JEWS in Australia “have a special connection to Israel”, Blue and White MK Elazar Stern has told The AJN ahead of his visit to Sydney as a guest of philanthropist Harry Triguboff.
But Stern, who attended a ceremony earlier this month at the Triguboff Centre in the Negev where a cheque was presented for Australian bushfire relief, said, “We have to invest in this connection.
“The world today puts in front of us not only obstacles, but the challenge to keep Jewish identity and connection to Israel – it’s become a more and more compacted mission.”
Commenting on the political mood in Israel ahead of the March 2 election, Stern said Israelis “are fed up with elections”.
“I hope that the next government, [and] most of the people in Israel want the next government to be unified between Blue and White and Likud,” he said.
“Netanyahu now is on the way to the trial and it’s not a question of immunity anymore … I would think that he will come out innocent, so Benny Gantz will be the first, he will be the second, so he can be again Prime Minister.”
Stern said the issue of the relationship between state and religion – “which is the most important reason for me to become a politician” – has become a major talking point in the election.
He said Netanyahu’s alignment with the religious parties could have adverse affects for Israel’s Jewish character.
“If you don’t make the conversion easier, you bring to Israel assimilation,” he said, giving the example of Russian immigrants who are not halachically Jewish.
“They are strong enough to say, ‘If you don’t want us to be Jewish, we will call ourselves Israeli even if we will not become a Jew.’ If you want to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, no doubt that we have to keep and to enlarge the number of Jews here.”
He agreed with the analysis that the Israeli political divide has shifted from left versus right to secular versus religious.
On hopes for peace with the Palestinians, he said he is optimistic.
“In the end of the process it should be under agreement with the Egyptians, Jordanians and the Palestinians,” he said.
“We need a brave leader from both sides to go forward. We have to do it for our generations to come.”
Meanwhile, on the Malka Leifer saga, Stern said the case was having a negative impact on the relationship between Israel and Australia.
“I don’t think any Israeli should defend any Jewish person if they are a criminal just because they are Jewish,” he told media on the weekend.
“I don’t think [the view of] a rabbi should have anything to do with national policy or international law.”