A great illustration of how much of the media totally overlooks the huge grassroots campaign for Yes is the fact that the Jewish community’s far-reaching campaign has been unsighted in mainstream media coverage of the referendum.
Australia’s Jewish community has had a special relationship with Indigenous Australia for many, many decades highlighted perhaps by the actions of the Yorta Yorta elder, William Cooper – founding secretary of the Australian Aborigines’ League which was set up to lobby governments.
He was responsible for founding the symbolic gesture of a Day of Mourning on 26 January and petitioned the British monarch calling for Aboriginal representation in federal parliament.
His petition said: “It was not only a moral duty, but also a strict injunction included in the commission issued to those who came to people Australia that the original occupants and we, their heirs and successors, should be adequately cared for. Instead, our lands have been expropriated.”
But one act of his forged a special relationship with Australian and international Jewry. On 6 December 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, Cooper led a march to the German consulate in Melbourne to condemn the ‘cruel persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government in Germany’.
This was at a time when politicians in Australia and England were apologists for Hitler. Indeed, a future Prime Minister Robert Menzies, said after a visit to Germany in 1938, that the “abandonment by the Germans of individual liberty and of the easy and pleasant things of life has something rather magnificent about it … they have erected the state, with Hitler as its head, into a sort of religion which produces spiritual exaltation that one cannot but admire”.
The Jewish Yes campaign encompasses The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Stand Up, the Australian Union of Jewish Students, the National Council of Jewish Women, plus at least another four community groups actively supporting the Yes campaign.
The Stand Up campaign sums up much about the community wide activity missed by the media saying: “The Jewish Community has a long and proud history of working together with first Australians on their journey towards justice and reconciliation. And this year, we have an opportunity to recognise first Australians in our constitution and give them a say on the issues that matter to their communities.
“It’s an important step forward for first Australians and all Australians. We believe it’s a step forward that the Jewish Community knows to be right. Because we remember our own story – it reminds us what it is to be voiceless.
“That’s why Stand Up is launching Kol Halev (meaning ‘call of the heart’) and calling on the Jewish Community to raise our voices and campaign for ‘Yes’ alongside first Australians.”
Ilona Lee, the General Manager of Jewish Media company Plus61J, has integrated the message of Together Yes into the Jewish community via their own ‘Kitchen Table Conversations’ by creating Shabbat Table Talks.
Ilona Lee attended the launch of the Yes Campaign in Adelaide, both to demonstrate support but mostly to get ideas as to how the Jewish community could lend its weight to the campaign. She said: “When we were asked what we were going to do moving forward, I said I wanted to introduce ‘Kitchen Table Conversations’ to the Jewish community but, for us, it should be Shabbat Table Talks because that’s when we sit around the table with family and friends. It is very much part of our culture to discuss, question, learn and debate so this feels ‘just right’”.
The reach of Kol Havel was demonstrated by a packed July St Kilda Town Hall meeting to support Kol Halev (Voice from the Heart)
At the meeting Rabbi Ralph Genende reflected, “We are a people who have been burned by exclusion and powerlessness, more than any other … The Uluru Statement from the Heart speaks directly to my Jewish heart.”
Another person involved in the Yes campaign, Dr Hilton Immerman OAM, says if we want a fairer Australia, that respects its heritage and protects its minority rights, we need to vote Yes.
“In 2005, I founded a scholarship program for indigenous students at UNSW and, to date, that program has been responsible for 60 graduates including almost 30 medical doctors. Many of these students have come from very disadvantaged backgrounds and I have seen personally how much they can achieve with just a little assistance. I am hoping that many more indigenous people get such opportunities if the Voice is heard,” he said.
Perhaps the most distinguished Yes supporter is lawyer Mark Leibler. If there is any lawyer in Australia who could guarantee his telephone call to a Prime Minister would be accepted it is Leibler.
Leibler was involved in establishing Australia’s Reconciliation Action Plan program and the development of the Uluru statement from the Heart, having co-chaired the Referendum Council that led to the release of the Uluru Statement from the Heart. His firm has long been associated with laws impacting on Indigenous Australians including native title. He co-chaired Reconciliation Australian and the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
A lesser known – but massive – contribution to Indigenous issues was his firm taking on a young lawyer by the name of Noel Pearson. To hear more about Mark Leibler’s views on The Voice there is a J-Air interview conducted by the author’s friend, Gary Max, with Leibler. Gary also helped with research for this article.
It should also be noted that the Jewish community’s response to the Voice campaign – as with any community – is not wholly uncontested. But the naysayers are in a very small minority which Gary Max responded to in a letter to the Australian Jewish News.
He said: “Many letter writing Voice opponents in the AJN ignore another dispossessed people’s claim to their own land who rightly demanded a say in their future in their land; the first Zionist Congress in 1897 which took 50 years to succeed.
“A range of reasons to oppose the Voice are shovelled up each week; it’s racist; it confers special rights Aboriginals will advise governments to recognise a Palestinian state; it will waste funds; Jewish Voice proponents will incite neo-Nazis (as if they need a new reason) etc.”
All in all a mish mash similar to all the misleading disinformation Voice opponents spew out every day.
In contrast Gary Max quotes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation for the Australian people to ‘walk with us’ and concludes “As a people more experienced at dispossession than most, we should respond with respect.”
BTW: This weekend marks the launch of the Yes grassroots campaign with a huge national doorknocking campaign. Don’t expect much coverage in the Murdoch media.