Hadassah Orations

The Hadassah Oration is a regular event, held each year. A keynote speaker is invited to speak on a topic of their choice. At the same time, we usually present our annual Tikkun Olam Award.

2016 Hadassah Oration

The 2016 Oration was held on Wednesday 2 November at Glen Eira Town Hall, Caulfield North.

Ron Finkel

We take this opportunity to thank all our sponsors for this event, particularly Peak Equities Pty. Ltd, our major sponsor.

Ron Finkel, President of Hadassah Australia says…

2016 will be remembered as a year of challenge and growth. In its eight year history, the Hadassah Australia Annual Oration has never before been embroiled in controversy, despite having had some controversial speakers.

 

This Oration became a cause célèbre after attracting the ire of those who voiced concern over the speaker, Rev Tim Costello AO, and his relationship with one of Australia’s leading aid and development agencies, World Vision. Those behind the campaign also questioned whether Hadassah Australia should be associated with World Vision. The reason is the revelation that one of its managers in Gaza had allegedly misappropriated funds and diverted them to the proscribed terrorist organisation, Hamas.

 

Hadassah Australia took a principled position in relation to the Oration and the speaker. While it acknowledged the events in Gaza, it stood by Rev Costello as a man of integrity and faith, who has publicly acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, and who has partnered with Hadassah Australia through its Project Rozana initiative.

 

We also pointed out that the invitation was extended some six months before news of the Gaza situation was revealed.

 

The evening, attended by over 250 people, was also an opportunity to celebrate a leading Australian working in the health and welfare sector. with our Tikkun Olam Award – more details below.

In the interests of clarity and fair debate we offer you comprehensive information about the event. Scroll down, or click/tap a link below.

2016 Tikkun Olam Award

Following the oration, the 2016 Tikkun Olam Award was presented to Professor Hugh Taylor AC

Hadassah’s Tikkun Olam Award is presented to an individual who is recognised for his contribution to health and society.

Hugh Taylor is the current President of the International Council of Ophthalmology. He is recognised worldwide for his leadership in trachoma, advocacy for improved Indigenous eye health and other initiatives to eliminate avoidable vision loss.

2016 Oration Keynote Speaker

This year it was Rev. Tim Costello AO, presenting on ‘Charity in a Time of Terror – from Gaza to Nauru: My World Vision’.

Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision Australia, is one of Australia’s most recognised voices on social justice, leadership and ethics, having engaged in public debates on gambling, urban poverty, homelessness, reconciliation and substance abuse.

Tim currently serves as Chair of the Community Council of Australia, the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce and the National Australia Bank’s Social Responsibility Advisory Council. He studied law and education at Monash University, followed by theology at the International Baptist Seminary in Switzerland.  He also holds an Honorary Doctorate from the Australian Catholic University.

In 2004, Tim was named Victorian of the Year; in June 2005 he was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO); and in 2006 was named Victoria’s Australian of the Year.

The 2016 Oration content

Here is the full text of Tim Costello’s presentation. We offer it as full audio, video (in two parts, use the arrows to move to each section), a PDF transcript, or you can read it all here on the page. Whichever way, we hope you find it interesting and stimulating.

Here is the full Oration text, in separate sections.

It is an honour and a great opportunity to be invited to give this address to the members and friends of Hadassah Australia in Melbourne tonight.

I was invited in February this year and delighted to accept. I live in the Eruv and have lived in Melbourne Ports for 32 years. But since the invite in February there has been some rough water flowing under the bridge of which I am sure you are all aware. It is a testimony to Hadassah that they have maintained the invitation.

To Ron Finkel and Michael Krape and the Board of Hadassah Australia I simply want to say – you are Mensch. You represent a long and honourable tradition.

For 100 years Hadassah has delivered healthcare to everyone in need, irrespective of politics, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or financial status. World Vision as a Christian organisation (not a Church, which has been wrongly and repeatedly asserted) has an identical mission to Hadassah Australia and we do this in almost 100 nations. We feel joined at the hip with Hadassah in mission and even in the face of criticism and misunderstanding.

