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Australian MPs comment on their trip to Israel and on PMW

Henry Benjamin  |
Politicians report on Israel visit

by Henry Benjamin

The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council has hosted a meeting in Sydney at which three Australian members of Parliament told of their experiences on a recent visit to Israel.

Liberal Bob Baldwin member for Paterson near Newcastle, Shadow Minister for Regional Development and Shadow Minister for Tourism, Liberal Teresa Gambaro represents Brisbane and is the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for International Assistance and Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Citizenship and Settlement and Tasmanian Liberal Senator David Bushby spent a week in Israel as guests of the Rambam Program which has in its ten years has hosted more than 500 journalists, politicians, youth leaders, union leaders and clergy on specially guided tours of the Holy Land.

The three politicians formed part of a group of six members of Federal Parliament.

Bob Baldwin thanked AIJAC for ticking off one of the items in his bucket list...a visit to Israel, in particular Jerusalem. He said he had been described as "a great supporter of Israel" but said that was "not quite true". He said: "What I support is freedom and democracy."

He told the meeting that "living under the threat each and every day of rocket attacks is something that that you could never contemplate in Sydney". He added: "We went to a hospital to see how the Save the Child's Heart operate their program and to see the outcome they achieve when they are receiving with so little funds. We visited the house where they housed children from all over the world who need work done on their hearts. The compassion that was shown to children who are not Jewish was amazing. A lot of people do things within their faith but do not step outside of their faith to help others. So the SACH team is to be congratulated."

Bob Baldwin met Arnold Roth an Australian now living in Israel who lost his daughter Malka in a terrorist attack. He said: "We listened to his story about his young daughter. It has tested his faith and his tolerance. He had to suffer because the person who plotted and planned the indiscriminate murder of his own child was freed. He is a much stronger person than I am. I would not have been able to contain myself. It's not in my makeup to sit back and allow that sort of thing to happen." He added that Israelis don't know from to day to day of members of their family are going to return home safely from work or a shopping excursion. "How people live with that is a testament to their own faith", he said.

The parliamentarian talked about the organisation run by Itamar Marcus whose Palestinian Media Watch monitors Palestinian media and said that the material talks about "killing Jews". Shortly after meeting Marcus, Baldwin met with the Governor of Bethlehem who told him how much he wanted peace. He told the meeting: "I asked him how do you have a passion for peace when you educate your children to kill the Jewish people."

Teresa Gambaro said that "there some very gut-wrenching moments". She also referred to the meeting with Arnold Roth and to the meeting they had with the deputy editor of the Jerusalem Post adding to Bob Baldwin's comments on Itamar Marcus by saying "anyone can be taught to hate".

She made mention of Israel's neighbours "not coming from a common ground - so you have a whole lot of different agendas." Teresa Gambaro referred to the Arab Spring remarking on how it had been fired up by social media but was resulting in an even more fundamentalist power base.

She spoke of her visit to the deputy Prime Minister and the deputy Foreign Minister. She said: "I came away from Israel with a new found understanding. For a small country it has an incredible way with technology and dealing with the adversity you have had thrown over the years. We take democracy so much for granted in this country. I have a greater appreciation of what I have here in Australian democracy. It's precious."

Senator David Bushby said he had had a long-standing interest in Israel and had always wanted to visit adding: "I went there with firm views. Views that Israel is a small nation both in size and population surrounded by hundred of millions of people whose intention is to wipe it off the face of the earth. To be able to go there and experience the personalised perspective through the meetings we had drove whom to me the challenges and the threats to what is one of the most successful democratic nations on the planet."

He added: "I find it extremely frustrating that the left-wing media which seems to dominate most perspectives on Israel outside of Israel take the approach that they do where they try and demonise Israel when it is doing so much that right and doing so to help those people within their nation whether they be Arabs or Palestinians and they are trying to forge a path to peace."

He mentioned a briefing they received on Iran on "where Iran is coming from". It underlines the very real threat that still exists for Israel and the challenge it faces in the short term for its future."

Western Australian federal MP Luke Simpkins and South Australian Senator David Fawcett were in Melbourne earlier this month reporting on their recent visit to Israel on the same Rambam program.

Simpkins, who described himself as a strong supporter of Israel, said that the trip was an intensive learning experience for him.

He said that he had been applying information he had learned during the course of the trip in several parliamentary discussions, including those involving Iran.

Simpkins said that he identified with Israelis he met on the visit, and singled out a meeting with Arnold Roth, father of Australian-born terror victim Malki, for special mention.

In all, his trip was "deeply moving", Simpkins said, and it strengthened his bonds with the Jewish state.

Following Simpkins, Senator Fawcett reflected on his own experience in Israel. He said he came to Israel keenly interested in talking to Israel and the Palestinians about water management - a crucial issue for his constituents back in South Australia.

He said he was impressed by Israel's achievements in water conservation, and disappointed by his discussions with Palestinian and non-government organisation officials, whom he said seemed more interested in shifting the blame for their water problems onto the Israelis.

"It's really easy for perceptions to be formed that Israel is really the bad player," Fawcett said about the water issue.

"The facts, certainly those that I gathered on the ground... show a completely different story," he concluded.

Fawcett lauded the Rambam Program for helping to change perceptions among the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other Mideast issues among its participants. He said the "[The Rambam Program] is so important... because it is a vehicle and an avenue to try and provide facts and perspective for people who are currently both making decisions in government, and at universities, about providing the alternative point of view and a balance for our young people."

For Fawcett, already knowledgeable on these issues, the Rambam Program deepened his own views, he concluded.

AIJAC's Executive Director Colin Rubenstein said the MPs' ringing endorsement underscores the effectiveness of the Rambam study program which offers a comprehensive picture of Israel to politicians, businesspeople, academics and community leaders that seldom features in Australia's media.

"We believe the whole Rambam program has played a bit of a role in terms of what we do have, which is, thankfully, very strong bipartisan support for Israel and for democratic forces and change across the Middle East," Rubenstein said.

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