The “Israeli Lobby” mischaracterises the diverse, Australian Jewish community

Jun 3, 2022
Israel and Palestine flags painted over cracked concrete wall
“Viewing the conflict from one perspective would not advance the cause of peace.” Penny Wong. Image: iStock

A community as diverse, educated, and dynamic as Australian Jewry is bound to have a variety of opinions and outlooks.

Bob Carr’s recent Pearls and Irritations piece (June 1, ‘The Israeli Lobby and Labor’) caricatures the outlook of that entire community, missing its nuances, conflicting opinions, and, indeed, the many years in which it has supported a two-state solution in the face of rejectionist alternatives.

According to the authoritative Gen 17 study published by Monash University in 2017, 88 per cent of Australian Jews feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that the State of Israel continues to exist in peace and security. When people like Carr denigrate them as “the Jewish lobby,” “the Zionist lobby” or “the Israeli Lobby,” a sinister influence is conveyed rather than as Australians legitimately exercising the right of all citizens to promote their views. It is little wonder that most Jews and others see this as antisemitism.

The feelings Australian Jews have for Israel are akin to mine as someone of Irish heritage in how I think about the Emerald Isle. Jewish Australians advocate for Israel just as Greek Australian and Turkish Australian organisations advocate for either side of the conflict in Cyprus, to name one of many examples.

It is grossly inaccurate to say the “Israeli Lobby” is hostile to Labor and increasingly right wing.

The mainstream Jewish community organisations strive to be fair to all, and it is interesting that in the survey of the major political parties conducted by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) before the election, it discovered that all parties, including the Greens, are “officially” opposed to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Anthony Albanese’s views on this and other matters, such as the characterisation of Israel as an apartheid state (which he dissents from), and the definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Association’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism (which our new Prime Minister supports), were given front-page, favourable treatment in the Australian Jewish News (AJN) during the election campaign (and earlier in July 2021, when “Albo” said similar things).

It is false to flatly state: “During the election, under pressure to accommodate its hardliners, the lobby kept up an aggrieved and agitated anti-Albanese message.”

Carr says: “The lobby is accommodating new right-wing voices, specifically the Australian Jewish Association [AJA] which stakes out conservative positions on social issues as well as the hardest of hard lines in support of ultra-nationalism in Israeli politics.”

The AJA was deliberately set up in opposition to the mainstream Jewish community bodies like the ECAJ, because the AJA specifically attacks them as too moderate and as supporters of the two-state solution!

The AJA has no representative status whatsoever in the Jewish community, despite its misleadingly generic name. It is little more than a Facebook group, with non-Jewish and overseas participants, whose actual paid-up membership is minuscule. In contrast, the ECAJ has paid up constituent and affiliate organisations covering some 200 grass roots Jewish institutions across Australia, including synagogues, schools, cultural, women’s and sporting organisations.

Carr refers to Sharri Markson and her feverish anti-Labor views as if she has some representative status in the Jewish community. Carr references a profile on Markson that appeared last year in the AJN and highlights her declarations about Labor during the election campaign, both in The Australian newspaper and sometimes in the AJN. It is nonsense, however, to personify her as “the” view of the whole community.

Carr conveniently omits the refutation of Markson and the favourable view of Albanese by the ECAJ in its post-election analysis published by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), despite the Institute’s realistic concerns about unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state advocated by Carr. The JPPI comments:

Labor’s new Foreign Minister, Penny Wong, has … repudiated BDS and [the] attempts to delegitimise Israel. In May 2021, she publicly slapped down a resolution by the Queensland branch of the ALP accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing.” Wong described the resolution as “counterproductive” and said that “viewing the conflict from one perspective would not advance the cause of peace.”

This is an entirely sensible and sober perspective, matched by other observations about the new Australian government in Jewish community publications.

In the aftermath of the May 2022 election, Australians can be proud to have our first Muslim-born Cabinet Minister, Ed Husic, and another Minister of Muslim belief, Anne Aly. Also re-elected were several Labor MPs, Mark Dreyfus, Mike Freelander, and Josh Burns, of Jewish heritage.

The issues of the Israel-Palestinian conflict are extraordinarily complicated. I am personally hoping that Australia under the new government can encourage and practically support more people-to-people dialogue and practical programs in health, education, the environment, and economic development and empowerment between the two peoples.

Our multicultural, tolerant, Australian society is an example to the world. We can apply the best of our talents to assist. That must be the direction a sensible and progressive government should pursue. This would better serve as a way forward than the shouting and stridency which so often features in discussion on the Middle East.

Michael Easson is an ALP member (49 years and counting) and in 1977 a founder- member (with Bob Carr) of Labor Friends of Israel.

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