Address to Sydney Jewish Museum Reading of the Names
11 September 2016
When the awful truth about the Nazi death camps was first publicised in newsreels and photographs at the end of World War II, an incredulous world reacted with profound shock and revulsion. Ghastly images of piled-up corpses and emaciated survivors were seared into the consciousness of civilised people everywhere, an inescapable reminder of humanity’s seemingly limitless capacity for evil.
The series of trials of Nazi war criminals at Nuremberg between 1945 and 1949 provided volumes of transcript of eye- witness testimony and of documentary evidence of the details of Nazi atrocities: the round-ups and ghetto-ization of entire Jewish communities; the ruthless expropriation of their assets; the sadistic tortures; the mass shootings; the deportations; the industrial-scale gassing of Jewish men, women and children; the ghoulish medical experiments; and a myriad other actions of unspeakable barbarity.
The Nuremberg Tribunals, in passing sentence on those responsible, said that their crimes had shocked the conscience of humanity.
Awareness of the horrors of the Shoah was renewed and deepened by the drama of the trial in Israel in 1961 of Adolf Eichmann. Eichmann had been the Nazi arch-bureaucrat who facilitated and managed the logistics of mass deportation of Jews to ghettos and extermination camps in German-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II. Jewish deportees were commonly left exposed to the elements with no water and little food. At times up to one third of them died in transit.
Eichmann performed his duties with such zeal that trains which had been ear-marked to provide desperately needed munitions and supplies to Germany’s front-line forces were at times diverted for transporting helpless Jewish civilians to the gas chambers. Murdering Jews, it would seem, was at times an even higher priority for the Nazis than winning the war.
In the 1980s and 1990s, as aging survivors began to look back on their lives, many of them recorded their oral histories. I had the personal privilege of interviewing some of the survivors for the Shoah Foundation. The survivors’ testimonies were added to the historical records and helped to keep alive the instinctive popular understanding of the Shoah as the ultimate in human evil.
What people have understood until now, with a clarity that is sadly diminishing over time, is that although World War II and the Holocaust were in many ways distinct albeit contemporaneous events, they were linked by the central destructive role of racial ideology in Nazi thinking and practice.
The idea of essentialising human beings as superior or inferior on the basis of their supposed “race” was at the heart of the Nazi doctrine of Lebensraum, which underpinned the pursuit by Nazi Germany of territorial expansion by military force, and led directly to the breakdown of democratic institutions, the denial of basic freedoms, the militarization of German society and the waging of aggressive war against other nations at the cost of tens of millions of lives. The same racial ideology underpinned the Nazi policy of physically eliminating the Jewish people as a people. The difference for the Nazis was that killing Jews was not the means to achieve territorial or other goals. It was the goal.
The lessons to be learned about the evil of conceptualising people in impersonal racial categories instead of in their human individuality, and about the socially destructive impact of unchecked racial hostility, remain as relevant as ever to contemporary Australia, and also to the wider world.
Further, the study of these events highlights the personal moral challenge for all people not to be silent or indifferent in the face of the oppression of others – especially others who have been systematically demonised, not for what they have said or done, but for who they are.
Yet in 2016 we can no longer assume that most people have the same depth of understanding of the Shoah as previous generations.
With the passing of time, and more particularly with the passing of survivors year by year, the Shoah is no longer universally seen and understood as vividly as it was when memories of it were still fresh, and there were greater numbers of survivors to speak and write about their experiences.
It is a supreme irony that the generation that has grown up with the internet and social media, with instantaneous access to unprecedented volumes of information, is the generation that knows and cares the least about the Holocaust or even about World War II.
In a survey conducted in Britain by the Sunday Telegraph in 2009 ahead of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, almost half of young Britons did not know in which year World War II broke out, and more than three quarters did not know who Britain’s prime minister was at the time. One in ten believed that Britain had fought against France, not Germany. More than one-third of them did not know that the famous words “We shall fight on the beaches” were uttered by Winston Churchill.
Kathleen Burk, Professor of Modern History at University College London, was reported as saying she was not surprised by the results:
“Even when I get extremely intelligent students I find I more or less have to tell them their history. It is astonishing that there isn’t more emphasis on the Second World War in schools. [The war] has created the political culture of Britain since then. If you don’t know where you come from then you can’t know what is going on now.”
