I am deeply honoured to accept the Jerusalem Prize tonight and proud to do so in the presence of so many friends.
To me, anything that is named in tribute to Jerusalem – the City of Peace – has a special resonance. I always love it when I can visit there – and I will travel again to Israel and Jerusalem next April – and let the magic of the city, its history, and its enduring meaning to three of the great religions of the world – wash over me.
When you are in Jerusalem you are stand at a meeting point, an intersection, of people, faith, culture and history.
But more than that, when you ascend to Jerusalem you have to lift your gaze and engage in contemplation of history and human values, and the moral choices posed to societies everywhere.
So with all my heart, I say thank you for the gift of a prize so significant and so full of meaning.
The Jerusalem Prize is given here in tribute to the common values Australia and Israel share.
We are both lands of enterprising spirit.
We are both countries of mateship – and family.
Our soldiers do not leave their fallen comrades on the battlefield.
Both counties aspire to building better societies and to that end, we cherish education, and the life transforming opportunity it brings.
We don’t mind an argument. To say that Israel and Australia have vigorous political debates is an understatement.
But the occasional heat in the words doesn’t undermine our belief in the human spirit, and its endless potential for good.
Tragically we have both confronted the evil of terrorism, which has taken too many lives – many of them young lives.
In a region where the role of women is one of the most challenging issues, Israel is a beacon of respect, dignity and equality for women – especially in public life.
The State of Israel is much younger than the Commonwealth of Australia. But Golda Meir beat me to the prime ministership by almost four decades.
I hear she was pretty resilient too.
I wish I had met her.
Before he returned to Israel after serving with such distinction as Ambassador here, Yuval Rotem wrote a seminal piece reflecting on his appreciation of Australia – through the eyes of an Israeli.
We are you – and you are us, he said.
I agree with that and strived to govern reflecting that sentiment.
But this evening, in these Jerusalem Prize remarks, I want to discuss not what I have done, but what needs to be done – not what has been achieved, but some achievements still to secure.
I want to talk about the peace process and its challenges, about some events closer to home, and about the future and our responsibilities as Australians.
As Prime Minister, when addressing Jewish audiences, I often sought to open my remarks by a simple declarative statement:
I believe in the security and survival of Israel as a Jewish State.
I think it’s an unremarkable statement. But it actually is a sentence that has come to define what the struggle for peace is all about. What the struggle for Israel is all about.
Let there be no doubt: I support a Palestinian State for the Palestinian people. I want to see the dawn of Palestine independence day. I want the Palestinian people to enjoy and pursue their destiny in full, and to have a prosperous and successful country of their own – a nation they call home at long last.
But I also want to see Israel continue to pursue its destiny as it was conceived – as a Jewish State and as a democracy.
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.
Indeed, some countries, some leaders, still want a world without Israel.
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.
Once that is stipulated, then virtually everything can be successfully negotiated — because Israel’s existential identity is successfully secured.
Once that is stipulated, two great peoples can finally begin working together to build themselves up as an economic powerhouse in the region, as a wellspring of science and innovation, as leaders in agriculture, water conservation, solar power and renewable energy. Indeed the list of potential shared areas of achievement is without end.
This is why I regularly affirm the imperative of Israel being recognized – by all concerned – as having the right to exist and be secure as a Jewish State.
In New York in September, I visited with Martin Indyk – a son of Australia, and one of our most accomplished diplomats and strategic thinkers – a man passionately committed to helping Israel and her neighbours find peace – and security – at long last.
President Obama has entrusted him with the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
The peace talks initiated by President Obama and Secretary Kerry had just gotten underway. The UN General Assembly was meeting; world leaders were in every black car on every corner of Manhattan.
I found Martin fully immersed and with his eyes wide open. He knows, as much as anyone, how hard the road ahead is to get this done.
And he outlined the very tough nature of the issues – and how they test the willingness and indeed the very ability of the principals to reach deeply into themselves, to reach out to their constituencies, and find the strength and the courage to make the hard decisions for peace at long last.
But I know this: the keys to these locks are well known. They were lying on the table in President Clinton’s cabin at Camp David.
It’s not the final choices that are so hard – what the border can be, what the land swaps will be, what arrangements can even be made in Jerusalem itself.
No: it’s not those decisions. It’s the decision to do the deal. To do the deal which delivers two states for two people.
At the end of the day, the peace process is not just about the Palestinians, and their fate – it is about Israel and its future as a Jewish State.
Until we get there, our eyes have to be wide open too. The negotiations are just occurring with President Abbas. They do not include Hamas in Gaza. In Gaza, this year, there are new textbooks issued by Hamas. They define Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. They say that Haifa and Beersheba are Palestinian cities – even though they have been part of Israel since 1948. And the textbooks also say, according to The New York Times:
“The Jews and the Zionist movement are not related to Israel, because the sons of Israel are a nation which had been annihilated.”
There is also no peace with Hezbollah in Lebanon. There is bloody chaos in Syria, with the most brutal carnage by the Assad regime and radicalism within the insurgency. While we welcome today’s news of peace talks in January, it will be a long road to a better future for Syria.
