Change their name

A tiny minority trying to hoodwink the media

The Jewish Council of Australia is not, as their website would have you believe, an expert body founded "in response to the rise in racism and antisemitism in Australia".

The People's Front of Judea in Monty Python's The Life of Brian. Photo: Screenshot
The People's Front of Judea in Monty Python's The Life of Brian. Photo: Screenshot

There is a famous scene in the classic Monty Python film The Life of Brian in which a Jewish, anti-Roman group called “The People’s Front of Judea” split off from another group, “The Judean People’s Front.”

The joke about three different Jewish groups, all with subtly different names has now come to pass with life imitating art with the newly created and Orwellian-named “Jewish Council of Australia” (JCA – not to be confused with NSW’s Jewish Communal Appeal) sounding an awful lot like the the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ).

The difference is the ECAJ is the democratically elected roof body of the Australian Jewish community – comprising the state roof bodies of our community, hundreds of constituent and affiliate organisations, all made up of real Jewish members of our community.

The Jewish Council of Australia is not, as their website would have you believe, an expert body founded “in response to the rise in racism and antisemitism in Australia” as they have barely said boo on antisemitism.

In fact their inaugural announcement wasn’t about antisemitism at all, but an opinion piece, published in The Age, “As Jews, we don’t accept that criticism of Israel’s government is antisemitic.” Strictly not in keeping with their raison d’être.

As a former MP, I criticised the Israeli government on many occasions, including Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pandering to his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners relegating non-Orthodox Judaism to a lesser class; the corruption that helped Malka Leifer evade extradition for nearly a decade; strongly supporting a two-state solution and criticising settlement expansion in the West Bank (excluding Jerusalem).

The moment this war is over, I hope Netanyahu’s far-right coalition collapses and a new unity government can be formed without his or his far-right toxic coalition influence. He should stand trial for corruption, and be held to account for the division he has sowed in Israeli society and the catastrophic security failures that occurred on his watch.

But back to the problem at home with the Jewish Council of Australia, and the fact they seem to be living in a parallel universe. In their article, they portray our community organisations, who they label “pro-Israel lobby groups”, as engaging in a “conflation of Jews and Israel” and that “any criticism of Israel is seen as an attack on all Jews” and “is by default deemed antisemitic”.

If this body had been founded to deal with said issues, one would have expected them to have commented on two significant examples of antisemitism in Australia that have occurred this month; NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong’s vile comments claiming the “Jewish Lobby” in Australia uses its “tentacles” to “influence power”.

And then, just a week later, the media reported that Jewish creatives and artists who belonged to a Whatsapp group had been doxxed, with some facing harassment, death threats and even threats to their children.

Now they might like to pretend these were not antisemitic incidents but they’ve neither condemned the doxxing or the slur. They’ve stayed shtum.

What they have done, however, is release two media statements in that time – one which criticised the Australian government’s decision to suspend funding to UNRWA due to allegations that UNRWA staff participated in the October 7 terror attacks; and one which criticised Israel’s military operations in Rafah – ironic given that two hostages of Hamas were rescued last week thanks to one such operation.

My point here – if they want to de-conflate Jews and Israel, why are they choosing to ignore significant allegations of antisemitism in Australia, but instead seeking to speak on behalf of Jewish Australians to criticise Israel? It appears that combating antisemitism takes a distinct back seat to promoting their anti-Zionism focus.

It’s true, not all Jews support Israel – but whether this group likes it or not, most of us do. Last year’s Crossroads 23 survey found 77 per cent of Jewish Australians identify as Zionist, 86 per cent believe the State of Israel is essential to the future of the Jewish people, and 90 per cent believe Australian Jewry should maintain a close relationship with Israel.

It would be ludicrous to suggest therefore that a representative body of Australian Jewry would not support the Jewish state when an overwhelming number do.

Of course, it is a private organisation, and they are entitled to form an advocacy organisation to criticise Israel if they wish. In much the same way as the Australian Jewish Association (AJA) – which was founded as a voice for conservative and right-wing Jewish Australians did. I have been consistent in my criticism of the AJA and now the JCA in deliberately choosing vague, official-sounding names that will cause understandable confusion to the general public. If they were “fair dinkum” they’d change their name.

The Jewish Council of Australia is not an expert body, they aren’t representative, and they certainly don’t seem to care as much about antisemitism as they do about attacking the Jewish state. What they are is a tiny minority of Australian Jewry, trying to hoodwink their way into the mainstream media through deception and confusion.

I’ll leave you with that famous scene in The Life of Brian, where Reg (John Cleese) explains to Brian (Graham Chapman), a prospective new member, “The only people we hate more than the Romans are the f***ing Judean People’s Front”. “Yeah, splitters”, his fellow members cry.

Philip Dalidakis is a former Labor government minister in Victoria and a member of the Melbourne Jewish community.

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