A further insight was provided by one of the foremost historians of World War II and the Holocaust, Richard Evans, Regius Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge:
“We have to remember that for these children, the war is as remote as the middle ages. For many of them, their grandparents did not even live through it. They will have learned about the war partly through the media and partly through school, but it is not embedded in their generation.”
One should not imagine that these survey results were an aberration. Even in the United States, where the Holocaust is a constant fixture in school curricula, and in popular culture, a 2008 study found that more than 30% of Americans didn’t know what the Holocaust was.
Other, more recent tragedies now compete for a place in the public consciousness. Today is the 15th anniversary of the mass terrorist atrocities in the United States, events which carry their own message about the destructive evil of blind hatred.
Yet part of the decline in awareness of the Holocaust is due to a more general ignorance about history, politics and government. A famous study by the Mccormick Tribune Freedom Museum in 2006 found that twice as many Americans were able to name at least two characters from ‘the Simpsons’ cartoon series than could name even one of the five fundamental freedoms guaranteed to them by the first amendment to the US constitution.
In short, we live in an age that combines virtually unlimited access to information with staggering shallowness and widespread ignorance.
Even in Australia, a draft of the Queensland Modern History syllabus for years 11 and 12 released earlier this year by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority would have eliminated the scope to study the events of World War II and the Holocaust in any depth. Fortunately, after vigorous representations by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies, academics and teachers, the syllabus has now been changed to allow an in- depth study of these subjects.
There was another welcome development in June 2015 when Australia became an observer of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). As an observer country Australia shares the commitment of the IHRA to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust and to promote education, research and remembrance both nationally and internationally. Australia has appointed experts who have participated with great distinction in IHRA’s working groups at its bi-annual plenary meetings, including the working groups covering education and academia. The 31 member states of the IHRA are now encouraging Australia to join them as full members, and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry has urged the Australian government to do so.
For the majority of people now living, there is no personal or immediate family point of connection to the World War II era. If these people ever think about the Shoah at all, it is so divorced from their own personal experiences that it is utterly beyond their range of comprehension.
Herein lies a dilemma. We don’t want people in our own society, or any society, to have experiences that are even remotely comparable to the suffering our people endured. Yet we also want the world to remember, understand, and to draw the appropriate lessons so that we can keep alive at least the possibility that human society can avoid repeating the worst mistakes of the past, and perhaps even evolve into something better.
If that is the point of remembering, then the process of remembering cannot be restricted to an education of the mind. Yes, the facts are important, and a rigorous scholarly study of the facts of the Shoah is indispensible. But mastery of the facts is nowhere near enough to fulfil the obligations of education and memory.
In the early years of World War II, as the horrors of the Holocaust began to unfold, the Jewish Agency representative in Geneva, Richard Lichtheim, received a letter from a colleague in the United States asking him to send a factual report on “the position of the Jews in Europe”.
The question angered Lichtheim because of its breath-taking ignorance and insensitivity. The Jews of Europe at that time were in the throes of a massive convulsion in their lives that began with their ruthless displacement from their homes and brutal separation from their loved ones and ended in their wholesale slaughter. They were no more in a “position” in any meaningful sense than a speck of dust in a cyclone or a droplet of water in a tsunami.
Despite his anger, Lichtheim patiently reported as best he could on the details of what had befallen European Jewry, community by community, country by country. He concluded his survey with a memorable rebuke to his American colleague that still resonates:
“You asked for a survey of the position of the Jews of Europe. You wanted facts and figures. Have I stated the facts? Some of them, but very few. Think of the facts behind the facts, of the rivers of tears and the streams of blood, the broken limbs and the naked bodies, the bleeding feet and the crying children, the stench and the filth, the biting cold and the gnawing hunger, the black despair in millions of hearts. Try to think the last thoughts of the three Jews who were paraded through a Polish town and hanged for having tried to obtain some food from non- Jews. Feel the feelings of the Jewish mother in Paris who threw her six children, and then herself, out of the window when the police came to take her away to a camp and then to Poland. Have I stated the facts? I have written 4,000 words and I have said nothing. Use your imagination, friend”.
