Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Honouring Prime Minister John Howard - 2002

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HONORING AUSTRALIAN PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD

New York City, 30 January 2002


Australian Prime Minister John Howard was honored at a January 30 luncheon at AJC headquarters in New York, hosted by the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and its Australian partner, the Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC). Following are the remarks of AJC President Harold Tanner, Prime Minister John Howard, AJC Executive Director David A. Harris, and AIJAC Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein.

AJC President Harold Tanner

At this unusual time in history, as we find our nations engaged in a war against terrorism, it is particularly worth celebrating the close relations among three great democracies -- Australia, the United States and Israel. It is also fitting that we acknowledge the outstanding and immediate commitment of Australia in prosecuting the war against terrorism.

John Howard has been in office as Prime Minister since March, 1996. He has dedicated his career to public service in Australia since the age of 36, when, as a member of the Parliamentary Liberal Party, he was elected to Parliament and was immediately appointed Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. He later served as Treasurer in the Liberal government from 1977 to 1983. He is Australia's 25th Prime Minister since its federation and his government was re-elected to a third term last November.

However, John Howard is, in addition, a steadfast supporter of the State of Israel which he has visited three times, most recently in May, 2000. He also has a strong history of sympathy for world Jewry: from Australia's efforts in seeking freedom for the unjustly-imprisoned Jews in Iran, its courageous leadership in the debacle in Durban, its great efforts in easing Israel's entry into the U.N.'s WEOG Group, and, most recently, in joining the United States in boycotting the recent conference of high-contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention, which was yet another attempt to demonize the state of Israel.

Therefore, it is particularly appropriate and my pleasure that we today present to Prime Minister Howard, a life-long champion of democracy, justice and a culturally diverse Australia, the American Jewish Committee's Award for distinguished public service for his record and that of his government, for his steadfast alliance with the United States, its strong support for and close bilateral ties with the state of Israel and his open and warm relations with Australia's Jewish community. Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, ambassadors, members of the Jewish community, friends, please join me in welcoming a personal new friend and a good friend to all we stand for, John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia.

The Hon. John Howard MP

Prime Minister John Howard

I am particularly delighted to be here today, and I thank the American Jewish Committee for its generous welcome and for the honor it has paid me.

It is relevant when you examine the things that bind societies together, to go to the philosophical core of a relationship to find the true essence of what keeps a friendship between nations and people going. And, in his remarks, Mr. Tanner made the point that Australia, the United States and Israel share many things in common but one thing we share in common above everything else is our commitment to liberty and our commitment to democracy because for all of the reasons why, in my view, Israel is deserving of unyielding support and a perpetual protection of secure and defensible borders, within which to peacefully live out its life, is its constant commitment and unflagging support of a democratic way of life since its creation in 1948.

I am, as your president has said, somebody who is an unapologetic and longstanding friend of Israel and of the Jewish community, particularly in Australia. It's a friendship that predates my entry into politics. My first visit to Israel occurred in 1964, and I've visited it in a political capacity on two occasions since. Unapologetic and unstinting friends win themselves the right from time to time to express views their friends might not necessarily agree with.

But in the years that I've been in public life and in the time that I've been Prime Minister of this country, Australia has continued and will continue to express a sympathetic understanding of the horrific pressures faced by the state of Israel in what remains still the most difficult and fraught region of the world. All of us continue to be appalled by the violence occurring in the Middle East. All men of good will must want that violence to end. All of the parties must continue to work ultimately towards a just settlement and a peace which has its first ingredient the right of Israel to exist behind secure, defensible boundaries, but also includes the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a homeland.

The last time I visited Israel was a time of hope. I had just come from visiting Gallipoli and the old battlefields of World War One where so many Australians died defending France and defending the cause of freedom in World War One, and I was encouraged by the then-Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, to visit Yasir Arafat, to go to Ramallah, to talk to the Palestinian Council.

And can I say, when I first disclosed on Melbourne Radio that I was to visit Yasir Arafat, and I was questioned by the interviewer as to why I should be doing it, and I explained that it was an important contribution that a friendly government to Israel but also a government that understood the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for a homeland. It was the thing to be done. And I'm very happy to say that within minutes of my being on the radio, the two people who rang in to defend my decision included Colin Rubenstein and Mark Leibler. And that, my friends, was less than two years ago. And it was a time of hope. How distressing, how sad and how heart-wrenching it is that all of that has disappeared over the last 20 months.

And I have to say against the background of all of the commitment of the Australian government towards supporting the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, and they do have legitimate aspirations, they do have a right to aspire to a homeland, until stronger and more effective efforts are taken by the Palestinian Council, by Yasir Arafat and others, that we can only continue to condemn them for what they have done and to what they have failed to do in relation to the restraint, necessary restraints being imposed on the random acts of terror, which, I'll say, frequently now visited upon the people of Israel.

