The Zionist Council of New South Wales (ZCNSW) in Australia, recently led an outstanding group of Young Leaders on a visit to Israel, as part of their unique ‘Yesh Israel’ program.
The successful program, currently in its 4th year, is the only one of its kind in Australia, that sends a group of young Australian Zionist leaders, mostly post-University age (ranging from 22 – 31 years old) and who already hold a variety of professional occupations, to Israel. The express purpose of this program is to make them better advocates for Israel, whilst deepening Israel’s special bond with Australia.
The delegation came amidst an unprecedented rise in Antisemitism in Australia, with 2018 seeing an almost 60% increase of Antisemitic incidents from the previous year, emanating predominantly from a toxic mix of the Far Right and Far Left, including a surge in on-line attacks and vandalism.
Meantime, although Israel enjoys wide bi-partisan support in the Parliament and broad elements of the Australian public, the Jewish state is not immune from BDS challenges either, especially on Campus.
ZCNSW President Richard Balkin said:
These young Jewish adults are the future leaders of our community, therefore it is incumbent upon us to do everything possible to empower and equip them will all the necessary tools in order to meet the challenges of today and to be the most informed and effective pro-Israel advocates. ZCNSW is deeply proud to be leading this effort.
During the 10-day trip, the group had a number of high-level meetings with Israeli officials, including the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and the Jerusalem City Council. Some of the issues discussed, in addition to a strong focus on Australia – Israel bilateral relations, included the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran threat, BDS and the upcoming U.S. peace plan.
The group was also exposed to the latest in Israeli tech and innovation, including the Peres Centre for Peace & Innovation and the Australian Innovation ‘Landing Pads’, as well as holding a round-table meeting with the Australian Ambassador and seeing first-hand the many co-existence projects between Israelis and Palestinians, including a powerful visit to the SodaStream factory in Beer’Sheva.
In addition, courtesy of ZCNSW affiliates, JNF Australia, United Israel Appeal, Magen David Adom and the ZDVO, the group also saw the many inspiring projects the Australian community helps to fund and contribute to in Israel, especially in the periphery of the country.
Asked why he thought it was important to go on this program and be a pro-Israel advocate, Daniel Giesser, said “It is important for the diaspora to do their part, however small, in supporting Israel. Being able to advocate for Israel and hopefully shifting public sentiment in favour of Israel has the potential to make a real difference.”
One of the aims of the Yesh Program is to expose these young leaders to a side of Israel they would not normally experience coming as tourists or on other organized programs. This was one of the motivating factors behind brothers Yehuda and Akiva Bassin’s decision to go on this program.
Yehuda, an architect, said “I wanted to become a better advocate for Israel and see another side to Israel that I haven’t seen before,” while his brother Akiva, an industrial designer, noted “it is important to show a different side of Israel, that isn’t always being portrayed in the media.”
As the trip concludes, crisscrossing the country, many of the participants were visibly moved at the breadth of unique experiences and people they met. However, Violetta Chalmieva, a brand designer from Sydney, perhaps encapsulated it best, echoing the great Jewish sage Hillel, when she said “This is our country at the end of the day and if we are not going to be for it, then who is? So, it’s important to educate ourselves and learn as much as possible, so that we can be the best advocates.”