Politicians raise their glasses to Israel

Israeli ambassador Mark Sofer. Photo: Peter Haskin

STATE politicians and supporters of Israel gathered at Queens Hall in Victoria’s Parliament to celebrate Israel’s 71st birthday, and among the guests was Australia’s UN Ambassador Designate Mitch Fifield, formerly a federal Coalition minister.

The June 19 event was also the first time new Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien attended the Yom Ha’atzmaut celebration.

Premier Daniel Andrews proposed a toast to Israel, describing it as “a modern, advanced, questioning, challenging, innovative, creative nation of ideas and arguments”.

“The gifts, the endowment, the opportunity that has come from the modern state of Israel benefits all of us – sometimes in very clear ways, where we know and understand the prominence of an idea, or an invention, or a blockbuster drug, or a theory, and we know that that culture of never taking ‘yes’ for an answer, always seeking to do more and do better, has benefited us,” he said.

Andrews said it was also an occasion for “remembering, contemplating the many challenges that Israel faces … The state of Israel’s right to exist within secure, well defined and defendable borders is something that I’ve spoken out on many times and I will continue to do”.

Responding to the Premier’s toast, Israeli ambassador Mark Sofer said Israel’s geographic location forces it to spend high proportions of its budget on defence, money that could be used for health and education.


Liberal leader O’Brien related that as “a young Catholic boy from the suburbs” studying at the University of Melbourne, he joined the Melbourne University Jewish Students Society (MUJSS).

“This was the time around the first Gulf War … and Israel was being threatened … and it’s sad to say on campus 30 years ago and today there are some people who do challenge the right of Israel to exist, and there are some people who challenge the fundamental freedom and democracy that Israel represents,” said O’Brien.

“I felt back then that it was important to show solidarity, it was important to show support, and I was very proud to join up with MUJSS … I think it is so important that we stand with our friend.”

Zionism Victoria president Sharene Hambur spoke of the threats to Israel from BDS, and from fringe groups on social media and in some parts of the mainstream media.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Jennifer Huppert thanked both sides of Parliament for their support of Israel, noting “bipartisan support like this is not a given in many places around the world”.