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NSW Parliament pays tribute to AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones, OBM

Sep 14, 2023 | AIJAC staff

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TRIBUTE TO JEREMY JONES, AM

On 13 September 2023  the NSW Legislative Council adopted the following motion, proposed by The Hon. Susan Carter (Lib):

(1) That this House notes with sadness the death of Jeremy Jones, AM.

(2) That this House notes that:

(a) Mr Jones was the director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council and a life member and former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry;

(b) His work in promoting interfaith dialogue and community harmony was recognised by the award of the Australian Human Rights Medal in 2007, the Stepan Kerkyasharian, AO, Medal for Community Harmony in 2016 and when Mr Jones was made a member of the Order of Australia;

(c) Mr Jones was a world leader on racism, especially antisemitism; and

(d) He was the first Australian to serve on the board of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations and was the chair of Interfaith Dialogues.

(3) That this House recognises that this outline of his work captures only a small part of the great contribution Jeremy Jones made to his community, both locally and internationally, and that he will be missed by all who knew him for his warmth, his kindness, his genuine respect for others and his intellect.

(4) That this House expresses its condolences to his widow, Naomi, and his children, Gidon and Galit.


 

Speeches in support of the motion:

The Hon. SUSAN CARTER  (18:21): Last Wednesday, a week ago today, Jeremy Jones died—a significant loss for his family, his community, his country and the world. He was an intellectual in the best sense of that word and was an articulate defender of respect and justice for all. Jeremy had an international reputation as a considered and articulate opponent of racism and antisemitism in all its forms. His voice was constantly raised, throughout the entirety of his life, in defence and in support of those who were discriminated against, overlooked or disregarded, not for anything they had done but just because of who they were. He was that rare combination of a great mind and a great heart, and he put all of his gifts at the service of those who needed them.

Jeremy was raised in a Jewish family, and this faith and community remained an important part of his life. As a schoolboy he faced the difficult issue that the competition for the debating he loved was on a Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, which he wanted to observe. Jeremy’s solution was to start his own debating competition so that he could do both. He was always a problem-solver. Jeremy was also a committed Australian and was deeply committed to the recognition of Aboriginal peoples and to closing the gap. When he travelled the world, as he often did, he was always to be seen in his matching kippah and tie featuring Indigenous patterns—a fashion choice some of us doubted, but we could never question his sincerity. Jeremy became a leader in the Jewish community, both nationally and internationally. He served in a number of capacities but was best known as the director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, and he was a life member and former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

Jeremy Jones was that rarest and best of leaders. He led not just by position but also by example. He was a genuinely good man who showed us by his professional life and also by his personal life how we can all live best together, with understanding and respect. He was a leader in interfaith dialogue because he understood the importance and the power of faith, and he lived his faith daily. Jeremy saw interfaith dialogue as an important key to achieving true, long-lasting community harmony. He was the first Australian to serve on the board of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations and was the chair of Interfaith Dialogues. His work in promoting interfaith dialogue and community harmony was recognised by the award of the Australian Human Rights Medal in 2007 and the Stepan Kerkyasharian, AO, Community Harmony Medal in 2016. Jeremy’s contribution was further recognised when he was made a member of the Order of Australia.

Jeremy was a serious man who thought deeply about serious issues and loved to inform himself about political theory and the events of the day. But he did not live only for the life of the mind. He truly valued all those people he was with, and he was able to connect with them personally, possessing that rare skill of being able to communicate his ideas widely and well to a range of different audiences. This made him an effective campaigner against racism. I had the privilege to meet Jeremy Jones at university, where we were both involved in student politics, usually on different sides but occasionally on a unity ticket. I have been fortunate to be able to call him a friend ever since. As fellow members of the “number every square below the line” league, the joy of every election campaign was lunch with Jeremy when we knew we would be numbering the first squares differently but would tease out exactly who should be awarded those important last five votes and why.

The Hon. Penny Sharpe: It is a tough choice.

The Hon. SUSAN CARTER: I acknowledge that interjection. Conversation with Jeremy was often challenging but always joyful. Jeremy leaves behind a lasting contribution to public life but also his widow, Naomi, and his children, Gidon and Galit. May his faith be a consolation to them and to all who will mourn him.

