Background to the visit of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to Australia

 

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin arrives in Australia today for a state visit. The Israel Embassy has provided some details on his scheduled program, but here is some additional background material on Rivlin and where his visit fits into the history of Australia-Israel relations.

 

Reuven Rivlin: Tenth President of Israel

Reuven Rivlin was born in Jerusalem on September 9, 1939. A lawyer by profession, he holds an L.L.B. degree from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is part of the extended Rivlin family which has lived in Jerusalem since 1809.

Rivlin studied at Gymnasia Rehavia High School and in 1957 enlisted in the IDF, serving as an intelligence officer. During the Six-Day War, he fought in the forward command post of Brigade Commander Mordechai “Motta” Gur at the Police Academy in Jerusalem, which captured the Western Wall. He completed his service in the IDF as an intelligence officer with the rank of major and then went on to study law.

A much younger Reuven Rivlin

During the 1960s, Rivlin worked as a legal advisor for the Beitar Jerusalem Football Club. Later he worked as the team manager and chairman of the club. He was a member of the Jerusalem Municipal Council (1978-1983), and a member of the El Al Executive Council (1981-1986). He is a former member of the Board of Trustees of Jerusalem’s Khan Theatre and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. He also served as Chairman of the Jerusalem Branch of the Herut Movement (1986-1993).

Rivlin was first elected to the Knesset in 1988, and served on a wide range of Knesset committees, among them: Foreign Affairs and Defence; Constitution, Law and Justice; State Control; Anti-Drug Abuse; Education and Culture; Ethics; Finance; House; and Advancement of the Status of Women. He also was a member of the Committee for Appointing Judges; the Committee for the Examination of the Maccabiah Bridge Disaster in 1997 (an issue of particular relevance to Australia given the victims of that disaster were mostly Australians); and the Parliamentary Inquiry Committee on Violence in Sports.

Reuven Rivlin served as Israel’s Minister of Communications from March 2001 until February 2003. He served as Speaker of the Knesset from 2003-2006 and again from 2009-2013.

In February 2013 he was re-elected to the Knesset on the joint Likud-Yisrael Beitenu list.

On June 10, 2014, Reuven Rivlin was elected by the Knesset to serve as Israel’s 10th President. He assumed office on July 24, 2014, and his seven-year term will expire in 2021 (since 2000, Israel law has limited each president to a single term).

In 1971, he married his wife Nechama – a university researcher until her retirement in 2007 – and was known to be devoted to her until her death last year. The couple had four children.

Rivlin has been a vegetarian since the 1960s and is fluent in Arabic, as well as Hebrew and English.

 

Historical milestones in the friendship between Israel and Australia

  • November 1947 – Australia’s Foreign Minister H.V. Evatt served as Chairman of the UN General Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine and helped push through the UN Partition Plan passed on Nov. 29. Australia was the first country to vote in favour of the plan.
  • 28 January 1949 – Israel and Australia established diplomatic ties when Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley recognised the new State of Israel.
  • May 1949 – Australia supported a UN resolution calling for Israel to be admitted as a UN member state.
  • November 1986 – Israeli President Chaim Herzog visited Australia. It was the first visit by a serving Israeli President to Australia.
  • January 1987 – Prime Minister Bob Hawke visited Israel, the first visit by a serving Australian Prime Minister to Israel. During the 1980s, the Hawke Government played an important role in the successful campaign to rescind the “Zionism is racism” UN resolution, which was achieved in December 1991.
  • November 1995 – Prime Minister Paul Keating travelled to Israel for the funeral of assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
  • May 2000 – Prime Minister John Howard visited Israel, and also held a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in New York in September 2005. For his friendship towards Israel and the Jewish people, Howard received a number of honours from Israeli and Jewish organisations, including having the Jewish National Fund announce the establishment of the “John Howard Negev Forest” in Israel in 2007.
  • February-March 2005 – Israeli President Moshe Katsav visited Australia.
  • February 2017 – Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu visited Australia. It was the first visit to Australia by a serving Israeli Prime Minister. Netanyahu previously visited Australia in August 2001.
  • October 2017 – Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited Israel. During the visit, a Memorandum of Understanding on industrial cooperation in the field of defence was signed. Together with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Turnbull also participated in the centenary events commemorating the WWI Battle of Be’er Sheva in 1917. Around 3,000 Australian dignitaries, politicians, public officials and members of the public went to Israel for the centenary commemorative ceremonies.
  • December 2018 – Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Australia recognised west Jerusalem as the capital of Israel but would not immediately move its embassy from Tel Aviv.
  • February 2020 – President Reuven Rivlin visits Australia. He previously visited Australia while serving as Knesset Speaker in November 2005.