Ladies and gentlemen, can I say just two other things. I take this opportunity in the great metropolis of New York, whose lifeblood, whose existence and special character has been so heavily shaped and influenced by the contribution of Jewish-Americans, and I acknowledge the enormous contribution in this great city of the Jewish community. The contribution of Australian Jews to our community has been immense. It has been rich. It has been in every area, and it has been a force for good, a force for progress, and a force for understanding, and I count it as one of the privileges of my public life to have been associated with so many of those people who have made that contribution.

The other thing I wish to say, of course, is that nobody now can visit this city without thinking of September 11th. I was due to come here on the 12th of September. I saw President Bush on the 10th. And I visited the Pentagon building on the afternoon of the 10th. And of course, in the light of what occurred, I was not able to come to New York. I want to say how strongly Australia supports the actions being taken by the United States Government and by the American people in the name of the world to fight terrorism.

Some people have said to me, "Why is Australia so heavily involved?" Because proportionately our military commitment is, given the size of our own forces, as big, if not bigger, than that any of country, saving, except, of course, the United States.

We're involved because what happened then, what happened in this city was as much an assault on the things that we believe in as the things are believed in by the people of the United States. And we are constantly told that we live in a globalized world. We do. The world has shrunk. We're all so much more together. And all of that is right.

And in those circumstances, an assault upon liberty and the right to go about your daily life in one part of the world is as much an assault in other parts of the world on people who hold those same values. There were Australians who died in the World Trade Center. There were many Australians left bereaved and affected by those events, and, in those circumstances, we see it as very much an attack upon our way of life. We're also involved because of our very long association with the people of the United States.

President Bush and I on the tenth of September last year had marked the 50th anniversary of the Anzus Treaty and, in fact, Australia has fought beside the United States in every major conflict since World War One, when their forces went into battle together at the Battle of Hamel, I might say, under the command of an Australian general, one of Australia's most distinguished Jewish sons, General Sir John Monash. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a very long association between our two nations that I also mark by my presence today. I admire the contribution of the American people. I admire their spirit. I

admire the resilience of the people of New York, and I made a quiet resolve, after it was necessary to cancel my visit last time, that I would reprise it at a time in the not-too-distant future, and I'm glad that that has happened.

And I particularly thank the good offices of my friend, Colin Rubenstein, and others that have made it possible. My friends, it's a great pleasure to be here today. And I hope, in a small way, it makes a contribution to further strengthening the links between our three great nations, Australia, the United States and the State of Israel. Thank you.

AJC Executive Director David Harris

Mr. Prime Minister, rabbis have often wrestled with the question of why we are taught in the beginning there was only Adam and Eve. And the answer the rabbis have told us is that because in the end no one in the world, regardless of their color or nationality or language, can ever claim to have different origins than anyone else; that, in effect, we are one human family. But even as we continue to aspire for thousands of years to achieve that goal, within that one human family we are one democratic family. And you have emphasized this. And for us, this is a matter of great importance. Within that one democratic family there are only a few countries that truly celebrate an open society, open to people from many countries that have come over many years and that have enriched the societies.

The United States and Australia share this in common as well. And within that small group of nations there are even fewer democratic nations that have chosen not the path of least resistance, not the path of political expediency on the international scene but, rather, have chosen the path of principle and courage. You and Australia have again and again demonstrated your commitment to principle and courage. As you said, since the First World War you have stood shoulder to shoulder with Americans.

Since the founding of the state of Israel in 1948, you have stood shoulder to shoulder with the state of Israel. Since the launching of the war on terrorism, you were there from the very first day. And I don't just mean literally in Washington but with your words. And more important even than your words, with your actions that surpassed even your eloquent words.

You've been there with us. And I who have the privilege and punishment of watching the United Nations at work in both New York and in Geneva know that there are very few nations that are prepared to exhibit the kind of courage - moral, intellectual, philosophical, political on behalf of what is right and just, respecting Western values, respecting the United States, respecting Israel, respecting human rights.

There are few countries that we can count on more steadfastly than Australia, and I thank you for that as well. And lastly, on a personal note, my paternal grandmother from Poland served as a cook in the Soviet Army during the Second World War, having fled Eastward. At the end of the war, she made her way to Melbourne, Australia, where she got Australian citizenship. Unfortunately for her, her husband and her son, my father, who were separated during the war, ended up in the United States, and they outvoted her two-to-one and brought her to the United States.