To remember the Holocaust in anything like the way needed to do it justice, it must be the subject not only of an education of the mind, in facts and figures, but also of an education of the heart, in empathy and compassion; an education of the conscience in rejecting prejudice and injustice; and an education of the soul in keeping our faith even in the face of the darkest evil.
This is the kind of education that must be delivered not only in the halls of academia but also in visual and audio presentations, art, literature, music, and in spiritual reflection and prayer.
The Sydney Jewish Museum plays an indispensable role in this broader kind of education. It has become one of our community’s priceless institutional treasures. I thank everyone at the museum for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you today.
Peter Wertheim, Executive Director
Executive Council of Australian Jewry
MEDIA RELEASE 1 August 2016
Australia’s elected national Jewish roof body is urging all Jewish Australians to insert the word ‘Jewish’ or ‘Judaism’ in answer to the question on the Census questionnaire that asks ‘What is your religion?’
“This should be done for each member of the household when you complete the questionnaire on Census night on Tuesday 9 August 2016”, said Robert Goot, the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. “There is no box you can tick marked: ‘Judaism’ or ‘Jewish’. In the past many Jewish people did not answer the religion question, or even selected another religion to mask their identity”.
Mr Goot added “Census data affects Government’s allocation of resources to assist the Australian community in a host of vital areas. The Jewish community also depends on the Census for accurate planning information for services in fields such as education, welfare and aged care.”
Noting that most people will complete the 2016 Census questionnaire online, Mr Goot also emphasised that it will still be possible to request and complete a hard-copy form for those who wish to do so.
Mr Goot noted that there are privacy, confidentiality and security concerns in the Jewish community regarding the departure from past practices in the 2016 census, and emphasised that the ECAJ has met and will continue to meet with the ABS and the Government to voice these concerns. “On balance the ECAJ believes it is still very much in the interests of the Jewish community that the census is completed with full accuracy, including the optional question on religion,” Mr Goot said.
“The Census will provide vital data for all Australians including the Jewish community. That information will help Jewish community bodies to represent the community’s needs to government more effectively and will help us to plan for the future and ensure appropriate
provision of critical services and programs”, Mr Goot emphasised. “I ask all Jewish Australians to complete the questionnaire with full and accurate details.”
Australian Jewish News, July 21, 2016
Turkey’s descent into Islamism
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
What began late on July 15 as a coup by sections of Turkey’s military forces against the civilian government has very quickly been turned into a coup by the Erdogan regime against the military and judiciary – and other institutions that stand in the way of the regime’s goal of Islamising the country.
To understand what has been happening, a knowledge of Turkey’s recent history is essential.
The modern Republic of Turkey was proclaimed in 1923 on the rubble of the old Ottoman Empire, which was dismantled after being comprehensively defeated by the military forces of Britain and its Dominions, including Australia, during World War I.
The new Republican government was headed by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (“father of the Turks”), a former military commander who had been instrumental in his country’s successful defence of the Dardanelles in 1915.
Atatürk was determined to drag his country into modernity. His government systematically dismantled the old discredited Ottoman institutions.
The Islamic caliphate, the theocracy under which the Ottomans ruled most of the Middle East, was abolished. Secular, democratic government and the rule of law were enshrined in Turkey’s new constitution. Far-reaching modernist reforms were introduced into the education system, the economy and culture. Women were given equal civil and political rights.
The paradox of modern Turkey is that Atatürk and his legacy continue to be widely revered, yet most Turks remain deeply religious and conservative in their political and social views.
Turkey’s military has always seen itself as the guardian of Atatürk’s secular legacy. It has successfully intervened five times – in 1960, 1971 and 1980, 1993 and 1997 – to scotch any threats it sees to that legacy. Other elements of Turkey’s elite, most notably the judiciary and an independent media, have provided the additional bulwarks of secularism.
This also ensured that Turkey’s foreign policy was pro-western and friendly to Israel. As a member of NATO, Turkey played a key role in the containment of Soviet communism during the Cold War.
However, since the 1990s the Turkish Republic’s secular, modernist character has clashed headlong with the global Islamic revival.