Michael Krape writes of Al-Durrah Children’s Hospital, and a cystic fibrosis clinic established by Hadassah in Gaza City. He writes about a nephew of Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, who was admitted in June this year to Hadassah Hospital for an undisclosed illness. He adds “It is not the first time members of terror leaders’ families have enjoyed the benefits of Israel’s superior healthcare.” Michael says this might shock people. World Vision equally often shocks people and we face regular criticism for helping people regarded as hostile or enemies of the ruling power or regime.

I still have the scars from the nearly weekly delegations to my Office from Australian Sri Lankans furious that World Vision was helping Tamils in the north and east at the time that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government were waging war. Their fury was implacable. How could we work in Tamil Tiger areas? Nothing I said could soothe the rage. I said we unequivocally condemn terrorism of any kind and we never see violence as justifiable, but there are innocent Tamils suffering terribly and humanitarian ideals propel us to act. But all to no avail as the LTTE and Tamils more generally were seen as an existential threat. This community campaigned against World Vision and sought to punish us.

But Hadassah like World Vision knows the world is not as simple as black hats – all evil, and white hats – all good. Life is indeed more ambiguous and enmeshed and many people, indeed relatives, even of terrorists, deserve help. As when World Vision was being attacked by Shurat HaDin – even though we had been cleared by the Israeli General in Charge of Gaza and the West Bank. What the world didn’t know is that a number of established Israeli businesses were our partners in marketing Gazan produce from World Vision projects to Europe. They wanted World Vision to continue.

In this current matter of a World Vision staff member (who was never a director, despite claims to the contrary), we have repeatedly made it clear that we totally condemn any funds or materials being diverted to terrorists and have suspended our operations and called in forensic auditors. We want to know the truth and to act appropriately in response to it. We also want to see the evidence, in particular anything that exposes weaknesses in our oversight structures and processes so that we can apply the lessons from this case and tighten and strengthen where we need to. I have repeatedly said and do so again tonight that I unreservedly condemn any diversion of aid money to Hamas, just as I also would in any other context where it was alleged that aid money had been diverted from the intended beneficiaries to a proscribed terrorist organisation. I will not speak further about this trial as it is in process nor will I use this oration to try and refute alleged bias by World Vision against Israel.

We wholeheartedly support Israel’s right to exist in secure and recognised borders and we denounce resort to terror in whatever form it takes.

This is an oration about Charity which is the old English word for love. Can love exist in a time of terror? Too few showed love at the time of the great terror that was the Holocaust, but we honour those few brave lovers of humanity who risked all. We wish there had been many more like them and we join with you in saying ‘never again’.

But the ill winds of dividing us into black hats and white hats are blowing globally. Look at the Trump rallies. “Lock her up” is the mass chant against Hillary. A future president Trump promises he will do just this. In the Philippines there are now 4,000 alleged drug traffickers dead from vigilantes – more deaths than under Marcos’ martial law – and President Duterte is hugely popular for unleashing summary executions. In Australia this weekend we have seen again that being extremely harsh to refugees on Manus and Nauru is believed to be a huge vote winner. A life-time bias in favour of Charity is retreating – justified in a time of terror.

And it certainly adds an extra sense of privilege to speak on the occasion of Professor Hugh Taylor AC, the Founder of Eye Research Australia and President of the International Council of Ophthalmology Professor being awarded the Tikkun Olam medal.

Not only is this award richly deserved but Hugh is an outstanding Australian whose humanitarian work I have admired for years. It also signifies the community’s esteem for the pursuit of altruistic and humane causes.

Tonight I want to spend some time reflecting on the humanitarian enterprise, and naturally having just concluded a stint of almost 13 years leading Australia’s largest international charity, what I have to say is greatly informed by what I have witnessed and experienced in my work with World Vision.

But I want to paint a picture on a wider canvas as well. I want to think out loud about what humanitarian principles and humanitarian action look like in the context of the times we are living in as a global community. I want to try and separate the changes we need to pursue in response to new and emerging realities from those principles and ways of working that don’t change – or at least some of the things that in my view ought not to change.

