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The Jews Down Under~Roundup of Australian Jewish news

Garry Fabian

Compiled by Garry Fabian

Student Ambassadors

JERUSALEM, 23 June – More than 250 Australian  students were trained in the art of Israel  advocacy during a three-day conference held in Jerusalem this week.

The seminar, run by StandWithUs International  (SWU) ­ a not-for-profit education organisation  aiming to ensure Israel’s side of the story is  told around the globe ­ in partnership with the  Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA), featured  lectures from senior Israeli officials. These  included spokesperson for the Prime Minister Mark Regev, Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor,  Minister of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs  Yuli Edelstein and chairman of the Jewish Agency Natan Sharansky.

Participants also visited the security barrier,  heard from two IDF soldiers, and met Sudanese  refugees who have sought asylum in Israel.

The aim of the conference, the first of its kind for students on one-year programs in Israel, was  to prepare the participants for the challenges  they may face when they return to Australia,  turning them into ambassadors equipped to articulate the Jewish State’s case on campus.

To assist in that process, director of SWU Israel  Michael Dickson said they also took part in
workshops  covering the “three Ds” of anti-Israel  rhetoric ­ demonisation, double standards and delegitimisation.

“They can confront the biggest accusations, the  biggest allegations that are thrown at Israel on  campus right now. They deconstruct them and have  a ready response,” Dickson said.

“These guys can say that I’ve been there and know  the issues, and therefore they’ll have more credibility.”

Executive director of the ZFA Robbie Franco, who  was one of the instigators of the program, said:  “We hope that this will serve as a model for  other communities and that in the future, every  one of the 8000 overseas participants on one-year  programs will be afforded the opportunity  of  becoming a young ­ambassador for Israel.

“We believe this to be one of the most exciting  new projects that we are undertaking ­ one that  can dramatically assist in improving Israel’s standing around the world.”

Reflecting on the experience, participant Ashley Osie from Sydney said: “The past three days have been really intense. We have heard from an incredibly diverse range of speakers, who have each presented us with a plethora of facts, opinions and information, and have taught us invaluable skills and techniques for advocating for and actively supporting Israel.”

Dean Leveton from Sydney concurred. “The seminar ensured I can confidently embrace university  life, both as a Zionist and a Jew. To all university colleagues, challenge me. I dare you,” he said.

All charges dropped against rabbi and wife

ADELAIDE, 24 June –  All charges against an Adelaide rabbi and his wife relating to alleged
fraud over a Jewish school for which $50,000 in  South Australian Government grants were sought, have been dropped.

Rabbi Yossi Engel and his wife Chana had each been charged on 39 counts of dishonestly dealing with documents, but the charges were dismissed in  the Adelaide Magistrates Court on Tuesday this  week, after police tended no evidence, citing no  reasonable prospect of conviction.

After the ruling, Rabbi Engel told media outside  the court: “My name is now clear. I’m extremely  grateful to God”, and announced plans he would remain in Adelaide “to serve the people of South Australia and the Jewish community here”.

Rabbi Engel is the director of Chabad in South Australia and the spiritual leader of the Jewish Learning Centre of Adelaide.

The Engels’ lawyer Ron Bellman issued a statement saying: “When called upon by the court, the South Australian police, who prosecuted the cases, did  not lead any evidence against either the rabbi or  his wife.  At all times, Rabbi and Mrs Engel had  vigorously maintained their innocence and  remained committed to defending the charges.”

The Engels were charged in June last year after a  three-year investigation headed by Detective  Senior Constable Stan Tsoulos of the Adelaide Criminal Investigation Branch, which has interviewed more than 50 people.

Police told The AJN at that time that the  allegations “relate to the filling out of forms
and applications submitted to the Ethnic Schools  Board in order to receive funding” for the Spirit of David School.

Rabbi Engel first came to Australia from the  United States as a Chabad shaliach in the 1980s and worked in Sydney’s Chabad community before returning home.

He returned to Australia to take up a position at  The Adelaide Hebrew Congregations as rabbi in 1998.

Local Jewish newspaper launches campaign

MELBOURNE & SYDNEY, 24 June – As Gilad Shalit begins his fifth year in captivity on Friday, the  Australian Jewish Newspaper (Australian Jewish News – AJN) has launched a new campaign on behalf  of Australian Jewry to show the world the young  soldier has not been forgotten and to help bring him home.

Seized by Palestinian terrorists on June 25,  2006, the 23-year-old has been held hostage in
Gaza ever since. In the four years since he was  kidnapped, Gilad has been denied contact with his family and, in violation of international law,  the Hamas regime has refused the International Red Cross access to him.

This week, in an initiative that has received  backing from Gilad’s family and garnered support  from senior communal leaders, The AJN has published a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, urging him to step up his efforts to secure Gilad’s release.

