Yael Winikoff talks about Laila El-Haddad’s Australian visit, and the AJDS

i Mar 21st 2017

AJDS Community Organiser, Yael Winikoff, was recently interviewed by Veronica Matheson on J-Air about Laila El-Haddad’s imminent Australian tour and why the AJDS decided to bring her out here.

The AJDS is committed to broadening and invigorating the dialog between Jews and Palestinians, said Yael, educating people about the living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza, and examining one thing we can all relate to, which is how our food culture represents us. Gaza has a unique history, given its geographical position, on the crossroads of Africa and the Middle East, astride the Mediterranean sea. It is one of the most overpopulated regions on earth, and its inhabitants have been living under conditions of war and military siege for years. Yet chef and writer Laila El-Haddad has been active curating and sharing with the world the food traditions and practices that have successfully sustained people there despite these harsh conditions. We are very excited to learn more from her about life, food, motherhood, and politics in Gaza.

Over April 2017 El-Haddad will be giving cooking demonstrations, talks, as well as speaking to local media, about her lifelong passion for Palestinian food and her intimate knowledge of Gazan cuisine. She’ll be visiting Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide, so check out this page for more details on events near you. Tickets to the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival event in Footscray on April 6th are almost sold out – be quick!

Click here to listen to the interview on J-Air.

Palestinian fishermen in the Gaza seaport, April 2016.

Palestinian fishermen display their catch in Gaza’s seaport in April 2016. Ashraf Amra APA images. Found here.


Gen17: Monash university’s survey of the Jewish population of Australia and New Zealand

i Mar 2nd 2017

I just completed the Gen17 survey, which follows Gen08, Monash University’s first iteration of this survey of Jews in New Zealand and Australia. Let me say first off that I am a fan of surveys, not because I believe in their ability to translate lived experience into accurate data – since there’s always a compromise. But surveys remain an interesting experiment in capturing and representing information, always revealing as much about their author as about the respondents. This one took a long time to complete, but it made me think positively about different kinds of Jewishness and the changes taking place in Jewish communities worldwide.

A rather lengthy section on participation in Jewish schools is followed by more interesting one on identity. Some questions have complicated semantic issues. For instance, halfway through I was asked, In the LAST 12 MONTHS, have you personally witnessed any of the following types of antisemitic incidents in Australia? It made me acknowledge that the Left is often accused of being anti-Semitic for opposing Israeli actions. Does this count as an antisemitic incident? Probably not in the eyes of those who’ll analyse the data. Also, for someone who spent the first 15 years of her life in Israel, other questions seemed tricky to answer accurately. What kind of engagement have I had with Jewish youth movements? Well, for most Jewish kids growing up in Israel, every group engagement is exclusively Jewish.

Nonetheless, Gen17 is comprehensive and well put together in an easily accessible online form. Share the link around. Looking forward to the data analysis reports!


Colleen Hartland and Nina Springle talk to the AJDS at the 2017 Annual General Meeting

i Feb 28th 2017

The recent AJDS Annual General Meeting (26/2/17) generously hosted by Sivan Barak was attended by MPs Colleen Hartland and Nina Springle of the Greens, who kindly joined our lunch and told us about their portfolios and experience with Australian Jewish community politics, tackling racism and Islamophobia in our communities, the diversity of opinion within the Greens and the challenges they face moving forward into a very different political reality signaled in part by Donald Trump’s election in the US.

The conversation encouraged us to continue to pursue opportunities for collaboration. To continue the conversation get in touch with:

Nina Springle M.P., Member for South Eastern Metropolitan

03-9584 4013 / /

Read Nina’s inaugural speech, 10/2/15.


Sylvie Leber’s speech at the anti-Netanyahu protest in Melbourne, 19/2/17

i Feb 28th 2017

Sylvie Leber, having just returned from a study tour of the Middle East, spoke at the protest against Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Australia this month. Here is the full transcript, republished with her permission:

The reason I’m here speaking to you today is to let you know that as an Australian Jew, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, does not speak for me or in any way represent me. There are many Jews in Melbourne and elsewhere around the world who feel the same way.

I am an Ashkenazi Jew, born in France of French parents and East European grandparents, three of whom were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

I’ve never felt or believed that as a Jew I should feel connected to Israel or need to visit it, live there or donate money to it. For me Judaism is not a nationality: it’s my ethnicity and culture. From what I’ve seen and learnt in life, nationalism has been a precursor to war and conflict. A favourite slogan of mine is:
“Nationalism teaches you to take pride in shit you haven’t done and hate people you you’ve never met” (excuse the language).

But recently I decided I must finally see for myself what is happening in a part of the world that has had one of the longest standing conflicts, and so this year I went on a study tour of Israel/Palestine, organised by the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network (APAN).

We visited a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, then travelled to East Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nazareth, Nablus and Jordan Valley. We couldn’t get permits to visit Gaza (surprise, surprise).