After the 1997 coup, Turkey’s Islamists were crushed and their Welfare Party was dissolved. One of their leaders, the mayor of Istanbul, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was imprisoned for four months. At this time Erdoğan and his followers supposedly re-invented themselves. They formed a new Justice and Development Party (AKP), appearing to abandon Islamist policies and to embrace a conservative, non-religious program.
The apparent remake of Erdoğan was never sincere. It was a ruse to enable Erdoğan and the “reformed” Islamists of the AKP to make another bid for power without the military intervening.
The subterfuge worked. The AKP won the 2002 general election in a landslide. Erdoğan, who had previously been banned from holding political office, became Prime Minister the following year, was re-elected at subsequent general elections and became President in 2014.
The electoral success of Erdoğan and the AKP was legitimately earned with mostly sound economic management. Between 2002 and 2012 Turkey experienced a growth of 64% in real GDP and a 43% increase in GDP per capita.
Unlike the short-lived, openly Islamist government of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, Erdoğan and the AKP provided competent government and avoided, at least initially, crude repression.
Economic success ensured that Erdoğan and the AKP continued to enjoy popularity, but Erdoğan, slowly but surely, used that popularity to introduce measures which enabled the government to infiltrate and dominate all rival centres of power, principally the military, the judiciary and the media, and to move Turkey towards Islamisation and a restoration of its Ottoman-era regional hegemony.
The defeat of the attempted coup last week and the public humiliation of the Turkish military was a watershed, but not the kind of watershed it appeared to be. It did not mark the end of the Turkish military’s long-standing role as the guardian of Turkey’s democratic, secular polity, because that role was effectively terminated by Erdoğan and the AKP some years ago.
Turkey’s military was purged of its senior pro-secularist officers in a series of show trials between 2007 and 2012, during which the officers were accused of plotting against the government.
With the military neutralised, Erdoğan then moved on the judiciary. Even though Turkey’s 1982 Constitution provides that “Turkey is a democratic, secular and social state governed by the rule of law…loyal to the nationalism of Atatürk”, and demands that the judiciary remain strictly independent of the legislative and executive arms of government, Erdoğan removed unfriendly judges and replaced them with compliant ones.
At the same time, Erdoğan moved to close down or squeeze out sections of the private media which were critical of the government.
Erdoğan’s ally in this process was the Islamic theologian and preacher Fethullah Gülen. Gülen’s Cemaat movement managed to infiltrate and take over many, large commercial enterprises and civil society organisations, changing them from secular to supposedly moderate Islamic entities.
As Erdogan successfully moved towards achieving a monopoly of power, he no longer needed Gülen, and they had a spectacular falling out in 2013. Gülen fled to the US.
It was at this point that Erdogan’s increasing authoritarianism and concentration of power in his own hands provoked the first serious popular opposition in the form of a series of mass protests against Erdogan in Istanbul.
The real significance of the failed coup last week was that one Islamist movement, led by Erdoğan, has now finally prevailed against a rival Islamist movement, led by Gülen, and against any residual secularists still remaining in positions of power. It was not about democracy at all.
The 6,000 people who have now been arrested in Turkey are mainly Gülenists and secularists in the Turkish military and judiciary. According to Johannes Hahn, the European Union’s Commissioner overseeing Turkey’s membership bid, Erdoğan already had a prepared list of targets for arrest before the coup was launched.
Erdoğan has since announced that Turkey will consider reinstating the death penalty. Nobody has been executed in Turkey since 1984. Capital punishment was abolished in 2004.
Although Israel’s Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu is probably correct in saying that recent events will not interrupt the ongoing rapprochement between Israel and Turkey, in the long-term the prospect of an authoritarian, Erdoğan-led Islamist Turkey with neo-Ottoman pretensions cannot be good for Israel, Europe or the US.
Peter Wertheim is the Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. The article above is as submitted.
The following article was written by Peter Wertheim AM in The Australian, July 18, 2016.
Although the Senate votes are still being counted, much of the commentary in the wake of the federal election focused on the recrudescence of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, which seems likely to win three or perhaps four Senate seats. Alarm bells rang out that this poses a renewed threat to the fabric of Australia’s peaceful, pluralist society.
