IT was an atmosphere of mutual admiration as former prime minister Julia Gillard accepted the prestigious Jerusalem Prize on Tuesday evening, bestowed on her by the Zionist Council of Victoria (ZCV), the Zionist Federation of Australia and the World Zionist Federation, in recognition of her steadfast support for Israel.
Community leaders, special guests and members of the wider community turned out to Beth Weizmann for the ZCV annual assembly, where Gillard delivered the keynote address.
In front of around 350 people, she described feeling “deeply honoured” to receive an accolade “so significant and so full of meaning”.
Turning her attention to current afairs, Gillard then discussed the peace process and its associated challenges.
“Everyone talks about a ‘two-state solution’. There is – there can be – no other course. Everyone understands a state for Palestine. But not everyone says there should be a State of Israel,” she said.
“I am convinced that the key to peace for Israelis and Palestinians is a simple declarative statement by Palestinian leaders – that they accept Israel as a Jewish state.”
In speaking about the various conflicts in the Middle East, she drew attention to Iran, “whose regime has for decades been a patron of the darkest forces in the region”.
Her enduring message was that vigorous diplomacy should be continued with a view to removing Iran’s nuclear threat in the region.
She then shifted her focus to issues closer to home, namely the allegedly anti-Semitic attack in Bondi last month. “There is no place for this in Australian life. It is un-Australian and intolerable,” she said.
Similarly, Gillard condemned plans by the current government to introduce legislation amending Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which currently affords legal protections against those who vilify others on racial grounds.
“I cannot understand, and I cannot accept, the undertaking of the new government to roll back, if not repeal, the provisions of 18C,” Gillard insisted.
Community stalwart Mark Leibler lauded Gillard’s work in strengthening Australia’s connection with Israel.
“Who can forget Julia Gillard’s personal courage last November, standing squarely against Australia’s UN abstention on the upgrading of the Palestinian delegation to official observer status,” he said, listing numerous instances where Gillard has proven herself an advocate for the Jewish State.
“As shadow health minister, deputy prime minister and as prime minister, Julia Gillard has felt Israel’s ongoing trials and tribulations in her very bones.”
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard.