Looking back on 2022… and what a year it was!
The AJN looks back on a year in which we started on our recovery from the pandemic, saw a change of federal government and a new Israeli government, mourned Queen Elizabeth II and witnessed the outbreak of war in Ukraine.
● NSW Shadow Arts Minister Walt Secord proposes US-style anti-boycott legislation after the Sydney Festival’s boycott of an Israel dance company Decadance.
● Amir Maimon, Israel’s new ambassador, wastes no time in meeting Jewish communities in Melbourne and Sydney.
● A landmark study of how Australians perceive the Holocaust throws light on this complex subject. The findings of the Gandel Holocaust Awareness and Knowledge in Australia Survey, released to coincide with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, polled 3500 Australians with 70 questions. It found only two per cent denied the Holocaust, but almost one in four respondents had “little or no knowledge” of these events.
● A rabbi and a number of his congregants are held at gunpoint in a US synagogue near Fort Worth, Texas.
● Israel’s Defence Minister Benny Gantz pledges “a heavy hand” to deal with settlers who act violently, after a settler convoy in the West Bank throws rocks at Palestinians, their cars and storefronts.
● The Gandel Foundation announces funding for construction of a major rehabilitation centre at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, believed to be one of the largest single donations from Australia to Israel.
● As Russia escalates its troop presence on the Ukraine border, Sydney-born Rebbetzin Miriam Moskovitz from Chabad of Kharkiv, a city with 30,000 Jews, remains quietly hopeful for peace. But conditions deteriorate quickly with Russia’s February 24 invasion. The rebbetzin, with her husband Rabbi Moshe Moskovitz, eventually move to Israel, after doing their best to look after Jews affected by the brutal invasion.
● “I’ve never had an each-way bet on Israel,” PM Scott Morrison proclaims in an exclusive interview with The AJN, after his government proscribes Hamas in its entirety, extending the Australian contact ban to the non-military wing of the terrorist organisation.
● Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett meets with Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Prime Minister, Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, during his milestone visit to the Gulf state – the first by an Israeli PM.
● Dozens of new immigrants from Ukraine arrive in Israel as tensions on the Ukraine-Russia border escalate. All-out war between Russia and Ukraine breaks out on February 24, with a Russian invasion of its neighbour.
● The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a major issue at Summit UIA, the United Israel Appeal’s five-night online appeal program for 2022. *In the spirit of Purim, former New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss asks, “How can we be a Queen Esther in our own lives?” At a UIA Women’s Division function in Melbourne, she conveys her reflection on Purim heroine Esther and on personal courage.
● Victoria’s Jewish community calls for independent candidate for Goldstein Zoe Daniel to dissociate herself from a letter she signed calling for journalists to avoid “both-siderism”, and emphasise the Palestinian narrative when reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The candidate declines. In May’s election, Daniel goes on to defeat Liberal MP Tim Wilson in Goldstein, which has a significant Jewish population.
● Israel votes in favour of a United Nations General Assembly resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, after earlier declining to co-sponsor a similar measure in the Security Council. Concerns about aggravating Russia, which safeguards Syrian airspace on Israel’s border, weigh heavily on Jerusalem as it formulates its position on the Ukraine war. Meanwhile, Israel comes under pressure from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The Jewish head of state addresses the Knesset, urging Israel to ramp up aid for Ukraine.
● Five former students of Brighton Secondary College sue key staff of the school, and Victoria’s education department, alleging antisemitic conduct and failure to provide a safe learning environment. The trial continues.
● Israeli-based legal activist organisation Shurat HaDin Israel Law Centre asks Australian Holocaust survivors and their descendants to join its class action program against insurers whose antecedents failed to pay on policies held by displaced and murdered European Jews.
● Morrison and treasurer Josh Frydenberg join in an erev Pesach service at Melbourne’s Ark Centre synagogue.
● A date is set for the trial of former Adass Israel School principal Malka Leifer, to begin on August 1, but the start date is later deferred.
● Former captive in Iran, Australian Kylie Moore-Gilbert, says her 804 days in an Iranian prison made her draw closer to her adopted Judaism.
● At an Israeli field hospital in Ukraine – the first such hospital to open since the Russian invasion – doctors celebrate the delivery of the first baby born there. Meanwhile, Ukrainian refugees arrive in Israel.
● After a two-year delay due to the pandemic, March of the Living resumes its annual pilgrimage, providing an opportunity for some elderly participants to march perhaps for the final time.
● As deadly terrorist attacks hit Israel, Palestinian social media are pinpointed as a cause of much of the incitement.
