Dr Herbert Vere (“Doc”) Evatt (1894-1965; pictured below) was a bright working-class lad from Maitland, New South Wales, who was educated at school and university in Sydney and became a lawyer and QC. From 1925-30 he was an ALP (Labour) state legislator, and from 1930-40 was a judge of the High Court of Australia. He then became a member of Australia’s House of Representatives, and in 1941, when John Curtin’s ALP government was elected to power, Evatt was appointed Attorney-General and Minister for External Affairs (the equivalent of Foreign Minister). In 1945 he was instrumental in founding the United Nations, going on to help to draft the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights. President of the UN General Assembly during 1948-49, he was prominent in the negotiations that resulted in the birth of Israel.
During the 1940s, Evatt drew close to the prominent Sydney Zionist leader Max Freilich as well as to New South Wales state politician Abram Landa, another exponent of the Zionist cause, whose brother had been a fellow law student with Evatt, and by the autumn of 1945 the “Doc” – as "Bert" Evatt was widely known – was telling colleagues in the Department of External Affairs that the Jewish People must and would have a homeland very soon, that they “had full historical rights in Palestine” and that “If the Arabs refused to permit the essential conditions of this home for the Jews then the UN must decree it and guarantee it.” The following year, in Canberra, Evatt confided to the Jewish Agency’s Michael Comay (destined to be Israel’s ambassador to the UN, 1960-67, and to Britain, 1970-73) that he was opposed to British policy in Palestine, although he couldn’t yet come out publicly for Partition.
In September 1947, the UN General Assembly established an Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine, with representation from all member states. Meeting at Lake Success, upstate New York, under Evatt’s chairmanship, it set up two sub-committees of nine members each – one supporting the Partition of Palestine and one advocating instead a unitary state. After input from advocates of each viewpoint, a vote on 25 November by the Ad Hoc Committee voted by 25 votes to 13 (with 17 abstentions) in favour of Partition.
Following Ben Gurion’s Declaration of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948, British pressure resulted in Australia delaying recognition until 29 January 1949, when – unlike Britain, which accorded only de facto recognition – Australia accorded Israel both de facto and de jure. Evatt had become President of the UN General Assembly in September 1948, and was in office when, in May 1949, the GA followed the Security Council’s example of March in voting to admit Israel to UN membership. (His friend Abram Landa had just joined Australia’s delegation at his instigation.)
Israel’s UN representative Abba Eban wrote to Evatt on 18 May 1949:
"We are deeply indebted to the Australian Delegation for its consistent and effective support of our cause in the Assembly and its organs through all the stages of the consideration of our problem by the United Nations. We are grateful to you for the decisive part you played in the proceedings. It was under your competent and determined chairmanship that the Ad Hoc Committee on Palestine during the annual session of 1947, adopted the plan which was embodied in the historic Resolution of November 29th...
Finally, it was again under your chairmanship and thanks in so large measure to your determined lead that Israel was admitted to the United Nations when barely a year old. The manner in which you steered to a vote the second historic Resolution, representing as it does the culmination of the process initiated by the first, the warmth and eloquence with which you welcomed Israel into the family of nations, have earned for you the undying gratitude of our people.”
In 1960 Evatt presented to Moriah College, a Jewish day school in Sydney, a plate depicting the Twelve Tribes that Israel had given him in 1948 in appreciation of his efforts on its behalf.