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Joint Press Release – 26 June 2012

Former IDF Chief: Keep Israel’s democracy, religion balanced

Major General (Res.) Elazar Stern warns of coercion from both sides

The greatest threat to Israel’s military survival isn’t Iran or the Palestinians – no, it’s Israel’s own internal identity struggle, said Major General (Res.) Elazar Stern.

In front of a full auditorium on June 20 at Beth Weizmann Community Centre, in Melbourne, the former chief of education and of manpower for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), delineated ways in which Israel’s founding pillars of democracy and religion can operate in tandem. The event, entitled “Between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv: The battle over Jewish identity in Israeli society and the IDF,” was co-presented by the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) and the Zionist Council of Victoria (ZCV). The ZFA and the Zionist Council of NSW co-presented a similar event in Sydney on 14 June.

“To survive and exist, there is no other option but to be a democracy and Jewish,” Stern said. “From time to time, democracy has to pay to be Jewish; at the same time, a Jewish country has to pay a price to be a democracy.”

“These  are existential issues, not just for Israeli society, but for the entire Jewish world. Israel is the centre of the Jewish world and the values that are reflected in Israeli society reverberate through the Diaspora,” said Jeremy Leibler, speaking on behalf of the ZFA. “The Zionist Federation of Australia and the Zionist Council of Victoria are proud to have Elazar Stern speak for the community because he really is at the forefront of confronting these issues in Israel, and there aren’t many others out there like him.”

Sharene Hambur, ZCV Vice President, added: “While issues of security for the State of Israel remain paramount in our minds, we are all aware that there are many social issues that need to be addressed. Chief among these is the question of ‘Who is a Jew?’ and the stresses between the secular and religious parts of society.”

Stern is continuing to help soldiers and other immigrants from the FSU as a board member of Shorashim, a new program sponsored by the Harry O. Triguboff Institute, with support from Tzohar. Shorashim investigates and proves a person’s Jewish heritage, a savings in both time and money compared with conversion. There are currently 800,000 citizens from the Former Soviet Union who do not have proof of their Jewish heritage, including 150,000 women of child-bearing age.

Stern’s visit to Australia was sponsored by the Harry O. Triguboff Institute, with support from Tzohar and Shorashim.

Further information:
Joshua Cole, ZFA Communications/Events Director – 03 9272 5618,
Elinor Shalev, ZCV Public Relations Director 03 9272 5519,

The Zionist Federation of Australia represents the Zionist aims of the Australian community by supporting, enhancing and encouraging the Australian connection to Israel with Israel Engagement projects, Israel Advocacy, Israel programs (short and long term), Teacher Education (Jewish Educators’ Conference), Zionist youth groups and student organisations, Zionist Seminars in schools.

The Zionist Council of Victoria leads and encourages Jewish and Zionist activity and expression within Victoria, to represent the Jewish community, to promote and communicate Israel’s interests within the broader Victorian community and to promote Victoria’s relationship with Israel.