As we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I have been reflecting on what a privilege it is to represent our vibrant and diverse Jewish community. This time of year reminds us of the importance of reflection, renewal and coming together as a community.
I’d like to take this opportunity to update you on the progress we’ve made on several crucial issues, including restoring funding for faith-based organisations, and tackling antisemitism on campus and in the community, as well as the broader policy priorities I have been pursuing.
You have told me how crucial it is to have funding to keep religious communities safe. I have been strongly pursuing this in Parliament, including questioning the Attorney-General privately and publicly. Together, strong advocacy from the ECAJ and the Jewish community has paid off, and funding for the Securing Faith-Based Places grant has finally been restored.
This funding will help religious schools and pre-schools, places of worship, and faith-based community centres address the risk of crime and violence by supporting security upgrades and employment of security personnel. I hope to see many of our important Jewish organisations receive this important funding.
But, like many of you, I have been deeply concerned about increasing incidents of antisemitism in our schools, universities and community that is permeating from not only far-right groups, but also increasingly from the far-left.
An important recent survey by the ZFA and AUJS shows that 64 per cent of Jewish students in our universities face antisemitism, and so sadly, that 57 per cent hide their Jewish identity. This is a terrible situation not just for Jewish students but goes against the multicultural foundations of our country. It is critical that educational institutions provide environments free from antisemitism, as well as adequately address students’ complaints of antisemitism.
That’s why, together with Julian Leeser and Josh Burns, I co-chair the Parliamentary Friends of IHRA, endorsing and promoting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism and urging universities to adopt this definition. Already, five universities have embraced it.
By proposing a working definition of antisemitism, the IHRA definition provides a tool for organisations to frame what constitutes antisemitism, set clear expectations, and help ensure appropriate and respectful behaviour.
I note there has been some criticism of the IHRA definition including from parts of the Jewish community, particularly that it can stifle reasonable debate. However, I disagree. The IHRA definition explicitly notes that any criticism against Israel or the Israeli government that is similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be described as antisemitic. So, if Israel and its government are seen and judged on the same conditions as other countries, then it cannot be described as antisemitic.
Alongside many members of the community, I was disappointed by the government’s decision to adopt the term “Occupied Palestinian Territories”. This shift in language is counterproductive, as it pre-empts the outcomes of peace negotiations. I have spoken out strongly against these changes and have followed up directly with the Foreign Minister to express my deep concern. Like many people in our community, I have deep concern for the Palestinian people’s suffering but at the same time I unequivocally support Israel’s right to exist in peace. But that does not mean I support all actions of the Israeli government. We must have peace, and all sides must play their part in creating it. I will continue to be a steadfast friend to Israel in this Parliament and speak up for strong relations between Australia and Israel, including highlighting when the UN provides imbalanced resolutions against Israel, and not other countries.
One of my key priorities since being elected has been continuing to build on my connections within the Jewish community. I want to ensure that I stand and speak for your priorities.
It has been a pleasure visiting many of the incredible Jewish organisations over the past few months, including the Friendship Circle’s annual community inclusion walk, Central Synagogue’s anniversary gala, the Alte Zagen group, and Wolper Jewish Hospital.
In the next couple of months, I’ll be out at Kids Giving Back, Jewish House, and Emanuel Synagogue – as well as many more Jewish community events.
Finally, many of the other issues I have been championing in Parliament are very important to the Jewish community. These include strong action on housing affordability, particularly to support young people getting into the housing market and housing for key workers, climate action including helping households to reduce their power bills by adopting solar and batteries, support for women through extending paid parental leave, increasing our humanitarian intake of refugees, and driving economic dynamism through advocating for tax reform and for greater spending accountability and integrity.
I extend my warmest Shana Tova and G’mar Chatima Tova to you all, I want to reaffirm my commitment to our community’s wellbeing and the shared values that bind us together. These High Holy Days serve as a reminder of the importance of unity, reflection and renewal, values that resonate with all Australians, regardless of our background.
Allegra Spender is the Member for Wentworth.