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE (Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council, Minister for Climate Change, Minister for Energy, Minister for the Environment, and Minister for Heritage) (18:26): I thank the Hon. Susan Carter for bringing this motion before the House. I was sad to hear of the passing of Jeremy Jones. He is not a man I knew well, but I knew him well enough to have been touched in a range of different ways as we interacted over many years during my political life. In his interfaith work around community harmony, he was always a faithful servant to the Jewish community but also a faithful servant to the people of New South Wales.

He was genuinely interested in the people he met, the thoughts they had and how they could contribute with him to making New South Wales a better place for all of us to live. He was a strong fighter against racism and particularly antisemitism. He was generous with his time and, as I said, was always curious about others. He was committed to young people. The work he did for many years with various young people—bringing them in, talking about their faith, sharing their ideas and understanding the very basic human truth that really we are all just the same—he did in a kind and funny way, and he managed to win friends wherever he went. Vale, Jeremy Jones.

The Hon. NATALIE WARD (18:27): I speak on the occasion of the passing of Jeremy Jones, AM, a distinguished stalwart of the Jewish community in New South Wales and Australia. Jeremy dedicated his whole life to the Jewish community, promoting interfaith dialogue and fighting against antisemitism and racism. Jeremy was a leader in the community since his time at university, where he held roles on the Sydney University and national executives of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students. His work continued for decades. He acted as director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, and as president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, where he was also recognised as a life member. Jeremy fought strongly against antisemitism, notably in long-running litigation he pursued in the Federal Court on behalf of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry against notorious antisemites and Holocaust deniers.

He was the first Australian to serve on the board of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, where he worked on establishing dialogues between different faiths. It is striking and important that Nur Munir of the Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the world’s largest Muslim organisations by membership, paid tribute to Jeremy for his work on interfaith dialogue. That is so important in our community. His interfaith work is critical in our harmonious, multicultural community. I am glad that his extensive work was recognised during his lifetime. We often recognise such things only after the fact.

He was the recipient of the Australian Human Rights Medal, the Stepan Kerkyasharian, AO, Medal for Community Harmony and was made a Member of the Order of Australia. Jeremy Jones received tributes from across the Australian community. Themes about his warmth, his eagerness to teach and mentor—critically important to the next generation—and his ability to put greater causes above his own personal needs were common throughout.

I am so pleased to be able to stand in support of the condolence motion. As co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel and former chair, I extend my deep and sincere gratitude and condolences to his wife, Naomi, children Gidon and Galit, and members of the wider Jones family for their loss. People of Australia and New South Wales mourn the loss of someone who was a thought leader, who exercised great work and who took great strides towards peace in our harmonious multicultural community we live so well within. May his memory be a blessing.

The Hon. DANIEL MOOKHEY (Treasurer) (18:30): I pay tribute to Jeremy Jones, AM, a beloved member of our community who died last Wednesday after a battle with cancer. As Director of International and Community Affairs at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council [AIJAC], Jeremy was a leading light of the Australian-Jewish community and a driving force for tolerance and multiculturalism. The outpouring of sorrow following Jeremy’s untimely passing has been overwhelming. From Federal and State parliaments, to leaders around the world, tributes have poured. I echo those sentiments today.

Jeremy was one of a kind. His contributions were incredibly wide-ranging and too many in number to begin to do justice to in my limited time. However, to give the House some sense of his influence, he was the founder of the first Jewish and Christian dialogue group in Sydney, he was one of the group of experts that helped formulate the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, he was the plaintiff in two key court cases establishing that antisemitism was covered by the Federal Racial Discrimination Act and that Holocaust denial violated that legislation.

Expressing their utter devastation at Jeremy’s loss in their tribute to him, AIJAC chairman Mark Leibler and executive director Colin Rubenstein called Jeremy “a one-man rolodex and intelligence agency, who knew almost every person of importance in Australian politics, religious communities, the media and other areas of public life and was almost universally liked and respected”. Beyond his role at AIJAC, Jeremy served as vice president, and later president, at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He was at the forefront of the battle to expose and combat antisemitism, racial hatred and bigotry. He was notably a genuine supporter of Indigenous Australians. He was also a member of the Australian Labor Party as a young man, was instrumental in setting up the New South Wales Labor Friends of Israel, and was active on the foreign affairs, immigration and multicultural ALP committees too.

