The Hon. Alexander Downer MP
Member for Mayo
Speech to American Jewish Committee on the occasion of the conferral of the Ramer Award for Excellence in Diplomacy, Washington D.C.
Thursday May 1 2008
It is a great honour to be presented with this award by the American Jewish community. Indeed, I feel humbled that you have chosen me to be the recipient of an award which commemorates the extra-ordinary contribution to the American Jewish community by the Ramers.
The Australian and American Jewish communities have a lot in common. In both cases Jews have found in our countries the peace and tolerance which was denied them over the centuries in Europe and the Middle East: but they have not only found freedom and tolerance in Australia and America, they have contributed mightily to our two societies.
You haven’t yet elected a Jewish President whereas we have had two Jewish Governors’ General, the Governor General being the de facto head of state in Australia. But in both our cases the contribution Jewish people have made to science, academia, literature the arts and business has been magnificent.
An embattled, denigrated and persecuted people has come to our shores and in finding freedom has said “let’s build this place”.
It’s part of what makes our societies great.
In 1918, Australians and Americans went into battle together for the first time. We’ve done so many times since. It was at the Battle of Le Hamel, this being the first major American military action on European soil. Those of you with a sense of history may think the Americans fought under the redoubtable General Pershing but in this their first major battle in Europe they fought under the Australian commander, General Sir John Monash. Monash by the way was Jewish – so you won’t be surprised to learn we won the battle!
In many ways, Australians and Americans are the most natural of allies. Our countries were settled by peoples fleeing persecution and discrimination and who sought the opportunity to achieve prosperity away from the class based elitism of the old world. We grew to love a life of individual freedom and to place equal value on every person.
We confronted and still confront three great adversaries over the last 100 years. We fought the bloody and heartless totalitarianism of fascism and we won. We fought the intolerance, cruelty and incompetence of communism and we won. And today we fight the fanaticism and ideological insanity of Islamic extremism – and we must win that fight as well.
Islamic extremism has several manifestations. There is Al Qaeda and its Asian variant, Jemaah Islamia. There is the Iranian theocracy. There is the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan
These people are haters and many of them are killers. They hate our open, free societies that respect men and women equally. They want to destroy democracy and equality of opportunity in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Indonesia and in Israel. They want to destroy modernity and plunge the world back into the Middle Ages. They want Taliban-style regimes not just in Afghanistan but throughout the world, particularly the Muslim world: regimes where girls are denied schooling, where the most powerful are chosen by a few zealots not the people, where the tools of modernity are disbanded and poverty becomes endemic.
Our great countries stand in their way.
This is a tough fight because we are confronting people who have no concern for human life. No act of barbarism is beyond these people.
To win we need to be clear eyed. This war is not popular with everyone, it’s expensive and it’s costing the lives of our young men and women.
But please, I implore you, contemplate the alternative: Victory for Al Qaeda in Sunni Iraq, the return of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in total control of both Gaza and the West Bank, a Hezbollah-dominated government in Lebanon…and what then? The Moslem Brotherhood taking control in Egypt, the Gulf States swept up in the euphoria of a resurgent, extremist Wahabiism. Would newly democratic Indonesia – the world’s largest Islamic country succumb to extremism? Would New York again and Sydney become front line cities in the great ideological battle of our time?
And let’s think about democratic, freedom-loving Israel. For those of us who live in Australia or America it is hard to conceive of life in a tiny country a fraction the size of our own, living cheek by jowl with people who want to destroy you.
It is easy for Australians, Americans and Europeans in the relative security of our homes to lecture the Israeli government to be more accommodating with its enemies, to criticise Israel for erecting a security barrier, to complain that Prime Minister Olmet won’t hug a Hamas leader, to deplore Israeli attacks on rocket bases in Southern Lebanon and Gaza and Israeli attacks on Hamas terrorist leaders in Gaza and the West Bank. It’s easy to lecture.
But it is harder to understand.
One of the lessons of history is to understand your adversary. The West professes with genuine sincerity to believe in Israel’s right to exist within secure borders. It argues for the two state solution as the only viable option for peace in the Middle East. They are right to do so. It is the only option.
But what some in the West, including a good number of Americans and Australians, don’t understand is there are many in the Middle East who don’t accept the two-state solution and Israel’s right to exist as a separate State.
Hamas and Hezbollah believe in the destruction of the Israeli State. That is bad enough. But behind them lies the power, the finance and the weapons of Iran. When President Ahmadinejad says he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth, he means it. He believes there should be no Jewish State of Israel.
Demands that Israel negotiate with those who wish to destroy it are unreasonable and worse: those demands weaken Israel’s diplomatic strength and help to undermine community support for Israel in Western countries.
Indeed I will go further: there has been a constant stream of criticism of Israel particularly from Europe and elements of the United Nations for each and every one of the defensive measures it takes. Building a security barrier is wrong, destroying terrorist bases is wrong, attacking terrorist leaders and planners is wrong, trying to stop missile attacks on villages in Northern and Southern Israel is wrong! It doesn’t leave Israel with too many options!
These criticisms have been particularly vehement in much of the Western media. That has had an effect on public opinion which has become increasingly hostile to Israel.
But Israel is a democracy. No Israeli leader can turn his or her back on the struggle against those who wish to destroy Israel. The world needs to respect that.
We also need to send out again and again a simple and clear message to the international community that peace in the Middle East can never come until Israelis are allowed to sleep in peace.
That message needs to be transmitted not just in Europe and America. Asia needs to hear and understand that message as well.
Today, as the balance of global power shifts to the Asia Pacific region, your campaigns to ensure people understand the truth of the Middle East conflict must extend to China, Japan, India, Korea and Indonesia. Those countries are going to count for a great deal more in international fora in the future. But at present they are hearing just one side of the argument. When I have spoken about the Middle East in Asia I have felt somewhat lonely!
When I first heard last year of the destruction of a North Korean-built nuclear facility in Syria, I thought its destruction was a triumph. It was a blow for peace. What horrors would have occurred years from now if that project had survived? But the existence of this project, discovered only at a relatively late stage of development, reminds us of the immense dangers Israelis live with day by day.
Ladies and Gentlemen, these are tough times.We have to prevail over Islamic extremism. Liberal democracy has, once more, to triumph. But it won’t happen by wishing and hoping: it will only happen through courage and action.
I know what your public are saying, I know there is pain at the costs both human and financial. But the true test of the statesman is to do the right thing by a troubled world not play to a gallery.
Thank you again for this great honour: whether our political leaders are popular or not, our two great countries will always be the great beacons of hope to billions of people around the world who crave the liberties we are blessed to enjoy. And make no mistake, we stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Israel in its struggle to secure peace and freedom.