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60 not out

This Year Israel celebrates the 60th anniversary of its establishment; 60 years of success, hope and opportunity.
It is a time for all to celebrate the triumph of a democratic and pluralistic homeland of the Jewish people, born from the ideals of personal freedom, equality and diversity.

Since achieving independence in 1948, Israel has risen from the horror and anguish of the Holocaust to be a vibrant, democratic nation fuelled by values of justice and the rule of law.

Israel is all too often viewed through the lens of the Arab-Israeli conflict, with little attention given to its contribution to the world economy, arts and sciences or to its diverse population, a mosaic of cultures, religions andlifestyles.

Israel's founding fathers transformed a desert into the source of a viable agricultural industry, underpinning the dynamic Israeli economy. Israel thrived with the influx of Jewish refugees and survivors of the Holocaust, arriving from 100 countries and speaking 82 languages.

On that day in 1948, when the Jewish people seized the book of history and began to write their own destiny, it was seen as a new world, a new opportunity, a new life. And there, prominently supporting Israel, was Australia.

In 1947, Australia was one of the first countries to recognise the purpose, worth and justice of establishing the state of Israel. Australia's H.V. Evatt, then a dominant member of the UN General Assembly, is recognised as having been a supporter of the progress of small nations through peaceful development and their entitlement to being treated equally.

Evatt had the courage to stand up against criticism to fight for what he believed was the right and just thing to do. He helped persuade the UN General Assembly to support Resolution 181 in establishing the state of Israel. Australia was the first country to vote in support of this resolution.

Australia has consistently supported Israel by acting firmly in its defence on the international stage. Australia supported Israel's admission to the UN despite opposition from its traditional allies.

In 1967, Australia was one of only two non-involved countries that opposed the US-proposed resolution for the withdrawal of forces from Egypt, understanding and fostering, as it did, Israel's right to self-defence.

In 1982, after the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, Australia made a significant contribution to the Multinational Force and Observers sent there to monitor compliance with the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. More recently, Australia has refused to condemn Israel's West Bank security barrier, which has done so much to curtail suicide bombings and other terrorism. In mid-2006, Australia vocally supported Israel's right to defend itself against repeated attacks from Hezbollah in Lebanon.

There are strong personal connections between Australians and Israelis. Australian soldiers were stationed in mandated Palestine during both world wars, often spending time as volunteers on kibbutzim. Australia opened its doors and hearts to a generation of refugees who had miraculously escaped the horrors of World War II and the systematic eradication of Jewish life in Europe, greatly enhancing the emergence of a robust and loyal Jewish community in Australia.

This community fosters strong ties, personal as well as economic and academic, between the two nations, while promoting and invigorating the dynamic of Jewish life as a fundamental ingredient of Australia's multicultural identity.

Yet democracy and the rule of law are at the heart of Australia's and Israel's identities and societies. Australia's bond with democracy runs deep. Israel's commitment to democracy is just as strong, for the same reasons.

The two nations are built on the primary and sacrosanct rights of the individual, the upholding of the rule of law and the passionate belief in the equality of all people. Israel shares with Australia a strong commitment to egalitarianism because multiculturalism and diversity are at the heart of both our cultures.

As Australia joins in the celebration of Israel's 60 years of democracy in a region where, elsewhere, democracy is struggling to emerge, there is still much work to be done to promote co-existence between Israel and its neighbours. In many ways, that day in May 1948 represented a false dawn. Israel is the only country in the UN with an explicit threat directed at its existence.

Yet when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vows to wipe Israel from the map, it is not only Israel that is at risk.

Also at risk are the values and way of life that Israelis and Australians share and that for so many years both peoples have defended robustly; these are the values Ahmadinejad, along with Iranian-supported Hamas and Hezbollah terrorist organisations, is trying to undermine and destroy.

We know we can count on Australia to continue, as it has courageously and passionately done in the past, to defend the rights of Israel, the welfare and security of its citizens and the ideals of equality and democracy which it embodies. The constant efforts needed in the past to ensure that Israelis can live in peace and security should not predetermine the future.

While Israel stands up and continues to fight on the front line for a world without terror, it needs to be backed by its friends and itssupporters.

Israel is not just another country on the other side of the world, embroiled in conflict and terror; it is a fellow democracy, a friend in justice and an ally in the fight for peace.

Peacemakers must have courage, conviction and determination. We appreciate Australia's continued support for the security and wellbeing of Israel; this will prove to be a crucial asset for Israel not only in defying terrorism but as a prerequisite for advancing the prospects of a fair and equitable peace with its Palestinian and other Arab neighbours.

Yuval Rotem is Israel's ambassador to Australia.

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