Jeremy played a unique role in Australia-Asia and Australia-Israel relations. His work on the Jewish‑Muslim dialogue opened doors to meaningful engagement in Indonesia. I recognise too Jeremy’s unwavering commitment to confronting the biased treatment of Israel within international bodies. As a member of the Australian Government United Nations delegation, he was at that particularly interesting Durban conference, and has stood against such behaviour ever since. The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies president, David Ossip, called Jeremy a “mensch par excellence” and so he was. In his words of condolence on behalf of the New South Wales Government, Premier Minns said, “His efforts have had a tangible and lasting impact on community cohesion in New South Wales, Australia, and globally. Jeremy leaves behind a loving family and a tremendous legacy, and he will be missed by us all.”

The Hon. Dr SARAH KAINE (18:33): I acknowledge the work of Jeremy Jones, particularly his work in promoting interfaith and intercommunal harmony. I express my condolences to his family on his passing. In this place we have a mandate to act in the best interests of the residents of our State, which requires us to reflect on the views and needs of a diverse population and to do so in a way that is respectful and encourages social cohesion and intercommunal harmony. Jeremy Jones’s work embodied that mandate in his commitment to building bridges between communities and religious groups. His commitment was clear. He was recognised with the Australian Human Rights Medal 2007 and a harmony award in 2016, both in recognition of his work promoting multicultural interfaith dialogue. The statement regarding the award of the Australian Human Rights Medal read:

Mr Jones is an advocate who has dedicated his life to promoting freedom from racial discrimination, persecution, harassment and freedom of religion. [He] has tirelessly undertaken voluntary work within Indigenous, Jewish and Muslim communities as well as other minority groups … his cross-faith work had been integral in building bridges between communities and minority groups throughout his career.

In recognising his contributions in Federal Parliament last week, Senator Deb O’Neil paid tribute to Jones’s deep commitment to defending the inalienable rights of all people, which saw him encourage and establish dialogue among individuals and groups of different faiths. While I did not know Mr Jones personally, his legacy goes beyond those he had personally met. What I take as a lesson from his life is commitment to antiracism, Indigenous reconciliation, interfaith dialogue, multifaith collaboration and promotion of a kinder, more caring Sydney, New South Wales, Australia and the world. That is something that many of us would do well to imitate.

The Hon. SCOTT FARLOW (18:35): I have the great fortune of knowing Jeremy Jones since I started working as a staffer for Peter Debnam in Vaucluse in 2005. Jeremy came from the other side of the political divide but he was a warm to person to anyone, whatever their politics, sexuality or racial background, and I always respected him for that. Jeremy lived a life of inclusion and was somebody known throughout broader society, not just the Jewish community, as somebody who brought people together. He was a true humanitarian. I am glad the Hon. Daniel Mookhey reflected on his commitment to Indigenous Australia. I will always remember Jeremy in his Indigenous kippah. That was the symbol of Jeremy in many ways. It was not at Jewish functions I would see Jeremy most often, but other cultural events. The Indian Independence Day function was one such event. I was thinking that I had not seen Jeremy there this year, and it was quite sad because I always enjoyed Jeremy’s company.

Jeremy was a great advocate for the Jewish people, for Israel and for the whole Jewish community in his role at his roles at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council [AIJAC] and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. As a former chair of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel, I appreciate what Jeremy did to better inform parliamentarians in New South Wales about Israel and Jewish affairs, but also about antisemitism, which really did touch Jeremy. We had lots of conversations about the evolving role of antisemitism in our society. I know he was very happy to see the Nazi symbols bill pass this place in last year. In our last conversation, we reflected on that and how it was something the Parliament could own and show throughout the world.

