"There's probably no Jewish community in the world closer to Israel than the one that is farthest away," observes Dr. David Breakstone, vice-chairman of the World Zionist Organization, reflecting on the WZO's partnership with the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) on the eve of its biennial educators conference.
The gathering, taking place in Melbourne, brings together nearly 500 Jewish educators from around the country, and while he notes with satisfaction that their Zionist commitments are solid, "when we're told that they need encouragement and reinforcement in order to be able to respond confidently and intelligently to the campaign to delegitimize Israel and imbue their own students with the same passion for the Jewish state that they have, we take their call seriously," adds Breakstone. "We can't afford to take support of Israel for granted anywhere anymore." Accordingly, the WZO will be well represented at the conference, with its Director of Public Diplomacy, former MK Dov Lipman, featured as its keynote speaker.
While in the region, Mr. Lipman will give another 30 talks on behalf of the WZO and the ZFA, as well as speaking in Hong Kong and New Zealand, where he will be bringing the message of Israel to its Limmud conference. “This is my first visit to these countries and I hope to accomplish a number of goals, including generating more support for Israel, teaching and motivating supporters of Israel to be our ambassadors on campus, at work, and online, and inspiring young people to come to learn or live in Israel.”
The message that MK Lipman will be delivering will be different than the one audiences overseas are used to hearing. "Our approach to hasbarah is a nuanced one," notes Breakstone, who is responsible for overseeing Israel advocacy efforts within the WZO. "We manage to convey a tremendous amount of pride in all that Israel has accomplished," he says, "yet readily acknowledge that it is still very much a work in progress. We have no problem admitting that there is much yet to be done to turn Israel into the exemplary society the Zionist movement originally set out to create, because fortunately we can also point to myriad efforts at every level and in every sector that are being made to improve upon that which has already been achieved, fueled by idealistic people committed to fulfilling the Zionist dream."
Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, whose request to the WZO set this visit in motion, adds that he "is delighted to have the opportunity to host Rabbi Lipman, and to facilitate numerous meetings between him and students, community leaders, Federal politicians, and the general public during which we expect him not only to be making the case for Israel but also to be teaching others how to do the same."
As a former Knesset member, Lipman will be welcomed into the Australian parliament in Canberra where he will meet with parliament members to further shore up support for Israel.
This tour is only the latest episode in a long history of WZO support for the Jewish community in Australia, that has included regular visits of WZO envoys, shlichim, Hebrew education initiatives, and joint projects with Jewish schools related to Israel education, including the participation of a number of their top educators participating in WZ0-organized professional development seminars in Israel.