President Solomon, thank you very much for the very warm words of introduction. I feel a great honour to be here with you today and thank you very much.
I was just messaging with Dave Sharma, who as we speak is being sworn in as a new Senator for New South Wales, and he asked me to pass on his best regards to you as well.
Well, it’s hard to believe, obviously, that almost two months has almost passed since the 7th of October.
Given the evils committed by Hamas on that infamous day, it seems surreal that some hostages have been freed.
And we continue to pray, most importantly, for those still held captive by Hamas.
Governments around the world should be demanding nothing less than the release of all the hostages.
And they should be using all the diplomatic tools at their disposal to exert pressure to achieve that outcome, and sooner than later.
The footage of freed hostages reuniting with their families was of course deeply, deeply moving.
But there’s an image that’s stuck, a particular image that’s stuck in my mind.
It is of 9-year-old Ohad Munder.
Ohad, his mother and grandmother were released after 49 days of torture in hell.
They were being transported by helicopter to an Israeli hospital.
Everything Ohad has been through, a photo captures him sitting calmly.
He has been given a present – a Rubik’s cube.
It’s a profound photo.
In contrast to all of that footage from the body cams, the dash cams, the mobile phones, which captures Hamas’ barbarism, we see this image of a little boy solving a puzzle – a symbol of civilisation.
As others have rightly pointed out, we are living in a civilisational moment.
Our civilisation and our way of life is being challenged on multiple fronts.
By resurgent authoritarianism.
By emboldened terrorists.
And by those within our democracies sowing social discord.
Since the 7th October, I’ve emphasised time and again the Coalition’s and of course Australia’s support for Israel.
We stand with Israel, always, because Israel is our long-standing ally: a fellow believer in democracy and the rule of law, but so much more.
We stand with Israel in the wake of Hamas’ acts of depravity.
And we stand with Australians of Jewish faith and utterly condemn any anti-Semitic behaviour.
Australia has always had to contend with pockets of racism in different forms.
We’re a large population of 26 million people.
But the anti-Semitism we are witnessing on our shores today is on a different scale than anything we have known.
It’s of a nature, an anti-Semitism of a different nature, in its raw and rampant hostility.
At the Sydney Opera House, in Caulfield, and in student protests, we have seen seething mobs disgracefully chanting slogans of slaughter.
We have seen our fellow Australian citizens calling for the extermination of Jews.
And just last week, protesters stormed the Crowne Plaza hotel in Melbourne.
Their aim wasn’t only to intimidate the Israelis staying in the hotel whose loved ones have been killed or taken hostage by Hamas.
The protesters wanted their actions to be broadcast, to strike fear into Australians of Jewish faith.
The events of the 7th of October have exposed an anti-Semitic rot that is afflicting many democratic nations, including our own.
On the 11th of October, I joined with people of good nature, wonderful Australians – many of you, I’m sure – a crowd of 10,000 at Dover Heights for a Jewish community vigil.
The fear among Australians of Jewish faith on that day was palpable.
You could see it in people’s eyes, in their faces.
Not just of men and women, but importantly of children as well.
And today, Australia’s Jewish communities are just as worried, if not more.
There’s been a five-fold increase in anti-Semitic conduct in our country since the 7th of October.
The necessary pushback against anti-Semitism requires moral courage and moral clarity.
On the 22nd of October, Prime Minister Albanese and I attended the opening of the Melbourne Holocaust Museum.
We both spoke in support of Australia’s Jewish communities and delivered strong statements denouncing anti-Semitism.
Yet I found myself disagreeing with the Prime Minister’s assessment of the state of anti-Semitism in Australia.
He said that we must not let anti-Semitism ‘find so much as a foothold here’.
But the problem of course is that anti-Semitism has found footholds in our country, and very significant ones.
We know it has found historical footholds with those of the far-Right, which remain today.
But, in more recent times, it has become particularly prominent with those of the far-Left and found footholds in our universities and in politics.
In many cases, this anti-Semitism masquerades as an anti-Zionism for reasons of political expediency.
Key leaders have been found wanting in providing strong support for Israel and clear-cut condemnations of anti-Semitism because it is wrestling with a crisis of conscience.
And that’s why we have seen instances of moral cowardice, of moral equivalence, of moral ambiguity and of moral qualification.
What we are left with is a moral fog.
And this moral fog makes anti-Semitism permissible.
Had Australia’s response to the events at the Sydney Opera House on 9th of October been stronger, the Caulfield protests on 10 November may not have transpired.
Had Australia’s response to the Caulfield protests been stronger, the school strikes on 23 and 24 November may not have taken place.
Had Australia’s response to the school strikes been stronger, the protest at the Crowne Plaza hotel on 29 November may not have occurred.
What are we to do to turn the rising tide of anti-Semitism here in Australia?
Jewish American journalist and writer, Bari Weiss, offered some sage advice in a recent speech.
“[We must] not let falsehood stand unchallenged.
We have let far too much go unchallenged.
Too many lies have spread in the face of inaction as a result of fear or politeness.
Do not bite your tongue. Do not tremble. Do not go along with little lies.
Speak up. Break the wall of lies…
… Our civilization depends on it.”
Weiss speaks to our duty to courageously speak the truth.
It’s a truth which cuts through false equivocation and falsehood.
We have another duty, too.
To not only call out acts of anti-Semitism, but to demand that there be severe consequences for those committing anti-Semitic acts.
It is why I said the Crowne Plaza hotel protesters – in all of the grotesque nature that they could muster – those people should have been arrested.
If perpetrators are not held accountable, then would-be perpetrators are not deterred. In fact, they’re encouraged.
So we must keep pressure on governments and police at all levels to enforce accountability, to enforce the rule of law.
In these two duties, we need allies.
The voices of anti-Semitism are vociferous.
This is the time for Australians to not be silent.
To be silent is to tolerate intolerance – to surrender our democracy and civilisation to those who wish to destroy it.
That’s why I have, and always will, stand firmly with Australians of Jewish faith.
And I am buoyed by the hundreds of leaders who have signed an open letter calling for an end to the alarming rise of anti-Semitism.
To finish my formal remarks, I simply want to say thank you to each of you for the work that you’re doing.
For the counsel that you’re providing, for the comfort, and for the prayers.
Particularly for young children who understand some of the lessons of history, but who in their own way are reliving those lessons.
As Rabbis, your voices have significant influence in helping to push back against hate speech, intolerance and tribalism.
I really and truly am honoured to be with you today and to support you in these noble goals.
Thank you very much.