Isi Leibler with then-prime minister Bob Hawke.

Jetset founder Isi Leibler never backed down from a fight

Isi Leibler, born Belgium, October 9, 1934. Died Jerusalem, April 13, 2021, aged 86.

Isi Leibler’s lively mind thought in monochrome. It saw the world in the black and white of binary truths. Things were either good, or bad. Like people. And Leibler was a god-fearing Jew who feared no one else.

He understood the plight of Russian Jews trapped behind the Iron Curtain, how they were culturally and religiously persecuted — sometimes targeted in waves of arrests and murders — so he decided to take on the Soviet Union. From the suburbs of Melbourne.

Aged 27, he organised a campaign to convince newspaper editors and Canberra politicians that the fate of these people was an issue for us all. Australia had been instrumental in shaping the United Nations’ Charter to better ­reflect the interests of smaller countries; now it could roar on ­behalf of a repressed minority.

We were a founding member, and in 1948 Australia was elected to the presidency of the UN, the year the state of Israel was proclaimed. Leibler’s work led to the government of Sir Robert Menzies raising the issue of Soviet Jews in 1962, the first nation to do so.

Three years later, Leibler published his book Soviet Jewry and Human Rights, describing the state-sponsored anti-Semitism of the Soviet Union where Jews’ human rights counted for nothing. The book brought its author international attention — with the handy by-product that it divided Australia’s communists.

Read the obituary/tribute by Alan Howe in The Australian.