A CAPACITY audience packed The Venue in Alexandria to hear Ehud Barak, a former Israeli Labour prime minister, who had become the country’s most decorated soldier, proclaim that “Israel is stronger now than in other point in our history”, in conversation with foreign editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan.
“In spite of seven wars, two intifadas and an infinite number of operations in between, we can look backwards with a lot of pride and forwards with a lot of confidence,” Barak told the JNF NSW gala dinner on Tuesday.
And in spite of some major concerns facing Israel today, including the Iran nuclear threat, Hezbollah and Hamas in Gaza, Barak reassuringly stated, “None of [the threats] in the present or foreseeable future are an existential threat to the State of Israel.”
Amid political volatility, there are moments of light-heartedness, which Barak knows all too well, as he shared his first-hand account of leading a 1973 raid into Beirut, disguised as a woman with thick eyeliner and a brunette wig.
Meanwhile, in Melbourne at the JNF Victoria gala dinner event on August 29, Barak charted a course for Israel’s future.
“There is feeling [that the current government] leads Israel in the wrong direction,” he said. “If there is only one political entity, named Israel [between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean], it will become inevitably either non-Jewish or non democratic.
“If the bloc of millions of Palestinians could vote, it will be a binational state overnight, with a Muslim majority in a very short time. If they cannot vote permanently, that’s not a democracy.
“Israel has to find a way out of this dilemma,” said Barak, pointing to security, the unity or integrity of the people, and the Declaration of Independence as the three core principles.
At both events, Barak lauded JNF’s development campaign in the Negev, which takes its cue from founding PM David Ben-Gurion.
“Thank you all for all that you are doing for the JNF, for the IDF, for Sheizaf [a Negev community funded by JNF Australia] and for Israel. Nothing could be as important and as inspiring as your self-chosen task to follow Ben-Gurion’s footsteps,” he said.
Dafi Adler, a founder of Sheizaf, explained the community, comprising 15 families in mobile homes, faces security challenges, sandstorms and power outages.
But there are plans for a permanent village, housing a diverse population of religious and secular Jews, she said. “All communities from Beersheba to Eilat are either religious or secular, living apart. We decided that our Zionist mission is to establish a community of diverse people in the Negev.”
PETER KOHN AND SOPHIE DEUTSCH