Pauline Hanson has often denied that her views and her party’s policies have anything to do with racism or bigotry, but it is difficult to see how else one can characterise her numerous public pronouncements attributing negative behaviour and traits to groups of people on account of their ethnic or religious background, most recently “Asians” and “Muslims”.
As obnoxious and unfair as many people find such views, Pauline Hanson is far from Australia’s worst offender on this score. If her critics wish to be credible, they will need to be equally vociferous in condemning racist and bigoted views emanating from quarters other than the radical right of politics.
Two years ago Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Sheikh Ismail al-Wahwah spewed forth a hate-filled public rant accusing “the Jews” of corrupting the world, describing them as “the most evil creature of Allah” and threatening that “the ember of jihad against the Jews will continue to burn. Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews”.
While Pauline Hanson can be accused of promoting racial hatred and bigotry, which impliedly licenses violence against its targets, she has not expressly promoted or condoned violence against any group, as al-Wahwah has done. In fact, she has condemned it. Nor does she claim a divine mandate for her views.
Far too many of Hanson’s detractors seem to lose their voice and their nerve when confronted with public expressions of racism and bigotry coming from within Muslim communities. Social media sites for Muslim Village, Mission Islam and Islamophobia Register Australia have commonly included content or unmoderated posted comments that are just as viciously racist, and supportive of racially motivated violence, as al-Wahwah’s.
The response from much of the community has been silence and indifference, in stark contrast to the reaction to Pauline Hanson. It is important for political and community leaders to take a principled public stand against the promotion of hatred, and the express or implied licensing of violence, against any group based on race, religion or sexual orientation. It is equally important that the stance is consistent, and that racism is called out from whichever part of society or the political spectrum it emerges.
As for One Nation, it is also important that statements of principle about the inadmissibility of racism are accompanied by detailed critiques of its policies. Deep down, most Australians understand that shutting off migration, or choosing migrants on the basis of their ethnic or religious background rather than their skills and capacities, would produce a stagnating economy, fewer jobs, lower living standards, wider disparities in wealth, diminished healthcare and education, regional isolation and increased economic insecurity.
Far from restoring Australia to the imaginary golden age of the 1950s, One Nation’s policies would recreate the nightmare of the 1930s. Version two of Pauline Hanson is therefore as devoid of workable answers to Australia’s economic challenges as was Version one. It should not take long for her, once again, to be found out on economic policy.
What is new is the fact that the negative conception of groups on the basis of ethnicity and religion that underpins much of the Hanson worldview is no longer driven solely by fear and anger generated by economic insecurity. There is now the added dimension of fear and anger generated by physical insecurity and the threat of terrorism.
It would be foolish to deny the depth and breadth of ill-feeling towards Islam and, to a lesser extent Muslims, which currently exists in Australia as a consequence of acts of terrorism that have been committed in many parts of the world by self-identified Muslims in the name of Islam. Of course it is grotesquely unfair to stigmatise Muslims generally for these crimes or to suggest that such crimes epitomise Islam as a belief system.
Yet it is also true that Islamist terrorism draws on authentic, deeply rooted Islamic traditions of proselytisation and religious supersessionism — the fulfilment of its self-designated mission of bringing the whole world under its dispensation by means that do not necessarily exclude the use of violence, fear or deception. The public’s instincts about this phenomenon are far more astute than the ludicrous intellectual contortions of those who insist that the actions of Islamists have nothing at all to do with Islam.
Oddly, One Nation does not have a coherent strategy to counter the threat posed by terrorism and extremist ideologies, only a hodge-podge of largely symbolic measures, which will likely radicalise disaffected young people in even greater numbers.
The patent inadequacy of One Nation’s policies is no reason to dismiss the concerns that have given rise to those policies, and propelled Pauline Hanson back into the federal parliament. The fears of her supporters about their jobs and their chances of buying a home and for their overall future economic wellbeing are not at all irrational. Neither are their fears of Islamist terrorism.
These are not phobias. The threats to people’s economic and physical security are real. The fears are well-founded, even if One Nation’s policy answers are not. It will be the responsibility of the new government and members of parliament to come up with answers that are more credible.
Peter Wertheim is the Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry
20th June 2016
As the elected representative body and voice of the of the Australian Jewish community, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry is determined to ensure that our community is engaged in the political process and informed about the policies and views of the main parties contesting the 2016 federal election.
