JEWISH Greens supporters told The AJN this week they were disgusted, dismayed, disappointed and “so upset that talking about it isn’t an option” after Melbourne Ports candidate Stephanie Hodgins-May withdrew from a debate with her Labor and Liberal counterparts, Michael Danby and Owen Guest, to be co-hosted by The AJN and Zionism Victoria.
Having claimed she only learnt of Zionism Victoria’s involvement last Tuesday, she told The AJN last Wednesday that she wasn’t comfortable participating in a forum “co-hosted by an organisation that isn’t an independent newspaper”, and that she doesn’t believe it is “appropriate and right to speak at an event co-organised by a politically active organisation”.
However, she had actually been informed of Zionism Victoria’s involvement eight days earlier in emails from AJN national editor Zeddy Lawrence.
When confronted with the fact that her Greens colleague, Melbourne MP Adam Bandt, would be speaking at the politically active, pro-BDS Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) this Monday, she then told The AJN she had pulled out because of Zionism Victoria’s “strong political views, including in relation to the United Nations. As someone who worked at the UN and holds their work in high regard, I have chosen not to participate in the now co-hosted forum.”
On her website, she alleges that Zionism Victoria has labelled the UN as a “nuisance and sham organisation”. However, the article in which those terms were used was actually written by a spokesperson for the Zionist Federation of Australia, not Zionism Victoria.
In a further twist, it has emerged that Hodgins-May has agreed to speak at a Q&A run by the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), even though it is an organisation which is not only Zionist and politically active, but also an affiliate of Zionism Victoria.
Zionism Victoria president Sharene Hambur told The AJN that Hodgins-May’s decision to speak at the AUJS event is “too little too late and does nothing to address the hurt and insult inflicted on the Jewish community”.
Hambur added, “Her recent attempt at re-casting her reasons for withdrawal to include Zionism Victoria’s lack of enthusiasm for the way in which the UN and in particular the UNHRC respond to Israel, displays a lack of understanding of the issues and appears to be nothing more than an excuse for not participating.”
The AJN understands that Zionism Victoria has told AUJS it was disappointed that it would host Hodgins-May, but AUJS defended its decision.
“We had already confirmed Stephanie Hodgins-May for our panel before she pulled out of the forum co-hosted by The AJN and Zionism Victoria,” AUJS national chairperson Michael Fisher said.
“Following her withdrawal, we wrote to Stephanie informing her that we are a proud affiliate of Zionism Victoria, expressing our deep disappointment with her decision to withdraw, and urging her to reconsider.”
Zionism Victoria also asked her to reconsider but she did not respond.
Meanwhile, one Greens member, who asked to remain anonymous, said he and fellow Jewish volunteers are on the brink of pulling support for the party. “I’ve been a member of the Greens for a very long time but this has upset me too much,” he said.
“It was a total shock to me and I can’t believe this is real.
“It is ironic that the Melbourne Ports campaign had attracted a small core group of progressive Jews working hard to convince Jewish voters that voting Green is a safe thing to do.”
Another Greens campaigner said she has given up hope. “Steph Hodgins-May has blown it as far as I am concerned,” she lamented.
In the wake of Hodgins-May’s withdrawal, Danby called on party leader Richard Di Natale to sack her. “This is shameful,” he said. “The Greens Party mask is finally off.”
He added, “If she understood the community she wants to represent, she’d know how offensive it is to reject the entire Zionist community out of hand.”
Di Natale and Bandt were both approached by The AJN for comment but neither responded. Hodgins-May also did not respond this week when asked to comment on her scheduled appearance at the AUJS event.