What's changed and what hasn't?

The ethical and practical purposes of the humanitarian project remain largely unchanged today compared to the decades that followed the Second World War. Yet in many ways the operating environment in which humanitarian work takes place has changed, or to be more precise, is fluid and in a process of transition whose end point remains uncertain. Space is narrow and aid workers are ‘legitimate’ targets whereas once they weren’t. World Vision has lost 7 staff to Pakistan Taliban. We have to send people into places where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) advises against going.

Some of these changes are momentous and widely recognised.

Notwithstanding heated debates, from a humanitarian perspective there is no doubt about the real impact of climate change.

In many parts of the world we have been seeing a big spike in both the frequency and the intensity of extreme weather events, and this is particularly true in our own Asia Pacific region.

I witnessed utter devastation following cyclones of extreme force in Myanmar and the Philippines, to name just two examples.

Natural disasters of this kind certainly put a lot of strain on humanitarian resources and governments and private donors seem to be experiencing donor fatigue.

And it is not always just donor fatigue. Fear of Muslims is also a factor. I was in North West Pakistan where an earthquake claimed 80,000 lives. It was 6 months after the Asian Tsunami where we raised $105 million in 6 weeks – mainly I think because Australians were among the dead. But for Pakistan we could barely raise a dollar. It was fundamentalist Muslim territory. Osama bin Laden recruiting ground. I went over and World Vision responded. In tears Imams thanked me for coming and responding as so few others did. But they were puzzled and said ‘World Vision is a Christian organisation – so why did you come? I responded because Jesus didn’t say just love Christians. This perspective is actually a Christian debt to the prophetic vision in the Hebrew Scriptures. Service and suffering by a people bearing witness to the creator God whose image is found in every human being.

Children of Israel coming out of Egypt were warned they had to live a life differently to the customs of Egypt from where they had escaped. And they were warned that they had to live a life differently to the customs of Canaan where they were headed. That vision was bearing witness to a different way of being human. No longer just the gods of blood and soil. Humanity is limited to my blood – the source of racism and to my soil – the source of nationalism. No. But these old gods are roaring loudly and they are voraciously hungry – Mexicans are rapists and murderers and all Muslim immigration should be banned to protect our soil.

I believe humanity is beyond service of the gods of blood and soil. This is why Hadassah and World Vision serve, irrespective of religion, blood, and nationality. It is why the Jewish community is at the forefront of debates to protect refugees and Indigenous rights in Australia.

Christian faith motivates World Vision – belief in a God that displaces the gods of blood and soil with a shamed, naked, vulnerable God that rules from the cross not with power and Roman military might but with love for all. As an adherent of that faith my first loyalty is not to Australia right or wrong, but to justice.

Besides natural disasters the other great drivers of humanitarian need are poverty, bad government, violence and wars, which are often closely bound up with one another.

It happens that most of the largest international humanitarian organisations have their origins in the urge for humane and compassionate responses to war, often influenced by ethical precepts with a basis in religious faith.

The Red Cross grew from the horror witnessed by the Swiss humanitarian and Christian, Henri Dunant on the barrel fields of the now forgotten Franco-Austrian War for the liberation of Italy of 1859.

Save The Children was originally established in response to famine in Germany following the Allied blockade in 1919.

Oxfam likewise began as a response to the Allied blockade of Greece in the Second World War. The Anglican clergy and Quakers who started Oxfam in Oxford wanted to combine practical action with a principled objection to the use of starvation as a weapon of war.

Likewise, World Vision began as a reaction to the plight of refugees and orphans in the Korean War.

But poverty persisted even when war was over and all these organisations moved beyond relief to both development and advocacy. Advocacy to address systemic injustice embodied in the rules that keep inferior groups inferior and poor. This shift is open to the charge now you are being partisan and political and that is indeed a risk. But please accept that whatever the manifest mistakes in advocacy appearing one sided, it is motivated by concern for answering the question why do the poor remain poor?

The founder of World Vision was an American evangelical missionary, Bob Pierce. Two of Bob Pierce’s sayings continue to be much quoted within World Vision. “To be broken by the things that breaks the heart of God.” The other is some variation on “Don’t do nothing just because you can’t do everything.”