● In the May 21 election, Labor wins government. Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, widely mooted as a successor to Scott Morrison if the Coalition is defeated, loses his formerly blue-ribbon seat of Kooyong to ‘teal’ independent Monique Ryan. However, Jewish Labor MP Mark Dreyfus is re-elected in Isaacs in Victoria and becomes Attorney-General. Liberal Julian Leeser retains his seat of Berowra in NSW. Non-Jewish MPs with a strong pro-Israel record – Dave Sharma in Sydney’s Wentworth and Tim Wilson in Melbourne’s Goldstein – lose their seats to ‘teals’.
● Jewish leaders and the broader community laud a move by the Victorian government to become the first state or territory in Australia to outlaw public displays of the Nazi swastika. The new legislation is later given a timeframe of only six months to implementation, after initially being set to start in 12 months. It will become law by December 29.
● Judge Khaled Kabub becomes the first Muslim appointed to Israel’s Supreme Court.
● Israeli police announce a probe into the killing of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during a gunfight.
● Palestinians, Israelis and police clash across Jerusalem after tens of thousands of nationalist Jews join the Jerusalem Day Flag March through the Old City.
● The Executive Council of Australian Jewry throws its support behind the Joint Resolution on the Uluru Statement from the Heart, one of nine Australian faith communities that become signatories of the resolution, which asks political leaders to take immediate bipartisan action to hold a referendum on a First Nations Voice to Parliament. (In July, PM Anthony Albanese announces plans for a referendum.)
● Six Victorian Jewish schools join a pilot program by the new Jewish Education Foundation enabling Jewish children in government schools to apply for a limited number of unfilled school places in Jewish schools for 2023-24 at reduced rates.
● While not joining 22 nations rebuking the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) over its skewed Commission of Inquiry report into Israel, Australian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Amanda Gorely, says the UNHRC “brings a disproportionate scrutiny to Israel”.
● Results from the 2021 Australian Census reveal that 99,956 Jews are living in Australia, with communal figures noting that the previous Census in 2016 had an undercount of Jews, as it had been the first one in which the ‘no religion’ category had been placed at the top of ‘religion’ questions, and that Census had crashed online on Census day. The 2021 figures may have been skewed slightly, though, as a greater number of young Jews were living at home on Census day due to COVID travel curbs.
● Writer Israel’s A.B. Yehoshua, humanist and staunch Zionist, dies at 85.
● Israel’s coalition government succumbs to internal divisions and collapses, setting up the fifth Israeli election in three years.
● Jewish Australians and the broader community commemorate 25 years since July 14, 1997, when a foot bridge carrying Australian athletes to the opening ceremony of Israel’s Maccabiah Games collapsed. The disaster claimed the lives of Greg Small, 37, Yetty Bennett, 30, Elizabeth Sawicki, 47, and Warren Zines, 56, and injured dozens more. Thoughts for the dead and injured are on the minds of athletes competing in the 21st Maccabiah Games.
● South Australia becomes the latest state to endorse the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism.
● Australians experience yet another wave of COVID, as Omicron subvariants surge during the winter. Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Daniel Aghion urges Jewish Victorians to wear masks in enclosed public spaces and to isolate at home if they test positive.
● On his first presidential visit to Israel, US President Joe Biden joins Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid in signing a joint strategic declaration in which the US pledges an all-out effort to prevent Iran obtaining nuclear weapons.
● Saudi Arabia claims its decision to open its airspace to all civilian planes is not a precursor to normalisation with Israel.
● Victorian Jewish leaders laud a magistrate’s conviction of Jimeone Roberts, associated with the extremist National Socialist Network, for plastering swastika stickers around Caulfield a day after the state government announced its ban on public displays of the Nazi symbol.
● A report by University of Sydney Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland and Bar-Ilan Professor Zehavit Gross uncovers significant religious bullying in schools across Sydney and Melbourne, including disturbing antisemitic incidents.
● Legislation banning the Nazi swastika passes the NSW Parliament.
● Lesli Berger steps down as president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies after his four-year term and is succeeded by David Ossip.
● Long-time NSW Labor MLC Walt Secord, a convert to Judaism, announces he won’t seek another term after being accused of bullying. He tells The AJN he was “the subject of an orchestrated plan … to remove me from Parliament”.
● United Nations investigator Miloon Kothari apologises for saying social media is controlled largely by “the Jewish lobby” and for questioning Israel’s membership of the UN.
● A three-day burst of hostilities between Islamic Jihad and Israel erupts after a rocket barrage from Gaza forces Israelis into bomb shelters. Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system shields the country from most of the rocket attacks.
