'Israel has not forgotten'

For Israel’s truth, seeing is believing

In Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and across Israel, their faces line street corners, walls, and television screens. The hostages, and October 7, are burned into the minds of nearly 10 million Israelis.

From left: David Southwick, James Newbury and David Davis at Kibbutz Be'eri.
From left: David Southwick, James Newbury and David Davis at Kibbutz Be'eri.

As I disembarked my plane at Ben Gurion Airport, the first steps I took on Israeli soil were through a cascading tunnel of all 120 hostages’ faces.

Noa Argamani (since freed), the 29-year-old dragged onto the back of a motorbike at the Nova music festival as she begged not to be killed. Kfir Bibas, the nine-month-old baby. Shani Louk, the 22-year-old tattoo artist whose bloodied body on the back of a Hamas ute appalled the world.

In Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, and across Israel, their faces line street corners, walls, and television screens. The hostages, and October 7, are burned into the minds of nearly 10 million Israelis.

Israel has not forgotten. But I now realise the rest of the world has.

Eight months after Israel endured the largest single-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust, activists on our city streets, our university campuses, and in our parliaments have hijacked the discussion.

They have thrown the atrocities of Hamas aside, mercilessly attacked Israel, adopted age-old antisemitic tropes, and kickstarted the biggest surge in Jew hatred in living memory.

Having once been assured of our place in the community and the depth of our country’s friendship with Israel, Australian Jews have felt isolated – forced to watch as hoodwinked political leaders cede ground to the radical fringe.

Whilst it has been heartbreaking to see such appalling misinformation gain a foothold in our society, its success makes a telling point about Australian views of the Middle East.

So many left-leaning politicians, and even many well-meaning people from all walks of life, have been sucked in by anti-Israel propaganda simply because they have no firsthand understanding of what Israel truly is.

To help shine a light on the truth, with the help of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), I led a delegation of six Victorian Liberal MPs to Israel.

In our first few days, my colleagues quickly discovered Israel’s diversity.

As we dined in Arab restaurants and heard the lived experience of the Arab community, they saw Arab Israelis living in harmony with Jews. As we walked through Tel Aviv, they saw how the LGBTQIA+ Pride capital of the Middle East is also home to religious conservatives. As they learned more about the mechanics of Israel’s democracy, they saw that, regardless of race, religion, gender, or status, every single Israeli’s life is considered equal, and their votes are counted as one and the same.

Other revelations, however, were much harder to process.

My colleagues found themselves taken aback as Members of the Knesset, local journalists, government officials, and even some locals in the street were aware of Melbourne’s reputation for rising antisemitism.

They learned that Israelis heard about the attack on a synagogue on Shabbat, how families of hostages spent their night at a Melbourne police station after a mob swarmed their hotel, and, even more recently, the “Jew die” graffiti at Melbourne’s largest Jewish day school.

I also shared a difficult truth: that I felt safer and more welcomed in the middle of war-stricken Israel than I did back in Australia, where governments have allowed our great country to be overrun by un-Australian, antisemitic, radical activists.

Unparalleled, however, was their realisation of just how hard Israel must fight to simply exist.

We sat together in indescribable horror as we watched a 47-minute video of Hamas’ October 7 atrocities. Terrorists filmed themselves screaming with joy as they massacred Israeli civilians in their homes. Hundreds of people celebrated killing the “Jewish dogs”, paraded Israeli bodies through the streets of Gaza, and desecrated the corpses to the point of being unrecognisable.

Our visit to the northern border reminded us that Hezbollah shares Hamas’s savagery.

But in the face of these atrocities, we have seen the resilience of Israel’s people. Despite looming threats on all sides, life simply went on in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

When we shared a hotel with Revital, her 16-year-old daughter Shira, and hundreds of others who had been forced from their towns by Hezbollah’s terrorism, they did not dwell on their circumstances. Instead, their sole focus was on picking themselves up and returning home.

It was perhaps fitting that, just before we left, the world learned of the IDF’s successful rescue of Noa Argamani and three other hostages. Whilst we revelled in the celebrations and shared in the joy of the Israeli people, in the true Jewish spirit of determination, we were reminded there could be no true celebrations until every single hostage came home.

So, my colleagues and I have now returned home with that same sense of unwavering purpose.

In Parliament this week, there will undoubtedly be the same aggressive protests on the steps, and the same nasty posturing from the Greens.

But, now more than ever, we have more political leaders who have seen the truth, are on our side, and know how to overcome these hateful lies.

This is why the work of AIJAC and groups like it is so important, and it is also why we must implore Australians from all walks of life to see Israel for themselves.

Because, when it comes to the truth about Israel, seeing is believing.

David Southwick is the Member for Caulfield in the Victorian State Parliament.

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