These two ideas encapsulate the essential imperatives of how we operate in the humanitarian space. On the one hand we need to walk with those who are empty-handed, dispossessed, suffering and despairing. Yet at the same time we must expect and accept that our efforts will not meet with immediate and total success.

The two key concepts here are compassion and practicality, and neither is effective without the other. Both are essential to the work of repairing a broken world.

Compassion is literally ‘suffering with’ the other, a specific kind of empathy. Bob Pierce’s prayer recognises that brokenness is the essential human condition, and by acknowledging it we can begin the work of healing, of making what is broken whole again

But compassion without practicality is inadequate. Practicality is a value that has particular appeal for Australians. We have a utilitarian culture and we like to think of ourselves as adaptable doers who are willing to have a go and find new solutions for whatever challenges we might face.

Practicality when joined to compassion means assembling and applying our physical and human resources to human problems, relieving suffering and restoring hope.

And it implies commitment and faithfulness to the task, despite limitations, setbacks and failures.

That is why World Vision has tried to stay working in difficult places even when the going gets rough – places like Gaza and Darfur, Afghanistan and Haiti; and where governments have been difficult, as through long periods in Burma, Zimbabwe and even for some time in North Korea.

So for the humanitarian project these are things that don’t change, even as the world transforms around us. These are the principles of working that are encoded in our DNA. We exist to turn the human and divine idea of compassion into practical action in the world – love with its sleeves rolled up.

NGOs, states and non-state actors.
Yet humanitarian organisations have changed since the time of Bob Pierce, in their outward forms and structures and in how they relate to other actors and external forces. They have become bigger, more complex and in some regards more difficult to manage. World Vision works in about 100 countries and has over 40,000 staff and works with millions of people in incredibly diverse and often difficult circumstances.
We cannot control all those circumstances.
As I mentioned, most of the large international NGOs began with an emergency response to crisis, most often brought on by war. But in all cases once the initial crisis had passed they all found continuing need and demand for their services. And all have ended up going on a journey from the relief of symptoms of human suffering to a purposeful pursuit of change, identifying the systems, structures and processes that give rise to suffering, violence, poverty and inequality.
For World Vision this has meant our long-standing work in short-term humanitarian emergencies continues, but much more of our resources are devoted to community development programs.

It means much more partnership and collaboration with communities, and often also with other players, ranging from governments to business organisations, faith institutions and community groups at grassroots level.

It also has meant that advocacy has become an essential and indispensable part of our work. It means using our resources to make heard the voices of the voiceless, and on occasion to speak truth to power.

This is driven by the realisation that treating symptoms, though sometimes essential, is not enough. As Desmond Tutu put it, after pulling many people out of the river you need to go upstream to find out who or what is pushing them in.

Governments and other power holders often dislike NGO advocacy. They characterise it as illegitimate, lacking democratic mandate, biased, one-sided, hostile, and a servant of foreign powers.

This is true to varying degrees in both authoritarian and democratic states, in weak and fragmented states and in strong, cohesive ones.

Frightened democracies: Gaza and Nauru.

But that is not to say there is total moral equivalence between states. Not all states are the same, of course, and for the citizens of democracies the relationship between the community and government is qualitatively different to what applies in more authoritarian systems.

We often think of Australia as a young country, but it is in fact one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world, with responsible government and elected parliaments having existed in most of the Australian colonies since the 1850s.

But the mere existence of elected institutions of government does not tell us much about the quality of democracy, or about the distinctive character of each democratic state’s own particular political culture

Because while the democratic principle of majority rule is crucially important, it is not the only thing that matters. Democratic principles operate in a complementary way, and sometimes in tension, with liberal principles that guarantee individual freedoms and the rights of minorities.

Democracies also run up against limitations because like other states they operate within the constraints of their physical resources and environment, their geographic borders, their relations with their neighbours and their place in a shifting international order.

The fear factor.

The last 15 or so years have been characterised by a resurgence of fear and insecurity across several dimensions in the life of the world’s democracies.

