Jewish voters face stark choices
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Jewish voters face stark choices

Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Peter Wertheim analyses where the parties and key independents stand on issues of importance to the Australian Jewish community

Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons
Parliament House in Canberra. Photo: Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons

As reported in The AJN, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) last month sent out questionnaires to the major parties and to individual candidates in the federal seats of Wentworth, Macnamara, Goldstein and Kingsford Smith, with high percentages of Jewish voters, to gauge their policies and attitudes on issues of particular concern to the Jewish community, ahead of the May 21 election. The results are now in and are accessible via the ECAJ website. 

Key extracts appeared in last week’s AJN. Jewish voters are facing some stark choices. 

Antisemitism

Even on something as basic as the definition of antisemitism, the differences stand out. 

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism has the overwhelming backing of Jewish community organisations worldwide as well as the support of democratic governments, the UN Special Rapporteur for freedom of religion or belief, and academic institutions and civil society organisations. It covers both religious and racial forms of antisemitism as well as more contemporary forms such as Holocaust denial, and denial of Jewish peoplehood and the Jewish people’s collective right of national self-determination. 

The Liberals, ALP, minor parties and the two teal independents who were surveyed have all unambiguously expressed their endorsement of the IHRA definition. The Greens are the odd ones out. Whilst expressing a “commitment to combatting antisemitism and all forms of racism”, they do not endorse the IHRA definition. For many in our community, this omission will put into question the value of that commitment.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announces Australia’s adoption of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism while addressing the Malmo International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism in October 2021.

Israel policy

Foreign policy concerning Israel has traditionally been an area of bipartisan consensus, but that no longer seems to be the case. 

The ALP remains firmly committed to Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and has welcomed its normalisation of relations with several Arab countries. However, although Israel continues to have many long-standing friends within the ALP, they do not have the numbers within the party to carry the day on certain Israel-related issues. 

The ALP’s answers to the ECAJ’s foreign policy questions have been carefully worded, and the language in the answer to the question about reversing Australia’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has been softened compared to the definitive answer in favour of reversal given to a similar question in the ECAJ’s 2019 questionnaire.

Yet it would be a mistake to interpret this as a change in the ALP’s stated policies and recent platform resolutions on Israel.   

Unilaterally recognising a Palestinian State would pre-empt final status negotiations with Israel in violation of past agreements, and would therefore only serve to reward Palestinian rejectionism and extremism, and put a durable peace based on a negotiated two-state outcome even further out of reach. Withdrawing Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and reverting to a voting pattern at the UN that is less sympathetic to Israel than under the current government would be similarly counter-productive.  

It is distinctly possible, although not inevitable, that if Labor forms the next federal government it will take all or some of these actions, with the support of the Greens. Such measures would be bitterly opposed by most of the Jewish community and others, and would likely make future Australian foreign policy on these issues the subject of partisan division and reversal whenever there is a change of government.  

Labor’s shadow foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, speaking at Caulfield Shule in March 2022. Photo: Peter Haskin

In contrast, the two teal independents have expressed similar views to the Liberals on these questions. Allegra Spender and, perhaps more surprisingly Zoe Daniel, have given definitive answers opposing unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state and supporting Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the current voting pattern favourable to Israel at the UN.   

Some within our community have expressed doubts about the sincerity of the teal independents’ stated positions in support of Israel.   

At the recent candidates’ forum co-hosted by the ECAJ, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS), Allegra Spender sought to dispel those doubts, forcefully dissociating herself from an anti-Israel activist who has been one of her prominent supporters. 

Zoe Daniel has evidently been less successful in convincing her critics in the community of her pro-Israel credentials. In May 2021, she joined other journalists and commentators in signing the now-notorious “Do Better on Palestine” letter, which in effect called for journalists not to report even-handedly on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and to give priority to “Palestinian perspectives”.  Ms Daniel has subsequently said she does not agree with everything that appeared in the letter she signed, and would have worded it differently.   

Yet the doubts have persisted. It will be interesting to see how Ms Daniel’s answers to the ECAJ’s questions on Israel will be received by her co-signatories to the letter, and indeed by many of her former colleagues in ABC news and current affairs, who have long practised the kind of reporting on Israel that the letter called for.

BDS

The Greens have reaffirmed that they “do not support” BDS. Although welcome, this statement is much weaker than the clear declarations of opposition to BDS by the Liberals, ALP, the teal independents and minor party candidates.

Greens leader Adam Bandt.The Greens have stated they do not support BDS.

Security funding

Security funding has been another high-priority issue for the Jewish community. The Coalition government’s Safer Communities Fund has provided significant grants to help pay for the capital costs of upgrading the physical security of our places of worship, schools, museums and other institutions.  

However, with the exception of guarding costs for schools, no funding has been available to assist with the crippling, recurring operational costs of maintaining physical security, such as the costs of armed guards by non-school institutions and the costs of running our Community Security Groups.  

In their answers to the ECAJ, both the Government and the Opposition have expressed sympathy for the idea of extending funding to those other areas of recurring security costs, but so far have made no commitments.

Education

The parties and candidates have expressed across-the-board support for beefed-up Holocaust education. The recently-published Gandel Foundation survey has demonstrated how urgently this is needed. Less well-understood is the need for Holocaust education to be complemented by education in identifying and counteracting specific forms of prejudice in the contemporary world, especially antisemitism.

Conclusion

How important Jewish community issues are in influencing the way Jews vote has long been the subject of speculation and study. Judging by the care and detail that have gone into the answers provided to the ECAJ, it seems that the parties and candidates themselves see these issues as highly important.

View the full responses: ecaj.org.au

Peter Wertheim is co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

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