2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards Joint Winner – Australian History
This story chronicles a largely unknown but important aspect of 20th century Australian political history during the Cold War, when the Communist leadership closed down many Jewish organisations and declared Zionism an ideological enemy. Soviet Jews often suffered hardships, not being allowed to enlist in universities, work in certain professions or participate in government.
For three critical decades, 1959-89, Australian Jews and their community leaders were deeply involved in the international Soviet Jewry movement, with distinctive contribution to international affairs by some leading Australians including Bob Hawke, Garfield Barwick and Malcolm Fraser. By any measure, Australia played a role above and beyond what might be expected from a middle-ranking nation with limited international influence. But the lead actor was Isi Leibler, and this is very much also his story. Widely recognised and honoured internationally, his involvement and leadership – his ‘magnificent obsession’ – with the refuseniks and Soviet Jews, merit a full account.
The emigration of over a million Jews to Israel, after an international campaign lasting more than three decades, redefined the notion of human rights. Indeed, Natan Sharansky, the leading ‘Prisoner of Zion’, claims it as the 20th century’s most successful human rights movement.