We live in an age of insecurity – not just the physical insecurity that goes with war and terror, but also social and economic insecurity, and a sense of cultural and spiritual drift, hard to define yet seemingly both real and influential.

This year’s US presidential race reflects all of these factors. Donald Trump appeals to Americans who have endured decades of economic decline and marginalisation.

Not only do they feel America is weaker and poorer, and therefore needs to be made great again, they also resent the exclusion of working and middle class Americans from political power, and from a culture dominated by cosmopolitan elites. The success of Bernie Sanders also speaks to this feeling, shared by young and old alike.

In Europe fear of terror is real, and so is a sense of pessimism and resignation about the resurgence of a hostile Russia. The fear of outsiders and newcomers is palpable, seen in the Brexit vote which got over the line on the back of anti-immigrant feeling as much as any cool assessment of the pros and cons of the EU as such.

We see it also in the ascendancy of right wing parties across the continent, from the French National Front to the Austrian Freedom Party, and even in the countries we have long regarded as the paragons of progressive liberal thinking like Holland, Denmark and Finland.

And of course parties of the radical left, though largely of non-revolutionary character, have also found new support, such as in Greece, Spain and Italy.

Across the board these forces are being pushed up by that perfect storm of physical fear driven by terror and crime, economic fear driven by globalisation, recession and inequality, and a sense of cultural loss and confusion of identity. All of this is contributing to widespread loss of faith in political elites, institutions in general, and perhaps, in democracy itself.

Australia and Israel.

Australia and Israel are two mature democracies but where the politics of fear also carry much weight. While the circumstances and the societies are very different, both countries reflect the powerful force of fear as a driver of politics, and both countries are still experiencing intense debates and divisions about how best to move forward.

Australia has a long history of fearing hostile outsiders. In the 19th century the focus was on Britain’s imperial rivals, France, Russia and Germany successively. By the 20th century the focus had shifted to Asia and the result was the White Australia Policy. Australians feared the five Cs – conquest, competition, crime, contagion and communism.

The White Australia Policy is long gone and so is the tariff wall. But the fear and resentment of outsiders is not gone, reflected in the hostility to foreign investment that surfaces quite frequently, but above all at present in relation to asylum seekers and refugees.

I don’t know whether any other country has a popular reality TV show called Border Security. I’m not sure if any other national anthem expresses such joy or relief that ‘our home is girt by sea’. But as Trump’s Mexican wall and the Brexit vote demonstrate we are not the only country where resentment of the newcomer resonates with a large section of the population, and with political consequences.

It is well over 20 years since Paul Keating’s government first introduced the policy of mandatory detention, and the debate has ebbed and flowed ever since. But the so-called Tampa election of 2001 proved critical, sending the message loud and clear to the major parties that elections could be won and lost on this issue.

Under our four most recent Prime Ministers, the focus has been on prevention and deterrence of boat arrivals and people smugglers, with offshore detention a key element in the mix, including the centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

I actually have some sympathy with the idea of deterring risky and often fatal sea voyages but does that justify the lengthy detention of hundreds of genuine refugees in remote and difficult locations? Does it excuse the manifest cruelty inflicted by uncertainty, separation of families and an unacceptable level of violence, physical and sexual abuse and mental illness?

Clearly these issues cast a shadow on the credibility of the government’s claim to humanitarian motivation. And so does the comparatively slow rise envisaged in the government’s planned humanitarian intake over coming years. Ministers love to recite their well-rehearsed talking points about Australia being among the most generous countries in taking refugees, but this is questionable.

What is certain is that Australia should accept responsibility for the protection and welfare of those people, including children, which it has cast out. In this regard I note also the disappointing treatment of Save The Children and its staff who previously worked on Nauru. These people have conducted themselves with principle and honour and it is appalling that they should be threatened with jail for putting into the proper public arena the truth of what they have witnessed.

But beyond the detail the underlying issue here is fear. Fear of the unknown and fear if the other are powerful forces, easily open to exploitation, and ultimately corrosive of our body politic.

