‘I feel very much at home in the Jewish community’

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull arrive at Admiralty House. Photo: Noel Kessel

FORMER PM Malcolm Turnbull has paid tribute to the Jewish community for its support as he reflected on his 15 years in Parliament in an interview with The AJN.

Turnbull, who was elected to the House of Representatives in October 2004 and served as prime minister from September 2015 until last Friday, is expected to announce his retirement from politics later this week.

A staunch friend of the community, he has been a regular face at many Jewish communal events during and before his parliamentary service. He has attended various synagogues over the years, spoke at JewishCare’s 80th birthday celebrations in December 2016, opened Kesser Torah College’s library earlier this year and baked challahs and soup for the needy at Our Big Kitchen just a month ago.

Malcolm Turnbull and his grandson Jack at Sydney’s Our Big Kitchen last month. Photo: Shane Desiatnik

He said he’s always felt embraced and welcomed by the Jewish community.

“I feel very much at home,” he said. “The Jewish community in Wentworth has been great – very warm, very supportive. I couldn’t have done the things I’ve done without the support of the people of Wentworth and a huge part of that is of course the Jewish ­community.”

He recounted a conversation he had with Jewish communal stalwart Frank Lowy at his 50th birthday party shortly after entering Parliament.

“[It] was also Lucy and my 25th wedding anniversary, and Frank said, ‘Malcolm, this is very heimish.’ And that’s how I’ve always felt. It’s a very warm ­relationship.”

That warmth and friendship was appreciated during and after the events of last week, he said, saying he’d received “lots of love from all the leaders and the rabbis, and lots of friends”.

That includes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who phoned Turnbull on Monday night to offer his commiserations.

The two leaders have enjoyed a close relationship, displaying genuine warmth and affection during Netanyahu’s visit to Australia in February last year and again when Turnbull visited Israel in October for the 100th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of Beersheba.

“We had a good chat and we’re looking forward to catching up in Jerusalem before too long,” Turnbull said. He said that and the many friendships he made during his political career would long ­continue.

“The events of last week were shocking, disgraceful, appalling – everyone’s got the same reactions,” he said.

“The reality is that friendships endure, values endure. And to me, as I was saying to [Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council executive director] Colin Rubenstein, I was messaging with Colin. Colin said, ‘You’ve always been a mensch, sincere gratitude for your support and best wishes to you and Lucy in the future.’ And I just said ‘many thanks, menschlichkeit is most important’.”

Rubenstein was one of many Jewish communal leaders who applauded Turnbull’s stance in December 2016, when he was scathingly critical of the one-sided United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334, which called settlements “a flagrant violation of international law” and denied Israeli sovereignty over the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Turnbull has always adopted a strong supportive stance on Israel, calling it “the canary in the mine” in the fight against terrorism.

“We always stand with Israel,” he said. “There is a war for freedom against terrorism. Israel is our friend and partner in that struggle and we – the government I led – stuck to our beliefs and our values.”

Responding to Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby, who told The AJN, “I doubt whether his successor Scott Morrison … will be as automatically friendly” to the community’s concerns, Turnbull said, “I think you’ll find that the new government will be as strong a friend and a supporter of Israel as mine was.”

He also paid tribute to new Treasurer and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg, who last Friday had the honour of being appointed to the highest political office ever held by a Jew in Australia.

“He’s a fantastic guy, Josh has always been a good friend of ours,” Turnbull said.

“Josh tells a funny story which is true … long before he was married, he was around at our house and [my wife] Lucy said, ‘Josh, you’re too old to be a bachelor, it’s time that you found a nice Jewish girl and got married,’ which he duly did by the way, not long after that.

“So he’s always attributed that final direction to matrimony from Lucy. We’re both very fond of him.”
On the topic of good friends, he said he counts his successor among them.

“Scott Morrison has been a very close and dear friend over a long period of time,” he said.

“Even though the outcome of the week was appalling, shocking – it is good at least that those people who tried to overthrow my prime ministership and were part of this insurgency were not rewarded in the leadership ballot.

“Both Scott and Josh were loyal, whereas the others were not.”

Turnbull declined to comment on who should replace him in his electorate, saying, “That’s a matter for the people of Wentworth.”

But he said this was not the last the Jewish community in Wentworth would see of him.

“I look forward to catching up at Central and other shules for a few l’chaims, that would be good,” he said.
“You will [see me] indeed, you can’t miss me.”

GARETH NARUNSKY