Left to Right: Mr Harold Tanner President, AJC, Dr Colin Rubenstein Executive Director, AIJAC, The Hon. John Howard MP, Mr David Harris Executive Director, AJC

Now, I remember many, many fierce family arguments in which my grandmother was involved where every time things did not go the way she wanted, she pulled out her Australian passport, which she kept current, and said, "I'm leaving and I'm going to Australia." Now, until I visited Australia for the first time at the invitation of AIJAC, I didn't quite know why she said it. I now do. It's a magnificent country. It's a great friend of the United States. And we're really honored to have you. And with that, I would like to call on our dear friend, Colin Rubenstein, the Executive Director of our partner in Australia, AIJAC, for the very last word.

AIJAC Director Colin Rubenstein

It's my great privilege to thank Prime Minister Howard and add the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council's congratulations on the conferral of the American Jewish Committee's Distinguished Public Service Award. No one in Australia is more deserving of this honor than Prime Minister Howard.

I also want to take the opportunity to express the gratitude of AIJAC to the American Jewish Committee for their initiative and generosity in arranging today's auspicious occasion. And to Harold Tanner and David Harris for sustaining our partnership and to Shula Bahat, in particular, for her valiant efforts in ensuring today's function is such a success. Can I also take the opportunity to convey a message from our national chairman, Mark Leibler, which I, of course, share as does one of our directors here today Michael Shur. "I wish to thank the American Jewish Committee for cosponsoring this luncheon with AIJAC. It's a relationship that we treasure, and today's important occasion is but one of its fruits. And I also convey my profound admiration for Prime Minister Howard's long standing support and friendship for Israel and the Australian Jewish community. We deeply appreciate his efforts over the years, none more than the principled leadership he and his government have demonstrated in recent months in Durban and in Geneva and in their generous and constructive support for Israel and all those seeking a fair and honorable peace in the Middle East. My congratulations for what I am sure is a wonderful occasion."

John Howard, whom we honor today, is a true friend of the Australian Jewish community, a true friend of Israel and, indeed, of the United States. While Israel, as we know, has many serious enemies throughout the world, it also has many friends who recognize and share Israel's vision as a free and democratic nation that seeks peace, security and prosperity together with its Arab neighbors. For more than 30 years in public life, John Howard has stood firm as a strong and sincere friend of Israel who shares that vision and has argued for it, whatever the situation may be, whether in government or in opposition.

Thirty years, ladies and gentlemen, is a long commitment on any issue, and it's a true measure of the man and of his principle and of his resolve. Prime Minister Howard's commitment to Israel is genuine, and his commitment to Middle East peace and our community has never wavered. When I had the good fortune to accompany the Prime Minister during his visit to Israel in the year 2000, I saw at firsthand the warmth and appreciation Israel's political and business leadership showed to him for his support and courage.

The Prime Minister forthrightly praised Israel's Camp David peace offer, and he's repeatedly condemned the Palestinian violence and bloodshed over the last year that has left the Oslo process in tatters. And it has been said several times today that at the United Nations under John Howard's leadership, the Australian government has abstained from or opposed morally skewered and sometimes viciously anti-Israel resolutions. It's assisted Israel's admission into the WEOG Group at the United Nations. Australia was right to stay away from the conference of high-contracting parties to the Fourth Geneva Convention in December that convened solely for the purpose of hectoring and delegitimizing Israel. Above all, at the Durban Conference on Racism, which just turned into a display of the very evils they were supposed to combat, Australia took a vitally important role in moderating the proceedings.

And I want to acknowledge not only the leadership of the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Alexander Downer for Australia's initiative but to Australia's Ambassador at the United Nations, John Dauth, who led the delegation and whom we're delighted to have with us here today. And finally, we honor the Prime Minister today because he's proved a true friend and ally of the United States, indeed, of all people seeking to live in peace, prosperity, free from threats and acts of terrorism.

And as David Harris said, the Howard government did not waver after the barbarities of September 11th. Mr. Howard invoked the ANZUS Alliance in support of military action against Al-Qaeda by the United States. Australia moved decisively to contribute to the fighting on the ground with its Australian Special Forces units, and we now play the leadership role in the U.N.-mandated naval blockade of Iraq. And I know the Prime Minister in Washington on September 11 visited the special sitting of Congress, pledging Australia's support for the challenges ahead.

He's demonstrated in word and deed Australia's firm resolve to see terrorism eliminated and understands full well the scope and seriousness of the challenges ahead, including the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. So, ladies and gentlemen, to conclude, I ask you to join me in extending our gratitude to Prime Minister Howard for his outstanding record and to congratulate him on the honor that he's received today. Could I now ask Richard Pratt, well-known as one of Australia's greatest businessmen, visionary and philanthropist to join us here for a presentation to the Prime Minister on behalf of AIJAC.

It's a sculpture entitled "The Tree of Life" by one of Australia's leading sculptors, Simon Kessel, whose larger work on the same subject resides in the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation. "The Tree of Life," the tree, an eternal symbol of life, and it depicts the universal representation of growth and renewal.

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