One thing that Jeremy would see as his legacy is being able to bring the Jewish community to all other communities throughout New South Wales. I see through the outpouring of grief that has occurred since Jeremy’s passing that other communities New South Wales felt the same way about Jeremy, in particular the Muslim community where there were many challenges over many years. Jeremy always sought to bridge that divide. I send my condolences to his family, to all of the team at AIJAC who are mourning his loss, including our former colleague in this place the Hon. Walt Secord and to the broader Jewish community. Vale Jeremy Jones.

The Hon. SUSAN CARTER (18:37): In reply: I thank the members of the House for a very fitting tribute to the life of Jeremy Jones. It is wonderful to see his legacy remembered in the way that it should be, by people from different walks of life, of different persuasions thinking very different thoughts, but all united in recognising the contribution he made. I particularly thank the Hon. Penny Sharpe, the Hon. Natalie Ward, the Hon. Daniel Mookhey, the Hon. Dr Sarah Kaine and the Hon. Scott Farlow for their contributions. I take the liberty of expressing the condolences of the House to his family, his friends and all those who will miss him.


 

Federal Senate tribute from Senator Deborah O’Neill:

Senator Deborah O’Neill used a Senate adjournment debate on Sept. 7 to also pay tribute to Jeremy.

 

Jones, Mr Jeremy, AM

Senator O’NEILL  (ALP, New South Wales) (17:40): Filip Muller, a sonderkommando in Auschwitz whose enslavement task was to carry the bodies of murdered men, women and children from the gas chambers to the crematoria, bore witness to one of the remarkable moments of the holocaust. As a group of Czech Jews was marched to the gas chambers, a voice suddenly began to sing, with others joining. Soon a mighty choir swelled. First, the Czechoslovakian national anthem and then a Hebrew song named ‘Hatikvah’ were chanted.

Enraged SS officers attempted to halt the act, which represented both defiance and despair, savagely beating and murdering those Czech Jews as they continued to sing but did not yield. Filip was so moved that he attempted march into the chamber with them, only for a woman to stop him, convincing him to survive not for his sake but for theirs. He was instructed to bear witness to the atrocities taking place. This was his burden to carry. ‘Hatikvah’, which translates to ‘the hope’, later became the anthem for the state of Israel. Its lyrics speak to the desire for self-determination that comforted a nation even in its darkest moments. The state of Israel is a miracle.

This memory and desire were embodied in the spirit of Jeremy Jones AM, a righteous man who was a faithful servant to his Jewish community here in Australia for more than four decades and a lifelong friend of Israel. Sadly, he passed away on Wednesday night this week, after a battle with cancer. Jones was the director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, AIJAC, and a former president and life member of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He dedicated much of his work to promoting interfaith dialogue and was a renowned expert on antisemitism. In 2002 he won a landmark case against Fredrick Toben, proving that holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism, which resulted in a world-first order from the High Court that the content on Tobin’s website must be taken down. Toben was later imprisoned for contempt.

Jones was a firm believer in establishing dialogue and affairs between individuals and groups of different faiths. He was the first Australian to serve on the board of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, an organisation that represents world Jewry in dialogue with the Vatican, the World Council of Churches and the Muslim World League.

Jeremy also brought to all his affairs a deep sense of humility, virtue and the inalienable rights of people. He was known to make a habit of wearing kippot and ties decorated with Indigenous artwork, demonstrating his solidarity with the First Nations people of Australia while also pointing to how his Judaism enlightened his compassion towards humanity. This advocacy did not go unnoticed, with Jeremy being awarded the Australian Human Rights Medal in 2007 and the prestigious Stepan Kerkyasharian AO Medal for Community Harmony in 2016.

In my role as chair of the parliamentary friends of Israel group, I personally interacted with Jeremy in my visits to Israel. I found him to be a kind, incredibly thoughtful, and gentle man who was a proud member of his community. I’d like to share a few words from Peter Wertheim of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, who said, for more than four decades:

Jeremy was a faithful servant of the Australian Jewish community and a consummate professional.

There is hardly any area of Jewish communal life that did not benefit in some way from his expertise and dedication, and he worked in a range of key communal organisations.

To the Jones family, I say, in the Jewish tradition: I wish you a long life. We have lost a titan of the community. Jeremy Jones will be sorely missed. May his memory be a blessing.

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