Australia, the first country to vote ‘Yes’ to Israel

On 14 May 1948 at 4:00pm,  the fifth day of the Hebrew month Iyar, exactly 75 years ago this week, in the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, eight hours before the termination of the British mandate, standing at a small podium was a man of short physical stature, but massive conviction, a Zionist leader, David Ben Gurion, who declared the establishment of the independent modern State of Israel.  

Rabbi Fishman-Maimon, who was present at the declaration, pronounced the bracha, the blessing of Shehechiyanu, thanking Hashem for allowing us to live and to celebrate this important milestone in our lives and in Jewish history. The ceremony concluded with the singing of the new national anthem, Hatikvah.

That proclamation changed the course of Jewish history. For approximately 2000 years, we did not have sovereign Jewish rule in our homeland until that day, with the birth of the modern State of Israel.

For some background: at the end of World War I, in December of 1917, the Allied powers gained control of the Middle East, including the area then referred to as Palestine, the future State of Israel. The League of Nations (forerunner to the UN) charged Great Britain with the responsibility of maintaining order and managing the region. The League of Nations also recognised the historical connection of the Jewish people to their land and the grounds for “reconstituting their national home in that country”. The League gave Great Britain the mandate to help the Jewish people reconstitute their national home. However, for the following three decades, due to Arab riots and competing political interests, the British established a series of restrictions on the Jewish development and immigration to Palestine. Even ships bearing Holocaust survivors and displaced children were sent back to Europe to unknown fates. At the same time, there was Jewish resistance in Palestine, and in fact Jewish hope and self-determination was rekindled.

By 29 November 1947, the ball was back in the then rebranded United Nations (UN) arena, and the UN voted on the ‘Partition Plan’. Half of the area was to be given to the Jews and half to the Arabs, with international control and access to the Holy city of Jerusalem. A two-thirds majority of the United Nations General Assembly was necessary for the vote to pass. The then Chair of the General Assembly, Oswaldo Oulanyah, although not Jewish, was a secret supporter of the plan and a Zionist at heart. He detected that the fledgling possible Jewish State needed more time to assemble support to be successful in the Partition vote. Unbeknownst to many, Oulanyah organised for longer speeches in the UN that day, creating a delay and buying the Zionist organisation time to garner support for the vote.

Jews and non-Jews around the world were glued to their radio sets listening to the broadcast of that fateful vote. A number of countries abstained, most notably some of the European countries who were Nazi collaborators. As the vote was conducted in alphabetical order, after a few ‘no’s’ and ‘abstention’ votes, the very first country who took a strong positive step and voted ‘yes’ to the Plan and the establishment of the State of Israel, was Australia. Australia has stood by Israel as an ally ever since. The Jews around the world broke out in rejoicing. It was pure jubilation. To quote Golda Meir or Golda Myerson, as she was then known, a future Prime Minister of Israel, “For 2000 years we have awaited for our deliverance. Now that it is here, it is wonderful. It surpasses any human words. Jews Mazal Tov!”. 

Golda’s proclamation sends shivers down my back and should be a source of pride for all of us, as she made it clear that it wasn’t just a celebration for the Jews of Palestine, but for the Jewish people all around the world, wherever they may be found. We have our Homeland back in our control; a Jewish country; an option for any Jew that lives abroad to come Home by choice or out of necessity. Yes, the Partition carved up the Land in a clumsy somewhat non-sensible fashion, and it wasn’t exactly what we have been waiting for, but nonetheless it was a State of our own, a country to call Home, however flawed and vulnerable it may have been.

The local and surrounding Arabs were infuriated, and they immediately launched a war. On 15 May 1948, the date the British mandate officially ended, the day after the Jewish State had been declared, it found itself under attack on all fronts. On that day, five regular Arab armies planned a co-ordinated attack to annihilate the newborn State. Together with local Arab Jihadists and militias, the future of the new State of Israel was in doubt. In fact, just a mere few days before the Declaration of Israel, on 12 May, when David Ben Gurion convened the meeting of the People’s Council, they discussed how the Americans buckled to Arab lobbying. America, the greatest support and ally for the establishment to the modern State of Israel, was demanding the postponement to the Declaration. They threatened that if it wasn’t postponed they wouldn’t help Israel defend itself against the United Arab invasion. Despite the fact that the Jewish military leaders expressed serious doubt about whether the new State would be able to defend itself against the Arab forces who were better equipped with superior weaponry and greatly outnumbering the Jews; despite the fact that over 50% of the miniscule fighting forces of the fledgling State were Holocaust survivors themselves; nevertheless, they had vowed, ‘Never again!!!’, they made a firm decision to fight or die, and for them, to die was no longer an option.

The Zionist makeshift forces lacked weapons, experience and training; the Arab armies were equipped with superior European weaponry (but then again that’s nothing new). Somehow David Ben Gurion, with Hashem’s help, succeeded in turning them into a proper fighting force. He also successfully convinced the Americans to provide them with support and he proceeded, on Friday, 14 May, in the presence of all the local Jewish leaders, to declare the establishment of the State of Israel.

In the Declaration of Independence, Ben Gurion established a Jewish democratic Homeland based on equal rights, freedom and justice for all, and until today, it remains the only true democracy in the entire region.

The Declaration ended with a call upon Jews all around the world to return Home. It extended a hand of peace, expressing a strong desire to live harmoniously, both with the local Arab populations and neighbouring Arab countries. The Arab invasion was immediate and lasted for over year. By the end of the War of Independence or as some call it ‘Milchemet Achim’ – ‘the War of brothers’, one of every hundred Jews living in Israel died in the fighting. But, by the end of the war, the small Jewish State emerged victorious as a modern independent nation-state, in our ancient ancestral Homeland, for the first time in over 2000 years.

Until today we have seen Israel experience a number of wars, a number of trials and an even greater number of successes and victories. We have seen Zionists and Zionism, being bandied about with words such as racists or apartheid. We have seen the very right for the State of Israel to exist being challenged. However, we know and we are proud that Israel, despite all odds, has survived and thrived until today, and remains a beacon of hope and progress for the region. Many of the Arab countries are making peace accords with Israel and creating collaboration for the mutual benefit of all. All you need to do to appreciate Israel is come for a visit and experience the vibrant sense of energy, life, spirit, and innovation. Israel is a society focused on improving our world for all of humankind. It is our country, our State, and is embedded with proud Jewish values.

We are so fortunate to live in a time when we not only focus our daily prayers towards Israel, but we can visit or choose to live there with freedom and pride. Israel is there for every Jew, everywhere, always.

This year, as we collectively celebrate our modern country turning 75 years young, let us marvel at what Israel has accomplished and let us bless each other that it should continue to flourish from strength to strength. Let us celebrate the fact that we live here in Australia, a good friend of Israel, the very first country to vote ‘yes’ to establishing the State of Israel.

Yom Ha’atzmaut Same’ach, and Mazal Tov, our wonderful Israel!

Copy of Copy of Untitled (20)About the Author

Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler is the College Principal at Moriah College in Queens Park, NSW.

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