26 February 2015
Speech - #2015003, 2015

Address at the Australian Jewish News 120th birthday celebrations and commemorative book launch

Thank you so much Bob for that thought provoking and genuine speech. It was in many ways inspiring and I am reminded that in our country we can speak frankly and honestly with each other and be proud of the fact that we come from diverse backgrounds.

I also recognise your general manager Rod Kenning who has done an outstanding job for much longer than Bob has owned the paper and Editor Zeddy Lawrence.

To my colleagues and friends, particularly Malcolm Turnbull whose electorate we reside and Lucy, his ever-wonderful partner and support to Gabrielle Upton. To my longstanding friend Jonathan O’Dea and Walt Secord and many distinguished guests.

I do bring you high regards and warm wishes from the Prime Minister who offers his apologies on this very significant occasion.

The Australian Jewish News is an institution of faith. It is an institution of journalism and it is an institution of community. I can think of no other single community that has a greater love and affection for its family and children than the Jewish community particularly here in Australia.

No other single community has a greater devotion to its future, no matter how significant  the sacrifices have been in the past. The Australian Jewish News has been the embodiment of these values.

Since its inception, the Jewish News has encouraged people to think, as Bob just encouraged all of us to think during his address. It has encouraged people to belong, and it has sought to build a better, fairer community where everyone is respected.

In recent times, we have all, in different ways, been required to think carefully about what it means to have faith, what it means to be part of a community, and what it means to be an Australian. 

There are some that have questioned the notion of multiculturalism or questioned whether Christianity, Judaism and Islam can peacefully coexist.

As Bob said, my own father emigrated from the Middle East to Australia in 1948. His father was born in Aleppo, a town that has been flattened in recent times. His mum was born in Jaffa. Whilst Dad was a Christian growing up in Jerusalem, his closest childhood friend was a Jewish girl named Judy Meyer, whom I met and I was very proud to meet her when Dad took me back to Israel in 1998.

As Bob said, Dad speaks excellent Hebrew – in fact at the local synagogue they thought he was Jewish, which is good for the local member actually, and he speaks Arabic - although he swears at me in Arabic. 

And for someone, in the case of Dad, who did lose his home to a war that was essentially based on faith and survival, he taught me and my brothers and sister the value of tolerance during challenging times.

These are very important questions in a time when some young Australians are rejecting the tolerant, pluralistic and open country we are, in exchange for the ugly martyrdom of a death cult in the Middle East. 

As we reflect on these challenges, it is worth recalling the words of Sir Robert Menzies when he addressed the Kew Jewish Foundation just over fifty years ago.

He said:

“more and more, everybody will come to realise that this is a country in which every community may form part of a greater community and that, a tolerant one.”

And he said: 

What we need in Australia, is that every person coming from some particular race or faith who comes into the Australian community should retain his or her quality in that sense, but should add it to the qualities of all the others, so that finally we get a powerful structure, a self-respecting structure, a community of high ideals and of clear faith and of generosity and of understanding”.

These words remind us that being an Australian is the sum of hundreds of different communities, shining like the harbour of this great city. 

These words remind us that to judge faiths on the actions of extremists would in my own case, be no different than judging Christianity on the atrocities committed over the centuries in the name of Jesus.

This community is one of the great communities of Australia. You are a tolerant, compassionate and forgiving community. Through your moral leadership your community exemplifies what the great Jewish rabbi Hillil said, that which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. 

You are a bastion of multiculturalism, particularly here in this vibrant city. Modern Australia is unimaginable without the contribution of Jewish Australians.

Can we imagine an Australia without Sir John Monash – possibly the only Australian who has changed the trajectory of world history?

Can we imagine a modern Australia without the wisdom of Sir Zelman Cowen – bringing his touch of healing after the turmoil of 1975?

Can we imagine every walk of life from business to football, particularly contribution and passion and vision of Frank Lowy in many of those regards?

Imagine what our future would be like, and will be like because of the two winners of the 2014 Prime Minister’s Science Prize, Professor Ingrid Scheffer and Professor Sam Berkovic – and their groundbreaking research into epilepsy?

So, this is a profoundly impressive contribution. And at the heart of the community is the Australian Jewish News.

Even before the Commonwealth of Australia became a reality, the Australian Jewish News, or the Hebrew Standard of Australasia was reporting the news.

In that time, there were only about 10,000 Jewish people living in Sydney and perhaps 20,000 nationwide.

The Jewish community may have been few in number but its sense of identity and place in Australia was strong.

Its sense of confidence was no doubt partly shaped and strengthened by your paper.

As its founding Editor wrote, ‘we trust that the incentive engendered from papers perusal may be lasting and of much value’.

And, its influence has been long lasting and of great value.

It’s this great achievement we are of course celebrating today through the launch of this book. 

The Australian Jewish News – 120 years: the people and events making the headlines, by Karen Klein, who I understand is here documents the story behind 120 years of Jewish storytelling and of course that is a brief moment in Jewish storytelling - 120 years. 

Right from the start, this newspaper has chronicled the history of the Jewish people in Australia and reported on international events.

Today, the Australian Jewish News is a source of pride for nearly 100,000 Jewish Australians.

This newspaper has witnessed it all. You covered the, “birth of a United Australia”; the efforts of General Monash and the AIF on the Western Front; the atrocities of the 1930s and 1940s; and Australia’s support - important unequivocal support for the establishment of the State of Israel.

Your pages have not only chronicled the achievements of Jewish people, they have documented some of the discrimination, racism and injustices Jewish people have suffered in this country.

We are great people, a great nation but we're not perfect and you've made us a better.

Your pages have championed the cause of reconciliation for Indigenous Australians – because you understand that to be silent on injustice is to be complicit.

Glancing through this book it is clear the paper has matured from a text-heavy publication to a vibrant, authoritative and respected online voice which resonates far and wide.

It has done so under the direction of esteemed national editors such as Sam Lipski, Dan Goldberg, Ashley Browne, and of course, Zeddy Lawrence.

Today, as you stand tall among the independent Jewish newspapers of the world, we commend and celebrate your success.

You have fulfilled, as the first editorial wrote, the ‘difficult and yet pleasurable task’ to inform, entertain and uplift the Jewish community of Australasia.

It is with great pleasure that I launch this book to mark 120 years’ continuous publication of Australian Jewish News. I thank you for having me here. I particularly want to invite my friend, the local member, Malcolm Turnbull to say a few words.

I would be remiss if I came to his electorate and didn’t ask him to say a few words - he may never talk to me again.