FOSTERING vibrant relationships between the Jewish community and members of the Victorian Parliament is of prime concern to David Southwick, the member for Caulfield who recently led a delegation of Liberal MPs on an Israel study tour.
Co-ordinated by the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) during July, the tour involved meetings with Israeli media, a visit to the Knesset, Temple Mount, the Western Wall and briefings on the history of Israel and its current work in the areas of innovation and research.
“One of my aims since being elected has been to help educate my colleagues on the extraordinary cultural contribution made not only by the Jewish community here in Victoria but also Israel’s world-leading innovation,” said Southwick.
“By seeing this work up close, this trip has allowed us to build strong advocates for Israel.”
AIJAC executive director Dr Colin Rubenstein said the MPs’ heightened appreciation for and understanding of Israel was “gratifying”.
“Besides meeting with an Israeli government minister and an Opposition MK, the MPs were also given the opportunity in Bethlehem to discuss local issues with Palestinian Authority officials and Arab journalists, encompassing a wide breadth of opinion on the contentious issues across the region,” he said.
Victorian Liberal MPs Neil Angus, Elizabeth Miller, Clem Newton-Brown and Bill Tilley were joined by Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Nicholas Kotsiras, two members of the NSW Parliament – Peter Phelps and Jonathan O’Dea – and Ahron Shapiro from AIJAC.
Kotsiras said the visit, which included a peace-process discussion with former Palestinian Authority minister Ziad Abu Zayyad, reaffirmed his strong support for Israel’s right to exist and defend itself.
“Despite all the challenges and threats, Israel’s most precious resource is the ingenuity of its people; honest, happy, genuine and a sincere desire to find a peaceful solution to the challenges facing Israel,” Kotsiras said.
“Israel has done what it can to bring peace to the region.”
Clem Newton-Brown said that as an MP with a significant Jewish constituency, he had gained invaluable insight from the study tour into the challenges faced by Israel.
“It is only when you visit Israel that you can comprehend the history and complexity of the regional politics. Given the volatile local situation which has recently escalated, it is critical that the international community continues to strongly advocate for the rights of Israel,” he said.