To this end, we asked the Coalition, the Australian Labor Party, the Australian Greens, the Jacqui Lambie Network and the Nick Xenophon Team to answer specific questions about issues of special concern to the Australian Jewish community, including matters relating to our physical security and our freedom to practice our faith, and on Australia-Israel relations and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
The complete responses of each party can be accessed via our website, together with a comparative Table of key extracts from each party’s answers. .
We wish to convey our appreciation to each of the parties for their co-operation and comprehensive responses, which will serve to inform both our community and the broader public ahead of the forthcoming election. We encourage everyone to read all of the responses carefully and to make their own assessments. The following observations are intended to highlight points which we believe will be of particular interest to members of the Jewish community.
At present, on the basis of security assessments by law enforcement agencies, the Commonwealth Government provides direct assistance to Jewish and other religious schools to meet part of their security costs. No financial assistance is provided for other vulnerable facilities including community centres, museums and synagogues. In the case of non-school Jewish institutions, such costs are met entirely by the Jewish community itself.
Both the Coalition and Labor have now pledged to extend the category of communal facilities which are eligible for security funding assistance.
The Coalition has announced the establishment of a $40 million Safer Communities Fund, part of which will in part be directed to “community organisations that are facing security risks associated with racial or religious intolerance.”
Labor has also acknowledged the need to “support necessary improvement to security in the wider community” and has announced that it will commit $500,000 to “significantly upgrade security at the Beth Weizmann Community Centre in Melbourne.
The Jacqui Lambie Network supports extending security assistance to Jewish communal facilities.
The Greens and the Nick Xenophon Team have both indicated that they would support commonwealth funding for communal facilities where the merits of doing so have been established.
The Coalition, Labor and the Greens have all promised to increase funding for independent schools, including Jewish schools.
Labor and the Greens are in favour of full implementation of the Gonski reforms.
Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie would maintain current levels of funding for independent schools, including Jewish schools.
All parties have stated they do not support repeal or amendment of sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Labor and the Greens have affirmed their steadfast support for the Racial Discrimination Act and highlighted their role in opposing previous attempts to repeal or weaken sections 18C and 18D.
The Coalition and Jacqui Lambie Network have expressly rejected recognition of a Palestinian State other than in the context of a negotiated peace agreement with Israel.
Labor has confirmed that, as resolved at its 2015 National Conference, the Party would consider recognising a Palestinian state if the next round of peace negotiations fails to yield a two-state solution.
Nick Xenophon has reiterated his support for a two-state solution but has not stated whether he supports recognising a Palestinian state other than as a consequence of a negotiated peace agreement.
The Greens recognise a Palestinian state.
Every party with the exception of the Greens explicitly supports greater bilateral relations between Israel and Australia at all levels, including government, business, cultural, academic and people-to-people. The Greens have stated that any bilateral relations should promote peace, democracy, human rights and other values and that Australia’s relationship with Israel should reflect these principles.
BDS is not the policy of any political party in Australia.
Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie have both stated that they do not support BDS.
The Greens have affirmed that BDS is not the policy of the Australian Greens.
Labor has forcefully repudiated BDS, referring to prior consistent statements to this effect, and has also branded BDS as “harming Palestinian people economically” and “unhelpful to the Middle East peace process.”
The Coalition states that BDS is a “blatantly antisemitic campaign” and has denounced those who support it “… including university academics, trade unions, members of the Labor Party, the Greens and Local Government.”
The Coalition and the Jacqui Lambie Network have also stated that in addition to opposing BDS they are opposed to MPs providing political or other support for individuals or organisations which promote BDS.
The Greens have not stated whether they are in favour of maintaining existing laws concerning religious slaughter of animals in Australia and have called for “greater accountability and transparency in all Australian abattoirs”.
All other parties have confirmed that they are in favour of maintaining existing laws relating to kosher slaughter.
Freedom of Conscience
All parties are in favour of religious ministers retaining the right to decide for themselves whether they wish to solemnise any marriage.
The Greens support the repeal of religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws.
