Supporting Australian Diplomacy

La Trobe Law School’s Dr Andre Oboler is currently in Luxembourg as an expert member of the Australian Government’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. After four years of diplomatic engagement, last night (Australian time) the member states of IHRA voted unanimously to admit Australia as their 33rd member state.

IHRA is the international and intergovernmental body promoting Holocaust education, remembrance and research and countering antisemitism, racism and anti-Roma and Sinti prejudice.  IHRA grew out of the Stockholm Declaration, an initiative of the Swedish government to ensure that countries remember and educate their citizens about the Holocaust and its universal messages.

As the statement issued by Australia’s Foreign Minister explains:

The IHRA brings together governments and experts to combat Holocaust denial and antisemitism, and to share best practice on Holocaust education and remembrance. The IHRA also plays a key role in sharing information on early warning signs of present-day genocide.

Dr Oboler reflected on the moment when the vote came through and the work that got us here:

It was an incredibly proud moment for all of us from Australia. The team of experts from La Trobe University, Monash University, Deakin University, the University of Sydney and the Jewish Holocaust Centre have worked towards this moment for years. We’ve engaged not only in the meetings of IHRA, participating in conferences, working groups, committees and projects, but have also worked with Australia’s diplomats in preparing the paperwork for our admission which included details reviews of Holocaust educational, research and commemoration activities that occur in Australia.

Now that Australia is a full member, with a seat at the table, we are able to full participate in IHRA’s efforts to formulate policies, plans and programs advancing Holocaust education, commemoration and research. Up until now our engagement has at times been limited by protocol due to our observer status. This full participation is particularly important given the large number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Australia. Membership also provides a mandate to further enhance Australia’s efforts in Holocaust education and commemoration with the support through IHRA of leading experts from around the world.

The significance, however goes beyond this. As Dr Oboler explained,

In our application we also addressed contemporary antisemitism, sharing research from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry which produces an annual report on antisemitism incidents in Australia. The rise in antisemitism in Australia, as well as the government’s strong response to this, was noted by other countries. More broadly, through the application process over the past few years genocide scholars in other country’s delegations have asked about Australia’s past and highlighted lessons we might learn from Europe’s response to the Holocaust when it comes to facing darkness in our own history in regard to Indigenous Australians. Having the support of colleagues, in both the expert and diplomatic community when such difficult issues are discussed is of immense value.  

Dr Oboler’s work tackling online Holocaust denial and distortion in a project run on behalf of the Australian Government as part of its commitment to IHRA, and supported by the Online Hate Prevention Institute which Dr Oboler also heads, was highlighted in the meeting as one of the positive contributions Australia has been making to IHRA. Last week the software was converted Italian for use by experts based in Milan to support Italy’s delegation to IHRA. This Australian innovation has been particularly welcomed at IHRA.

The Foreign Minister in her statement noted that “Australia’s IHRA membership demonstrates our continuing commitment to combating antisemitism and protecting freedom of religion.”

The Australian government’s commitment to IHRA enjoys
bi-partisan support and is facilitated through the Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The Head of the Australian delegation is Lynette Wood, Ambassador to Germany.  After the acceptance at the plenary, she read a statement from Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne, and conveyed the Australian government’s appreciation of the support of the UK delegation, led by Lord Pickles, and the passion and dedication of the Australian expert delegation. In response the IHRA chair, Georges Santer, welcomed Australia bringing the fifth continent into the organisation and commended Australia on its participation.

Australian Delegation with Lord Pickles. From l to r: Dr Steven Cooke, Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland OAM, Dr Avril Alba, Dr Donna-Lee Frieze, Amb. Lynette Wood (Head of Australian delegation), Lord Eric Pickles (Head of UK delegation), Pauline Rockman OAM, Ciaran Chestnutt, DFAT, Sue Hampel OAM and Dr Andre Oboler.