The Hon John Brumby, Premier of Victoria; Mr Ted Baillieu, Leader of the Liberal Party – Leader of the Opposition; Members of the Judiciary; Federal and State Parliamentarians; Consular Representatives; Local government members; Mr George Lekakis, Chairman of the Victorian Multicultural Commission, generously supporting this event; Mr John Searle, President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria; Mr Philip Chester, President of the Zionist Federation of Australia; Rabbis; Members of the Clergy; Trade Union Leaders; Supporters of the Zionist Council of Victoria’ Communal leaders, ladies and gentlemen.
Friends – we welcome you all tonight. Many of you have been attending these annual events for many years and for some, this is your first. To all of you – we value your friendship with Israel and the Jewish community and thank you for coming.
Last year, we came together to celebrate Israel’s 60th independence day. Melbourne’s Jewish community, like communities across the Diaspora and in Israel, united to celebrate Israel’s achievements – attending events which ranged from festivals, to concerts, to academic symposia. One of the final official Israel 60 projects to be completed is the upcoming publication of a very special anthology of biographical stories from members of our own community, which we’ve undertaken together with the Makor Jewish Community Library.
The year that has followed has presented many challenges.
In December – January, Israel was confronted with a war in Gaza, provoked by over 8000 rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists into southern Israeli towns such as Sderot. Operation Cast Lead saw Israel, in line with the ethics of the IDF, prosecuting the war in a manner which was as humane as possible. Ultimately, Israel was able to severely limit the capacity of the terrorists to smuggle arms from Egypt and to launch ever increasingly dangerous rockets from Gaza into Israel.
The war was soon followed by a general election in Israel. The new government of Binyamin Netanyahu, like its predecessors, seeks a lasting and secure peace with its Palestinian neighbours, subject to the recognition of the Jewish State and the cessation of terror and violence.
The dire predictions for the Durban 2 conference in Geneva in April were thankfully mitigated by the courageous stand taken by Australia among several other countries which boycotted it. Furthermore, the outrageous speech of Ahmadinejad was greeted with derision by other western nations, who walked out in protest. The threat of Iran remains a major issue, not only for Israel, but indeed for all western nations. Australia, Israel and the western world need to understand and communicate the insidious nature of this threat, and work towards a global response to it.
This last week, Barack Obama delivered his historic speech in Cairo. Focusing on mutual respect, on the acknowledgement of values, of progress and partnerships, he nevertheless made a strong statement by restating the US’s unbreakable bonds with Israel, urging Arab nations to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. He roundly condemned holocaust denial, and insisted that Palestinians must abandon violence, profoundly stating that “It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.”
The Israeli Government responded positively to Obama’s speech, saying: “We share President Obama’s hope that the American effort heralds the beginning of a new era that will bring about an end to the conflict and lead to Arab recognition of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, living in peace and security in the Middle East.”
“Israel is committed to peace and will make every effort to expand the circle of peace while protecting its interests, especially its national security.”
Despite all these hurdles and challenges, Israel continues to be a global source of innovation and of inspiration.
Last weekend, the community was privileged to welcome 2004 Nobel laureate, Kenyan scientist, Dr Wangari Maathai who visited as a guest of the Jewish National Fund. She earned her nobel prize for founding of Green Belt, an organisation which has been instrumental in reforesting Kenya. Her inspiration? A visit to Israel in 1974, where she witnessed that the obstacles to tree planting, which had been clearly presented to her in her home country, were indeed surmountable. The means? Vision and determination – and these attributes have seen her contribute to her nation as one of its greatest environmental activists and achievers.
This year we also mark a very special milestone – the centenary of Tel Aviv, the first modern Hebrew city. You may have noticed the beautiful images of Tel Aviv which were screening here earlier – a vibrant, cosmopolitan Mediterranean city, which exemplifies the growth and development of the State of Israel.
From a tiny township in the Mediterranean sand dunes, Tel Aviv has become a first class, leading edge city.
Its Bauhaus architecture is heritage listed, it is a city of art and culture, of learning and education, of philosophy and vigorous political debateIt is a commercial hub, the middle east’s silicon valley, a place where cutting edge technology has emerged.
The area of Israel fits into the state of Tasmania 3 times. While the land is diverse and beautiful, from its snow capped mountains in the north to the arid Negev desert, it is short of natural resources. But what Israel lacks in size and physical resources, she more than makes up for in intellectual resources.
I’d like to give you an example of where Israeli technology is set to have a major impact worldwide. In Victoria, we well understand the issue of water shortage, of drought. So does Israel – remember, it’s the country which made the desert bloom, which has a remarkable agricultural industry thriving in the most inhospitable of natural environments.
At the 17th International Agricultural Exhibition in Tel Aviv last month, there was a launch of a new method for irrigating fields which was developed by an agricultural start-up company based near Netanya.
The new method channels dew that falls during the night to irrigate produce.
Normally, drops of dew that fall on a field would not reach a plant’s roots since the small amount of water doesn’t penetrate deep into the soil. But with the new technology, the drops of dew that fall all around the plant are directed to the few inches surrounding the center of the plant so that the roots get nourishment.
Tests have shown that the new watering method saved at least 50% of water and fertilizer usage. As well as reducing the need for the amount of water used, it also reduces the pollution of ground water caused by excess fertilizer.
According to the developers, the financial outlay in purchasing the product is earned back in one season of produce. Here’s one we could definitely use here in Australia.
Israel’s independence is indeed a cause for celebrating – but as I’ve outlined tonight, not merely because a certain period of time has passed, but because of her outstanding achievements, her rapid development and the contribution Israel has, and is poised to continue, to the world, in the areas of science, technology and humanitarian endeavour.