Reconciliation on an International Stage: A Role for Mark Liebler

By Judith Pugh in Melbourne

Recently, the Federal Parliament of Australia passed a motion apologising to the indigenous people whose society was destroyed by the settler population.

Many Australians were unaware that Mr Mark Liebler was the Co-Chair of the Reconciliation Council; he is of course well known for his work with the Zionist Federation of Australia.

He no doubt was involved in persuading our new Prime Minister to move another unusual motion in the parliament, to congratulate Israel on its 60th anniversary celebrations. Reconciliation in Australia is an ongoing process, and Mr Liebler may be busy with this, but I wonder if he can also turn his attention to reconciliation between Israel and the Palestinians? And he might invite the Prime Minister to focus his diplomatic skills, and even involve the country itself, to helping with that task.

In the 18th and 19th centuries there was intermittent brave but easily crushed violent opposition to the Australian invasion; in the 20th century Aboriginal people stood up to their oppressors without weapons; settler Australians have been lucky that the people we treated so cruelly have been loving and polite, have used rational argument and appealed to our common humanity so that we can live together with dignity. The Palestinians appealed to reason, but they also fought the newly formed Israeli army that invaded their towns and their ancient olive groves. They cry for help, but also fight on.

The invasion of Australia happened a couple of centuries ago, and the issues are on the surface pretty clear. But Mr Liebler knows that they only appear superficial. He has had a lot of practise in dealing with the complexity of attitude, of legal arguments, of differences of historical interpretation, of racism, that threatened the process of Australian reconciliation; and he has been part of the triumph.

Mr Liebler knows about invasion. He knows about racism, he understands the holocaust. He understands astonishing differences between culture and how that can affect communication and lead to murder and destruction. He knows history. He knows that when the crusaders, those early white supremacists, arrived in the Holy Land they found Arab and Jew living side by side. Not always peacefully, but that there was a tradition of cultures and tolerance. Mr Liebler knows that Britain had a protectorate in Palestine, and that in sympathy for the Jews the United Nations partitioned Palestine and created the State of Israel.

Then everything fell apart for everyone, because if you are living in a stone house in an ancient city and you visit your family’s farm where the terraces were planted by your grandfather’s grandfather, you resist being moved on; and if you believe that you are entitled to take up land to start again in a new country you will defend what you see as your right. Even in Australia when we see this sometimes, individuals with great anger waving shotguns when the government has used its compulsory acquisition powers for public roads or dams.

Mr Liebler knows that historical rights and wrongs, interpretations of events, legal principles, economic questions of compensation, even the deep spiritual and religious meanings with which land is associated, the hurt, the misunderstandings, the racism, have to be put aside in the process of reconciliation. He knows that in order to achieve reconciliation both sides have to look past their own commitment to a “line” and try something new.

Mr Liebler knows that if he were to take the lead in this process he would have a better chance of success than most, because he is so clearly identified with Australian Zionism and support for the State of Israel.

He knows, in his heart he must know, that unless the parties absolutely opposed to Israel’s existence are brought to the table then there will be no reconciliation in the Middle East. In the spirit of reconciliation of which he was such an important part I hope he will bring this from his heart into his mind. And that he will put the following proposition to the Prime Minister.

Australia is now ideally placed, morally, politically and geographically, to offer a place for all parties in the Middle East to meet. I am not thinking of the mad zone set up by the Howard government to market security, that was a farce. But we staged the Olympic Games without a frisson of security problems. I am thinking even of a regional town, where all the parties could come to discuss a settlement, and where security is easy because everyone is identifiable.

We could take the parties, all of them, out of their comfort zone and bring them to our comfortable zone. Of course it would not lead to some immediate solution. But if we guaranteed safe passage and let them be together, if Mr Liebler were part of such a conference, we could say, Mr Liebler could say, Mr Liebler is in the perfect position to say:

“Look, we have done it, you can do it. You can put aside the unsavoury past and plan a future together.”

-Judith Pugh is a Melbourne-based writer and art dealer. She collaborated on Degenerates and Perverts (MUP) which won the 2005 NSW Premier’s History Award, and has contributed essays to many publications over the years including La Trobe Essays (Black Inc., 2006). She is the author of Unstill Life: Art, politics and living with Clifton Pugh. She contributed this article to

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