Israel and Australia: The very best of friends

Israel and Australia: The very best of friends

This impressive record of our mutual relationship, which is based on a longstanding friendship that dates back to WWI, would not be possible without the Australian Jewish community

Jonathan Peled is Israel's interim
ambassador to Australia.
Jonathan Peled is Israel's interim ambassador to Australia.

DEAR friends, shalom.

I am delighted to be in Australia as Israel’s interim ambassador and to get to know this beautiful country and its wonderful people. What has impressed me so far are the many similarities between Israel and Australia despite the immense geographical distance and the obvious difference in size. The spirit and culture, and even the self-deprecating humour, remind me of Israel. I still obviously have to get accustomed to everything here being on the opposite side or direction.

One thing that stands above all is the true friendship between Australia and Israel and the special bond between our two peoples. Australia’s fervent support for Israel over the years has earned it our great admiration and we consider it, together with the US, as our best ally. There is so much to celebrate and expand on in the extensive relationship between us, our bilateral relations covering the political, economic, cultural and technological spheres.

On the political level we enjoy a close relationship between our leaders and politicians on both sides of the aisle in Australia. Though official visits have not been possible this year, we have continued to build on the great existing friendships within Parliament House, as well as creating new ones.

This past year we witnessed a bipartisan motion commemorating the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, and a bipartisan motion acknowledging International Holocaust Remembrance Day demonstrating the commitment from Australian politicians to combat antisemitism wherever it appears.

On the economic front, the trade between our countries is diversifying and we rely on important trade agreements (such as double taxation) and investment opportunities that are increasing the economic ties. In this aspect we very much look forward to the scoping study being conducted by both countries for an eventual Israel-Australia Trade Agreement, which would mean exciting opportunities for innovation, cybersecurity and defence. As an example, Australia has launched an innovation centre in Israel’s vibrant high-tech scene. In addition, we also enjoy very dynamic and effective bilateral chambers of commerce in both our business communities.

The important cultural collaborations between Israel and Australia are strengthening our understanding of one another. Notable recent collaborations include the historic return of a large collection of stone artefacts from the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to Australia, as part of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ Return of Cultural Heritage program. Meanwhile, our two national libraries have formed a strong collegial relationship, and they are working together with the Australian Jewish Historical Society to digitise 180 years of Australian Jewish newspapers, including The AJN. Most recently, Israel and Australia took part in the Chess4Solidarity initiative, playing against each other in an online tournament with the goal of bridging borders and cultures through chess.

Our cooperation in technological spaces is also creating incredible opportunities. South Australia last year joined Queensland and New South Wales in signing an agreement with Israel to enhance two-way cooperation and knowledge sharing on water resource management. A fascinating collaboration exists on cancer research between La Trobe University in Melbourne and the University of Tel Aviv, and discussions between the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority on coral resilience and protection strategies, as well as an initiative to cooperate on research and development of vaccines and joint production, are just some examples of growing tech cooperation.

This impressive record of our mutual relationship, which is based on a longstanding friendship that dates back to WWI, would not be possible without the Australian Jewish community, who remain central to bridging relations between Israel and Australia. As I am slowly getting to know more of you, my appreciation for all the groups and individuals that make up this wonderful and diverse community is growing. Your strong bond and close connection to Israel is a source of strength for Israel as much as it is for you. Your contribution to Australia and its relationship with Israel cannot be over-emphasised. I very much look forward to meeting and working with more of you over the coming months.

Reflecting on the past year, and the gravity of the global pandemic that presented immense common challenges to the world, we are fortunate that both our countries have successfully confronted the task of controlling COVID-19. Australia has managed to prevent the virus from taking hold through robust health protocols and lockdowns, and Israel through a pioneering vaccine rollout is slowly but surely returning to normal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime Minister Scott Morrison have held joint conference calls together with other world leaders to discuss and exchange views on how to improve their policies on this vital issue.

Beside this global challenge, we cannot overlook the historic Abraham Accords that have not only ushered in a promising new era in the Middle East, but are providing opportunities for Israel to build relations with countries that in the past would have seemed impossible. The positive impact of these accords is already being felt in our region and throughout the Muslim world, and as more countries establish ties with Israel, the greater the hope that peace and prosperity can reign in our difficult neighbourhood.

As we embark on Israel’s 73rd year of independence, let us not forget the many challenges that still lie ahead, and the great achievements accomplished in such a short time. Above all we must not forget the great sacrifice of all those who made the dream and realisation of the Jewish State of Israel possible. Let us celebrate together. Chag Ha’atzmaut Sameach!

Jonathan Peled is Israel’s interim ambassador to Australia.

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