Jewish community mourns Hawke

Tributes have poured in for former prime minister Bob Hawke, who passed away aged 89. Photo: AJN file

JEWISH leaders and politicians have paid tribute to former Australian prime minister Bob Hawke, who passed away on Thursday at the age of 89.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim described Hawke as “one of the giants of Australian public life”.

“From the time that Bob Hawke first visited Israel in 1971, accompanied by his daughter Sue, he became a passionate advocate of its right to live in peace, to grow and develop, and to realise its full potential,” Wertheim reflected.

“He saw this as a vital interest of the democratic world, and famously observed, ‘If the bell tolls for Israel, it tolls for all of us’.”

Wertheim said towards the end of Hawke’s life, he became “more outspoken in criticising Israeli governments and supporting the establishment and recognition of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza”.

“Yet he never descended into the kind of crude polemics that have characterised the turn away from Israel of his Labor colleague, Bob Carr.”

Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein said Hawke “will always be remembered for his mastery of policy detail and inspiring leadership while maintaining an unwavering authenticity and approachability”.

“These qualities enabled him to steer a government that pushed through transformative reforms that truly changed the face of Australian society and its place in the world,” they said.

The uniquely warm relationship Hawke forged with our Jewish community, and its leaders at the time, both at the ACTU and when he entered politics, will always be cherished.”

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said one of Hawke’s many achievements was being a “tireless advocate for the release of Soviet Jews, just as he fought for many persecuted minorities around the world”.

“The Jewish community mourns with Australia today,” Dreyfus said.

Former Israeli ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem described Hawke as a “dear friend”, noting that he was the first Australian prime minister to visit the Jewish State.

“I had the privilege of accompanying him on his trip already as a Cadet in 1987, and learnt to value his leadership and friendship,” Rotem said.

Victorian Labor MP Philip Dalidakis said Hawke was one of the reasons he joined the Labor party at the age of 15.

“A giant, a reformer, a visionary. I bet he is already whipping heaven into shape, getting numbers to take over from St Peter & organising a wage rise for all the angels,” Dalidakis said. “RIP a giant of humanity.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said Hawke was a “true friend of the Jewish community, an icon, and the pinnacle symbol of leadership in this country”.

Stating that Hawke “did not have to fight for Soviet Jewry”, Leibler said, “He chose to do so anyway, defying the advice of his own department in the process to lobby for the right for Jewish Refuseniks from the former Soviet Union to be able emigrate and live freely – a remarkable feat that millions of migrants including those who migrated to Australia to this day, are eternally grateful for.

“You are a true chaver and mentsch and will be missed by the entire Australian Jewish community. May your memory be forever a blessing,” Leibler added.

Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) chairman Dvir Abramovich lauded Hawke, who served as a member of the ADC’s Council of Advisors for more than two decades, as a “great leader” who “leaves behind a formidable legacy”.

Full coverage in next week’s AJN.