Like Donald Trump’s fevered imagination, we have allowed ourselves to succumb to the fallacy that putting up walls* can solve our problems. Putting up walls can buy time, or bargaining strength, or political advantage. But it is dealing with symptoms, not causes. At some point we need to grapple with the factors that are driving people in unprecedented numbers to flee their homes in the first place.

Policy change would be welcome, and political leadership would be welcome, but what is really needed is a change of heart among Australians. Democracy is a kind of market, much like the illicit drugs market, and as long as there is demand for the drug called fear, politicians and populist cheerleaders will be there to supply it.

The fear that governs the relations between Israelis and their Arab neighbours is of an altogether different kind involving existential threats and with completely different antecedents to the sources of fear in Australia. However fear is still a prevalent reality and it undoubtedly distorts and exacerbates already difficult relations.

I speak of Australia as a citizen, a proud and committed one. But I can only speak of the situation faced by Israelis and Palestinians as an observer, a colleague and a friend of many on both sides of the conflict.

I hear diverse voices on both sides when I have visited Israel and the Palestinian Territories including Gaza. Often what I hear is not something that could be described as a dialogue – a joint conversation, but several competing monologues instead. There are narratives of fear and blame and recrimination but they are not part of an engaged conversation, they are not even voices shouting at each other, more like voices speaking into the air away from one another.

I don’t have any easy answers. But as with every other country where conflict and fear prevails, empathy has to be a starting point. Opposing narratives of demonization might meet short term political and even psychological needs but they do not address fundamental causes or advance solutions.

What I am sure of is that compassionate empathy and a spirit of practicality that embodies patience, commitment and faithfulness to the task are the essentials in repairing and healing what is broken. The concept of Tikkun Olam is not just a high ideal or a bit of poetic language. It is at once beautiful, useful and necessary. The work of world repair is work for the heart and for the hand, and it represents a vision of hope for a better future that we should all embrace.

Ultimately the relationship between justice, compassion and practicality is still a mystery and has unintended consequences. We all know we should do justice but we are puzzled at how difficult it is.

We speak strongly to the powerful and tenderly to the weak but we get attacked and confused. We all want spirituality but we are not sure where to find it.

We all love beauty but we cannot understand why.

We know we are made for relationship with one another but we have forgotten how to get it right. We all know freedom matters but we cannot agree on what it really is.

We know there is a difference between straight thinking and crooked thinking, between genuine reasoning and rationalisation but we end up spinning reason to serve our prejudice, our in-group bias. That then attacks the out-group as the stranger. This is why the great 8th Century BCE Hebrew prophets still speak so loudly and clearly to our souls in 2016. God’s face is revealed in the stranger.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his book Not in God’s Name: Religion and Violence has been an inspiration for me and many in World Vision. But it is his book The Dignity of Difference that delivers the message that the world desperately needs to stand firm against these ill winds blowing. That book helped me understand why as a loyal Australian my first loyalty is not to Australia but to humanity – not the Australia that rejected taking even one Jew at Evian 1938 because we did not want a racial problem.

Not the Australia that rejects Iranians, Iraqis, Afghans and Tamils on Manus and Nauru.

Not the Australia that for far too long resisted full Indigenous rights and land claims. Appalling when, after all, our Indigenous brothers and sisters are the only ones who can claim long and just title on this – the only nation/continent on earth- and who after all this racism have still accepted us late arrival refugees on their soil.

Charity which is love must survive in the Age of Terror or humanity perishes.
Following the oration, Tim gave an interview to the Australian Jewish News where he conceded that while he was critical of Israel’s security barrier when it was built, “I (now) see that wall has saved lives.“

Some pictures from the event

Tim Costello (right), Alissa Woolf (Executive Director, Hadassah Australia), Hugh Taylor (right)

Rev Tim Costello AO

Prof Hugh Taylor, AC, Tikkun Olam Award recipient

Tom Borsky, Peak Equities (principal sponsor)

Tim Costello shaking hands with David Southwick MP

Media coverage

11 November 2016

28 October 2016

Melbourne edition

16 October 2016

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