A crowd of 150 people gathered at Beth Weizmann Community Centre Tuesday 21 July for a public forum with Australia’s Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma. Mr Sharma spoke about his impressions of Israel from his experience as Ambassador since 2013.
Mr Sharma spoke about the great promise and opportunity in the relationship between Australia and Israel. “Our countries have more in common than many people realise” he said, enumerating the similarities such as the countries’ relatively young ages and outlook, their strong immigrant bases, and their sense of isolation, albeit for different reasons. Both cultures have cultivated an adventurous spirit, a sense of egalitarianism – often manifested in a disregard or disrespect of authority – and sensitivity to international opinion.
Mr Sharma said that with all the emphasis on the conflicts in the region, people often lose sight of all that Israel brings to its relationship with Australia. He highlighted hi-tech, agri-tech and water technology and cyber power as fields in which Australians can benefit from Israel’s know-how and leadership. Likewise, Australia has expertise it can offer Israel, particularly in the public policy sector. For example, Israel recently opened a HeadSpace Clinic offering mental health services to youth. The centre, funded in part by Australian foundations, uses an Australian model of dedicated mental health care for young people, something that previously had not been widely implemented in Israel. He cited public awareness campaigns to raise awareness about the dangers of leaving children in hot cars, medical marijuana and plain packaging for tobacco as other policy areas in which Australia and Israel can collaborate and learn from one another.
Mr Sharma got personal in describing the impact of living in Israel on him, his wife and three young daughters. The family has found the experience tremendously enriching due, in no small part, to the “intensity and energy with which Israelis face their daily life”. “People embrace occasions, from national holidays to religious observances to family gatherings both sombre and joyous.” Israelis’ willingness to open their hearts and homes and to provide frank insight, even to strangers, has allowed the family to get to know people intimately and quickly – much more so than in other places they have lived. He also described the joys of being immersed in Jewish culture and observance and learning to value and appreciate the importance tradition has in Jewish life.
“I’m very positive about Israel’s future, its strong economy and cohesive society” said. He said that Israel was “nothing like what I thought it would be and is much more complicated than I expected,” a view he says is consistently shared by visiting business and Parliamentary delegations. He spoke about the importance of people seeing Israel with their own eyes, and mentioned initiatives underway to increase those possibilities.
In introducing the ambassador, Dr Danny Lamm, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia described him as “one of the most energetic, active and engaged Australian ambassadors” he had met. Those who attended experienced this first-hand and appreciated Mr Sharma’s forthrightness and passion for continuing to develop Australia’s strong and enduring relationship with Israel. Claudine Sachwald, one of those in attendance summed up her impressions; “we are indeed blessed to have Ambassador Dave Sharma, with his wit, his perceptiveness, his passion & enthusiasm, and with his diplomatic skills, as our representative in Israel”.
Prior to his post in Israel, Mr Sharma held numerous posts within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. He studied at Cambridge University, Sydney Medical School and Deakin University and is the youngest person to ever be appointed an Australian Ambassador.
The public forum with Mr Sharma was sponsored by the Zionist Council of Victoria, Zionist Federation of Australia and United Israel Appeal.