A Review of Hilik Bar’s Visit to Perth

For such a smart country Israel has many examples of demonstrating that it is not so smart. So too, many smart Israeli’s can also be very frustrating.

One of these frustrating Israeli’s is Hilik Bar, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset and Secretary General of the Israeli Labor Party who addressed an audience in Perth.

There is no doubt that Mr Bar is a highly accomplished, articulate and dedicated politician. At only 38 years of age he has ascended to a senior role.  He has an evident work ethic, and in recent months has been one of many media-competent Israeli politicians who has featured in the press supportive of Israel’s Operation Defensive Shield.

Hilik Bar is also possibly the most centrist of Israeli political leaders to emerge from the left side of Israeli politics in recent years. He aspires towards peace, a noble ideal.

The frustration I have with Hilik Bar is that he “gets it”.  He clearly understands the terrorist threat confronting Israel, the clash of cultures, and educational quagmire surrounding Palestinian youth. He is not prepared to negotiate with terrorists and he is not prepared to compromise the security of Israel.  He understands that “settlements” are not a barrier to peace.  His vision of peace incorporates a fully declared end to all conflict as a mandatory component of a settlement.  For this, he must be deeply respected.  Furthermore, his stance on final borders vis a vis Jerusalem, holding the position that the Temple Mount and old City must remain sovereign to Israel is most commendable.

At the same time, and despite the events of recent history, Hilik Bar remains a peace-at-all-costs-no matter-what-the-reality optimist, of the type that were mainstream at the advent of the Oslo Accords. He sees no alternative to peace, and considers it necessary to transform Mahmoud Abbas into a peace leader because there is nobody before or after him that can achieve a similar goal.  He advocates a two state solution which he considers essential, and he advocates that trust and culture change within Palestinian can be built through concession. 

Mr Bar made troubling comments during his speech and demonstrated stunning naiveté for such a senior and important contributor to the fabric of contemporary Israeli politics. He noted that Mahmoud Abbas delivered modus operandi of non-violent resistance and portrayed him as somebody who sought co-existence.  Yet it is clear to see from action and deed that the PA President has no room for the existence of Israel in his vision of the future.  Israel has made this mistake before, attempting to ignore reality and create a “partner for peace” out of an enemy.  In light of the war just ended it may be true that Abbas is by far the lesser of a number of evils when it comes to political leadership, but it is also clear that the climate and timing of the discussion Mr Bar wants to advance is far from attainable at the present moment. 

One of the specific comments by Hilik Bar in his speech was that terrorism has not been prevalent in the West Bank, and that this can be attributed to the leadership of Abbas. The many traumatised victims of terror in Gush Etzion and in the Shomron may be better placed than I to determine the relativity of just how much terror is acceptable.  Even if there is a greater level of calm, surely this is due to IDF deterrence and not the political drive of the Palestinian Authority.

It would be too unkind to brand Hilik Bar as the “Kevin Rudd of Israel”, however I did emerge from the presentation thinking that it is far easy to talk up a process of peace than it is to deliver the outcome. The “make it real and they will come” approach to deliver co-existence has been trialed by Israel many times.  Although many concessions have been made in the quest for peace, Israel has received nothing in return except heightened risk and stronger rhetoric.  I don’t know what the answers are, and I don’t have to live with the day to day situation that Hilik Bar does, but I’m afraid that a stalemate and defensive hold seem to be preferable than another round of Oslo at this point in time.  Indeed it was only when Hilik Bar was confronted by questions that a clear contradiction emerged, between his summation of the threat facing Israel, and his intent to capitulate to that threat in the vain attempt to force reconcile a peace accord.

One of the topics, with the exception of a scant reference to Bob Carr, which was missing from Hilik Bar’s address was his engagement with the Australian Labor Party. With recent activity such as the Canberra Declaration led by Melissa Parke and a vitriolic diatribe by Tony Burke against Israel , it would have been nice to hear what, if any, progress towards convincing the Australian Labor Party that the historic bipartisan status of Australia has been more than compromised by Labor.  The disgraceful, inaccurate, and unjustified allegations made by senior Labor parliamentarians and party hacks against Israel are a blight on all reasonable Australians, and an ominous sign of how a future Labor Government may treat Israel.  Just today Tanya Plibersek lectured Israel regarding its legitimate land settlement.  It seems her only concern is that Jewish people may be developing its own homeland for its own people. 

A final observation of the FOIWA sponsored event concerned the attendance.  Hilik Bar was amongst the youngest people there, with a notably elderly demographic present.  Consistent research has shown that Israel is struggling to connect with its Jewish Diaspora, and unfortunately this event was yet another example of this.  I supported this event not because I expected to agree with the views of the presenter; I can handle diversity, and like the democracy of Israel itself I believe that different viewpoints are necessary to frame and balance out a political system.  I supported this event because an Israeli Parliamentarian took the time and effort to engage with our community.  The community however did not respond in kind.  Of the attendance somewhere between 25%-33% of those present would have been members of the Perth Jewish community.  The balance was predominantly Christian members of the wonderful organisation Friends of Israel. 

There seems to be an emerging trend that in order for Perth to deliver an audience of substance to guest speakers from Israel, that an audience broader than that of the Jewish community needs to be invited. So it should be, and all should be welcomed.  However it is a blight on the Jewish community that so few of its own members also supported this event.  The wonderful support and friendship of Christian Zionists should not be taken for granted by the Jewish community, and if a tendency to utilise the Friends of Israel as a form of rent-a-crowd to supplement the apathy of the Jewish community continues to emerge, then shame on Perth Jewry. 

In summary, a diversity of viewpoints and a breadth of representation across the political spectrum is good for our local discourse on Israel. Hilik Bar deserves respect for his accomplishments and contribution to Israeli politics.  He is a centrist, but as it was once remarked, if you stand in the middle of the road, you get run over.  However laudable his aspirations for peace, his insistence on engagement with the Palestinian Authority to demark a two state solution is a process that has been tried and failed repeatedly over the past decade.  There was nothing new in his presentation that has yet to be proposed to the Palestinian leadership that they have not already rejected.  It is time for Israel to move on and leave their Labor Party behind as an outdated party.  Much the same, it is time for the Jewish community of Australia to also leave its Labor Party behind until such time as it returns to a bipartisan stance regarding Israel instead of adopting the false and destructive narrative of the Palestinians.