The letter, printed on page 13 for readers to cut  out, sign and send back to us – and also
downloadable from our website – details the despair felt at the soldier’s continued
captivity. It concludes: “I implore you to use all your influence as Secretary-General of the
United Nations to bring this young man home.

The United Nations must demand his immediate  release and, pending that outcome, it must exert  all necessary pressure to ensure that Hamas affords him his basic human rights in accordance  with international law. For the sake of Gilad  Shalit, for the sake of his family, and for the  advancement of a just peace in the Middle East, it is incumbent on you and the institution you head to take a public stand on this issue and proactively pursue all paths that will lead to his freedom.”

To give each one of us the chance to add our voice to the chorus calling for his freedom, we
will be forwarding all the signed letters we receive to Ban Ki-Moon. Informed of the campaign, Gilad’s father Noam said: “We support it. All people, Jewish and  non-Jewish, whoever cares about human rights, should demand that Gilad be freed.”

Community leaders also threw their support behind  the letter. “I commend The AJN for this  initiative, said president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Robert Goot. “It is well past time for respected middle powers, like  Australia, to focus international attention on  the dire plight of Gilad Shalit and his family,  who have been deprived of all contact with one another for four years. ”

The sentiment was echoed by president of the  Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) John Searle, who said: “The JCCV fully supports The AJN’s call to Ban Ki-Moon to call for Gilad’s immediate release. Often, in situations like  this, we feel powerless to make a difference.

“By signing this letter .  we are making a  statement; we are exerting pressure and hopefully
we will be making a difference.”

President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies  Robin Margo concurred, adding:”It is horrifying to think what that young person and his family are enduring.

“The silence of most of Israel’s critics about his fate in Gaza is a telling mark of their lack
of genuine humanitarian concern.”

Zionist Federation of Australia president Philip Chester met with Noam Shalit in Israel this week. “The Shalits are aware of our campaign in Australia and they asked that we do not waiver in our support for their cause,” he said.

“On the fourth anniversary of Gilad Shalit’s cruel incarceration, it is absolutely critical
that the world exerts such pressure as is necessary on Hamas and its sponsors to return him to his family.”

Australia’s new PM – a proven friend of Israel
Posted by Isi Leibler

The ousting of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd by his deputy Julia Gillard was a dramatic  event.  A year ago Rudd was still highly popular  but his abrupt policy reversal on global climate  and the environment began a decline, which  climaxed when he stunned the business world by  abruptly imposing a tax on mining companies engaged in mineral and energy sales to China and  India. The Australian Labor Party, which holds the reins of government, was undoubtedly strongly  motivated by Rudd’s plummeting standing in the
polls which if sustained would probably result in  a resounding defeat at the elections scheduled for next year.

The 120,000-strong Jewish community, which other than Israel has the highest proportion of Shoa survivors in the world, is recognized as one of the most Zionist communities in the Diaspora.

Jewish leaders have established a long tradition of strong public advocacy on behalf of Israel, and they can take much of the credit for the fact that successive governments have maintained a strong bi partisan support for Israel, with only one exception.

Rudd’s predecessor, John Howard, who was Prime Minister for over 10 years, was regarded as one of Israel’s greatest friends on the global scene and highly appreciated by the Jewish community.

The Rudd government initially maintained its support for Israel, but over recent months there were growing concerns that it was tilting the scales against Israel.  The votes at the UN tended to increasingly identify with the Europeans, prompting the former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to suggest that Rudd was distancing Australia from Israel in order to solicit Arab votes at the UN to support Australia’s candidacy for the Security Council.

More recently, the expulsion of an Israeli  diplomat in the wake of the passport imbroglio,
distressed the Jewish community. On the other  hand, if Israel was involved in this issue, many found it difficult to comprehend why they used Australian passports and ignored understandings previously made, thus embarrassing one of their best friends.

Only a few weeks ago Rudd met with the Australian Jewish leadership, who left reasonably satisfied that the relationship seemed to be back on track.

The Jewish community will certainly welcome the fact that that Julia Gillard will now be leading the country.

She is a long standing proven friend of Israel, having visited the country in 2005 and again last year in May. She headed a high level, 40 strong delegation of Australians who participated in an Australia-Israel Cultural Exchange mission, which took place at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

During the Gaza war in January 2009, when she was Acting Prime Minister, she strongly supported Israel’s position, frequently making reference to Sderot which she had visited and stressed Israel’s right to defend its civilian population from missile attacks.

The Jewish community will certainly welcome the fact that that she will now be leading the
country, and will also be reassured that the long standing bi-partisan policy to Israel will be *maintained.
  Isi Leibler, now resident in Jerusalem, is a veteran Diaspora Jewish leader and prolific
commentator on Jewish and Israeli affairs.

Fabian is Australia bureau chief for San Diego Jewish World

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