● Gaza aid worker Mohammed El-Halabi is sentenced to 12 years in prison after being found guilty of illegally divesting tens of millions of dollars of World Vision aid money to Islamist terror group Hamas.
● World leaders pay tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, who passes away aged 91. Gorbachev’s reforms enabled thousands of Jews to flee, but also triggered the collapse of the Soviet Union.
● Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt travels from New York to address Australian audiences at JNF functions in Sydney and Melbourne.
● With NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet in attendance, a ceremony is held to mark the start of construction at the new Hakoah club at Sydney’s White City.
● Jewish leaders worldwide pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, 96, after her death, lauding her marathon service to Britain and the Commonwealth over a period of 70 years as monarch. They express confidence in King Charles III.
● The presidents of Israel and Germany lead commemorations marking 50 years since 11 Israeli athletes were killed by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympics.
● On Rosh Hashanah, Israel’s population stands at just over 9.5 million residents, according to its Central Bureau of Statistics.
● The National Tertiary Education Union votes to support a motion in solidarity with Palestine and oppose the adoption of the IHRA definition at Australian universities, a resolution the Executive Council of Australian Jewry calls a “disgrace”. It follows a controversial motion in April calling for the University of Melbourne to boycott and divest from Israel. Rescinded in May, it was later adopted again. And an anti-Israel article published in the University of Adelaide’s On Dit student magazine in August drew deep concern from Jews.
● In a diplomatic row between Australia and Israel, the like of which has not been seen for years, Israel slams Canberra’s withdrawal of recognition that west Jerusalem is its capital – a decision also panned by Australian Jewish leaders. The rollback, announced by Foreign Minister Penny Wong, reverses the Morrison government’s move to recognise west Jerusalem as the capital in 2018.
● Former US president Donald Trump rails against US Jews, telling them to “get their act together” and accusing them of not being appreciative enough of his support for Israel, while claiming he was so popular among Israelis that he could “easily be” elected prime minister.
● Antisemites in Los Angeles hang banners over a freeway, declaring, “Kanye is right about the Jews.” The rapper, now known as Ye, has recently repeated antisemitic outbursts across social media and in interviews.
● Australian Jewish leaders and politicians issue a cautious welcome, but there is deep concern about the potential make-up of the new Israeli government after Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition scores a decisive victory, the latest in Israel’s cycle of five elections since 2019.
● As Victoria’s state election campaign heats up, the Andrews government pledges $5 million to various projects within the Jewish community. And the Coalition promises to provide Hatzolah Melbourne with $3.3 million over the next five years. At the election, the government wins. Jewish MPs David Southwick and Paul Hamer are re-elected, with Southwick re-elected as deputy Liberal leader.
● A history-making moment for young athlete Harry Sheezel is soured over the weekend when trolls direct antisemitic slurs towards him on social media prior to his drafting by the North Melbourne AFL club.
● In his third accession to power as Israel’s PM, Benjamin Netanyahu leads a 64-strong majority, with the final tally from Israel’s latest election standing at Likud 32 seats, Religious Zionism 14, Shas 11 and United Torah Judaism seven.
● The 120 members of Israel’s new Knesset are sworn in, ushering in a right-wing religious majority that has vowed to pursue a hardline reformist agenda. There is great concern about the likely inclusion of ultra-nationalists Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich in the new government. President Isaac Herzog urges MKs to end their “addiction to conflict” and social media-driven uproars.
● Israel and Diaspora Jews celebrate 75 years since the UN voted for the partition of British Mandated Palestine in 1947 into a Jewish and an Arab state. The landmark decision soon triggered the invasion of five Arab armies in a failed bid to destroy the nascent Israel.
● Ben Ma’ada, 50, and teenager Aryeh Schupak, 16, die – and 22 others are injured – in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, involving two bombings.
● Almost four decades after two coordinated bombs targeting Australia’s Jewish community were detonated, the NSW government announces a $1 million reward for information that could lead to the arrests of those responsible.
● The new Parliamentary Friends of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) fulfils a pledge made at its October launch, writing to all Australian universities, calling on them “to adopt formally the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and incorporate it into your university’s internal processes and policies, such as student and staff conduct guides”.
● The White House convenes an antisemitism roundtable with Jewish organisations, chaired by Douglas Emhoff, the Jewish Second Gentleman. President Joe Biden, who launched his presidential campaign with a condemnation of the 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist march, has made combating antisemitism and other bigotries a centrepiece of his agenda. Meanwhile, former president Donald Trump hosts Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes and antisemitic rapper Ye (aka Kanye West) at his Mar A Lago resort.