The Coalition, Labor and the Jacqui Lambie Network accept the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)-endorsed definition of antisemitism, which also recognises antisemitism in the context of extreme attacks on the State of Israel, involving for example, Holocaust inversion or the denial of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination.
Nick Xenophon and the Greens have issued general condemnations of antisemitism without adopting the IHRA-endorsed definition.
Peter Wertheim AM Executive Director
ph: 02 8353 8500 | m: 0408 160 904
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Alex Ryvchin | Public Affairs Director
phone: 02 8353 8505
e: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @alexryvchin
Speech delivered at
Australian Citizenship Ceremony,
Waverley Council area,
Sydney, New South Wales
31st October 2015
by Alex Ryvchin,
Public Affairs Director,
Executive Council of Australian Jewry
Firstly, I’d like to convey my sincere gratitude to Mayor Sally Betts for inviting me to speak today. I am deeply honoured and humbled to play some small part in today’s proceedings. I’d also like to acknowledge the passionate and tireless Waverley councillors and staff who do such an outstanding job for the local community. But I am most thrilled to be in the presence of our newest Australians.
Twenty five years ago, I sat where you sit now. My family, it was the six of us, had arrived as refugees from the Soviet Union in January 1988 and we settled in this area.
We arrived to a land that was entirely strange and unfamiliar to us, where we had no friends or relations, no English language skills, no money, no possessions of any value. Just a few suitcases of clothing and some photo albums to remind us of long-dead relatives and the lives we left behind. We came with little more than the hope of a better life and asking to be given a fair go. Two years later, we became Australians in this very room.
I was only a boy of seven that day, so I can’t tell you what I felt or what it meant to me at the time. Probably, not very much. And for my parents and grandparents, whose paramount concern was with working whatever odd jobs they could find to scrape together enough money to send my brother and me to school each day, clothed and fed, it probably didn’t mean that much either. Life’s urgent needs took precedence.
But when I reflect on that day, I know with absolute certainty and conviction that that occasion was one of the greatest blessings I have experienced. And to this day, being an Australian fills me with a sense of pride and fortune that I never take for granted.
You will have come to Australia from diverse lands and have sought a life here for a variety of reasons. For us, we sought refuge here. We came from a place where we were denied basic freedoms – the freedom to practise our religion, the freedom to enter certain professions and study at certain universities because of our ethnicity, and perhaps the cruellest injustice of all, for a long time, we were denied the freedom even to leave that country and seek a new life in a land where we could live with dignity and be free from persecution.
We found these freedoms in Australia. My brother and I were blessed with something that our ancestors could only have dreamed of – to be raised in a society where we were judged on what we said and what we did, on what we achieved, on the substance of our characters, rather than to be prejudged based on the ethnicity which was stamped into our identity papers.
While many of the freedoms that we found in this country are a feature of western liberal democracies generally, there are qualities to this society that are uniquely its own, that are uniquely Australian.
And there is no more Australian concept than the idea of a fair go.
If you come to this land and are willing to work hard and contribute to its welfare and its prosperity, you will be given a fair go. Skin colour, ethnic origins, country of birth, religious beliefs, none of these things will be a barrier to your success. You will be given a fair go. And the extent of your success will be determined only by how hard you’re willing to work, the fortune that befalls you and the talents that you choose to develop. Do not underestimate the significance of being given a fair go. It is a priceless gift, and now it is yours.
Equally, by becoming Australians, we accept the duty to uphold the freedoms granted to us and to protect the values underpinning our society – values such as democracy, tolerance, mutual respect. And that wonderfully and uniquely Australian value, “mateship” – which captures the essence of the relationship between Australians. It denotes camaraderie, friendship, and most importantly, equality. Former Prime Minister John Howard said it holds a “hallowed place in the Australian language,” while the historian, Nick Dyrenfurth calls it “our de facto religion.”
My fellow Australians, my new mates, I offer my sincerest congratulations on this beautiful occasion. Just as its significance did not immediately dawn on me, perhaps it will pass you by today as well. But I hope that, as time goes on and you establish new lives in this great land of ours, you will cherish all that this nation has to offer, that you will seek to enhance it through your efforts, that you will discover and be mesmerised by its natural beauty and the beauty of its people and that you will feel the same pride and love for Australia that I do.
Thank you and good luck.