light Horse Brigade, fighting as part of the British Army, defeated the Turks in what has become known as the Battle of Beersheba. The victory of the ANZACs paved the way for the letter sent by British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Lionel Walter Rothschild expressing the support of Her Majesty’s government for the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people. Without that heroic and triumphant effort of the ANZACs, it is doubtful that what has become known as the Balfour Declaration would have ever seen the light of day.
For several years now, an annual commemorative ceremony has been held in Beersheba at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery on the anniversary of that battle. The reason for the commemoration has become more poignant since the establishment of a small ANZAC Museum on the edge of the cemetery.
This year’s ceremony, marking the 102nd anniversary of the fall of Ottoman-controlled Beersheba to British and ANZAC troops, will be cohosted by Australian Ambassador Chris Cannan and New Zealand Ambassador Wendy Hinton, who curiously is stationed in Ankara. The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m., which means that participants from other parts of the country will have to get up particularly early in order to arrive on time, as morning traffic on the main highway to Beersheba is heavily congested.
During the period in office of Beersheba’s previous mayor Yaacov Terner, a monument was put up to the Turkish soldiers who fought bravely, but lost the battle. The initiative came from Terner himself. A former combat pilot, he has respect for soldiers of all armies and believed that the Turkish soldiers should not be denied their place in history. The Turkish monument is just a few minutes’ walk from the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, and it has become a custom to hold a service for the Turkish soldiers immediately after the service for the ANZACs. Afterward everyone adjourns to the Park of the Australian Soldier, which was established in 2008 by the Melbourne-based Pratt Foundation and inaugurated by then-Australian governor-general Michael Jeffery and president Shimon Peres, Terner and members of the Pratt family, in the presence of hundreds of people, several of whom had specially come from Australia for the occasion.
■ BETWEEN WINDING up his role as mayor of Jerusalem and running on a Likud ticket for the Knesset, Nir Barkat also had time to write a book, Long Distance Runner, which reflects both his military and political careers and his love for sport. Hundreds of people from various phases in Barkat’s life, including his years in the army, showed up for the October 6 launch. Among them were Sara Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion. There was a congratulatory videotaped message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and entertainment was provided by Sarit Hadad.
It was not your usual book launch. It was more in the nature of a political rally in support of the prime minister. In his address Barkat said: “The Likud has always respected its leaders. Mr. Prime Minister, I stand behind you and support you as prime minister and as chairman and head of the Likud in your efforts to form a broad, united government. Barkat also made no secret of the fact that he will be a contender for the Likud leadership at some future stage when Netanyahu decides to bow out of politics.
Lion had a surprise launch of his own. It happened to be his 58th birthday on the same date as Barkat’s book launch, and during a visit earlier in the day with soldiers who defend the capital, he was presented with a birthday cake to celebrate his launch into his 59th year.
■ THERE ARE relatively few countries that have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan, for fear of offending China, from which Taiwan broke away in 1949. The Republic of China, which is the official name for Taiwan, was founded 108 years ago, while Taiwan was still under Japanese colonial rule. Mainland China still regards Taiwan as one of its provinces, and not as an independent nation. Thus, many countries, such as Israel, have strong economic ties with Taiwan but not diplomatic ties, so much so that Foreign Ministry personnel are rarely seen at Taiwan’s national day receptions, although there are members of the Knesset’s Israel-Taiwan parliamentary friendship group and sometimes representatives of government ministries other than the Foreign Ministry.
But there’s no shortage of Israelis who want to enjoy business, tourist and friendship relations with Taiwan, as was seen this week at the Taiwan national day reception hosted by ambassador Paul Chang, head of the Taiwan representative office in Israel, also known as the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office. The representative office is as close as Taiwan gets to an embassy in Israel, and the head of the office is known as ambassador among the ever-growing Taiwanese community in Israel. The Taiwanese presence was enhanced in February with the opening of a Taiwan External Trade Development Council office in Tel Aviv.
Of the very few countries that recognize Taiwan, most are in South America. Among them are Guatemala and Honduras, whose ambassadors to Israel, Mario Bucaro Flores and Mario Castillo, respectively, joined Chang in cutting the cake, which was decorated with the national flag of Taiwan.
Chang spoke of his country’s history, saying with pride that the Republic of China was the first democratic republic in Asia, and during the Second World War had joined the US and UK in fighting Japanese aggression, whereas mainland China in 1949 became Communist and stayed that way.
Taiwan has become one of the 17-largest trading countries in the world, he said, noting that the US-China trade war has brought American attention back to Taiwan.
As far as trade with Israel is concerned, Chang saw a perfect relationship in the fact that Taiwan is known for its hi-tech manufacture and Israel is known for its innovation, which makes for great cooperation between Taiwanese and Israeli hi-tech companies. Aside from that, Taiwan is a gateway to Southeast Asia.
There have been high-level visits between the two countries, and two-way tourism is growing, he commented.
Representing the Knesset was Likud MK Eti Atiah, who three months ago visited Taiwan and was greatly impressed by its social welfare policy regarding the aged, the physically disabled and the weaker sections of society in general. She was also impressed by Taiwan’s culture, and found the whole experience inspiring. She learned a lot during her visit, she said.