And there is Iran, whose regime has for decades been a patron of the darkest forces in the region.
You know, we in advanced democracies like to live in hope. And so, more than three decades after the revolution of 1979, we would like to hope that the Iranian people – and the Iranian government – really do want to help contribute to a more stable and secure world.
But the venom that comes out of Tehran directed towards Israel – and any nuclear bomb that is developed would surely be directed towards Israel –
The venom that comes out of Tehran in abominable.
On November 3, Ayotalloah Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, said (as reported in The New York Times):
“We have said from the very first that we regard the Zionist regime as an illegal and illegitimate regime.”
And just last week, on the verge of the interim agreement reached over the weekend, he called Israel, and I quote, “the rabid dog of the region”.
Even as we apprehend such words, we all want to see the talks with Iran succeed – to see the nuclear program halted, and then dismembered – to see the nuclear threat against Israel and every other country in the region ended.
Indeed, what is so interesting – what is so compelling – as we look at the interplay of forces and alignments is that, with respect to Iran, there is more alignment than ever before between Israel and its neighbours – Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, the Emirates, Turkey.
All these Muslim countries now share the same strategic interest with Israel: an Iran that does not have a nuclear weapon.
So as difficult – indeed agonizing – as this existential situation for Israel is, it is important to appreciate this new geostrategic alignment.
So I want to propose a corollary to President Reagan’s famous dictum in reaching arms control agreements with the Soviets:
“Trust but verify,” he said.
But we can’t trust the Iranians – yet. The agreements reached over the weekend will test whether there can be trust.
And so for now I say:
“Hope, but verify.”
We all know the agonizing calculation that Prime Minister Netanyahu must make.
Israel simply does not have the same military capabilities as the United States. At some point, the Iranian nuclear program could reach a critical mass where what Israel might be able to carry out will not be effective but what the United States is capable of may be.
And so that means that the leader of Israel may have to make a decision as to whether he can entrust the very survival of his people to the hands of another.
I, as Prime Minister, never had to face such an existential question. I never had to face what Bibi is facing. But I understand the calculus. So my message for him is one of strength and resolve.
While all options must remain on the table, my message tonight is: let’s stay the course. Let’s go the distance on diplomacy – vigorous and exacting diplomacy that keeps everyone honest, and that is dedicated to real solutions to the real issues: the removal of Iran’s nuclear threat so that the entire region is safer and more stable and more secure.
Friends, here at home, we live in a wonderful country –the best country on Earth as far as I’m concerned. No place is more hospitable, more harmonious, more welcoming, more democratic. It is our home. It is our democracy.
But we have issues here at home that require our attention. Worryingly, there are communal racial tensions, where Jews have been targeted – violently – most recently in Bondi in October.
There is no place for this in Australian life. It is un-Australian and intolerable. The best remedy is shame – sunlight and shame. Shouting out the perpetrators for their evil and stupidity. As revolting as the Bondi attack was, we can be heartened that people of good will – from common citizens to the leaders of our country, from Muslim Australians to Christian leaders – vociferously condemned this crime.
But it is not just our moral sensibility that was offended. It was the laws we have on the books as well. As a result of all our dialogue, discussion and growth – as a multicultural nation – over many decades, we have a legal framework that buttresses the moral signposts of our country and our social order.
It is called the Racial Discrimination Act and it has some crucial provisions – particularly Section 18C – which 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 rollback, if not repeal, the provisions of 18C.
It is an assault on our sense of fairness.
Colin Rubinstein of AIJAC has warned that these proposed changes would leave victims of racism where they were before this landmark law was enacted – “without any legal recourse at a national level.”
Earlier this month, the Weekend Australian editorialised in favour of weakening these laws. Allow me please to read from their editorial –because I cannot make the argument in favour of these laws better than they have in their twisted views:
“…Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act provided the foundation for a Federal Court finding in 2011 that [Andrew] Bolt’s articles about light-skinned Aborigines amounted to unlawful racial vilification …
“Bolt’s columns did contain some errors of fact and they might well have caused offence.
“But so what? …
This “so what” is nothing less than the preservation of the social fabric of respect and decency that binds all Australian, from all backgrounds, and all walks of life, together.
I rest my case – but I ask you not to rest in raising your voices on this issue.
Friends, while my life as an elected representative in Australia is behind me, I take with me so much that is so special.
The knowledge I served our nation and made enduring reforms.
The privilege of being the first woman and showing to women and girls that there is no position in the land to which they should not aspire.
The memories of great days, including the day Raoul Wallenberg became our nation’s first honorary citizen and the day our nation committed itself to the London Declaration against Anti-Semitism.
Now, as I move to the life beyond elected office – and one still with my passion for education at its centre – you have given me what will be become the treasured memory of other great days.
My friends, I am delighted to accept the Jerusalem Award in tribute to the unshakeable commitment of Australia to Israel, the enduring friendship between our two countries, and in furtherance of the democratic values we share.