It was an interesting, powerful and at times a quite disturbing experience. We met many Palestinians. They were refugees, activists, business people, community workers, lawyers, teachers and of course tourism and hospitality workers. If I spent any length of time in conversation with a Palestinian I was eventually open about being Jewish. I was blown away that NOT ONCE did I ever feel a hint of hatred or racism towards myself or other Jews.

Other people we met included Australian consular staff, a young former Israeli army conscript turned anti-demolition activist, Bedouin activists and an acclaimed local British journalist.

We met a Christian Arabic family: they were shopkeepers that had previously run a guest house next door. They told of how they were frequently raided in the early hours of the morning during the time the Wall was being built just across the street from their home. The Wall immediately separated members of this family from each other. Common stories we heard were about army raids while people slept, and families and spouses separated by the Wall.

I saw countless destroyed Palestinian villages with piles of rubble left behind. It is said if you see cactus growing where there is nothing, it was probably the former location of Palestinian villages. We saw lots of tough cacti growing amid the rubble. Bulletholes were to be seen often. I saw empty tear gas canisters and other used weaponry near the Wall. I often felt I was in a war zone and finally understood why all my friends and family said “stay safe” before I left Australia.

Palestinian villages were distinguished from Jewish settlements by the black water tanks on the roof of their houses as there was constant uncertainty of water being cut off. Jewish settlements were well serviced and often had ‘Jewish people only’ roads leading to them not only for ‘security’ reasons but so that they could escape the traffic jams.

We were regularly stopped by soldiers and police while driving to different locations and then there were the checkpoints everywhere. Traffic was regularly held up. One day there were dozens of military buses and police vans with sirens and flashing lights which I later found out were heading towards a Palestinian village which was being demolished illegally by the authorities and where the residents were protesting and resisting.

Perhaps the most shocking thing I saw was in the most peaceful of places, Old Jerusalem, where a young Jewish couple (he was wearing a skull-cap or yarmulke) were wheeling their baby in a pram. The man, a civilian, was wearing a machine gun over his shoulder. I later found out Jewish settlers were easily able to get permits to carry weapons.

The very complicated political history and current administrative regime, walls and borders (with the A, B and C sections), demolitions programs, illegal settlements and permit systems of the region is complex, weird to the point of resembling futuristic science fiction beyond my grasp. I won’t attempt to analyse or comment on it except to say that it seems to be intentionally humiliating, oppressive and racist against Palestinians, Israeli Arabs and Bedouins, and is spiralling out of control. This intensification and escalation is being orchestrated by Netanyahu’s regime.

On a positive note, I was struck by the beauty and richness of the Palestinian culture, their dance, music, art and crafts, poetry and the strong focus on education. This was particularly highlighted in the refugee camps where people lived in the toughest of circumstances, severe overcrowding, electricity regularly cut off, no jobs and the lack of enough medical and education services which we take for granted here.
I was struck by how resilient most Palestinians were under the circumstances. The major problem for Palestinians though, from what I saw and heard, is that their political organisations are dis-organised and not united.

One Palestinian activist when asked if she held out any hope for a peaceful solution said that her hope was there, but that it was frozen for now.

My frozen hope melted a little this week when for the first time for the Australian Jewish community, the official body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) criticised Netanyahu for the illegal demolitions and destruction of Palestinian-owned homes and agricultural land and the building of 4000 new settler homes. Saying it was ‘troubling’ and ‘counterproductive’ and hopefully that the legislation will be overturned in Israel’s supreme court to show that it’s democracy is still alive. This was reported in the Australian Jewish News, a pro-Zionist newspaper that rarely approves of any criticism of the Israeli government.

I think the only thing that will work eventually is a Binational Democracy where Israel is no longer a Jewish state but a multi-cultural one and which must include the displaced Palestinian refugees right of return to their former homes. You may say I’m idealistic but I think it’s the only way Justice and Peace will prevail.


Netanyahu comes to Australia amidst protests from the Australian Jewish community – media release 20/2/17

i Feb 21st 2017

The Israeli Prime Minister is due to arrive in Australia on Wednesday 22nd at the invitation of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.  Despite the strong support that the Australian government has given the current Israeli government, there is growing concern and condemnation of Israel’s actions under Netanyahu.

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) endorsed and spoke at a protest, ‘Melbourne says no to Netanyahu,’ organised by a Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid and held in Melbourne on Sunday February 19th.  The AJDS is particularly concerned with the rising shift in right wing, anti-democratic policies, and recurrent human rights violations committed by Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership.

Most recently, there has been a record-breaking increase in the demolition of Palestinian and Bedouin houses and villages, as well as the passing of the Expropriation Bill which retroactively claimed some 4,000 Palestinian houses and permitted increased settlement building, despite international condemnation of the settlements as a clear barrier to peace.

Netanyahu has declared that there will be no Palestinian State and refused to engage in negotiations for peace, while enacting policies that further dispossess Palestinians of their land and basic freedoms.

Dr Jordy Silverstein, AJDS executive member, says:

“The Israel that Netanyahu has furthered is not one that represents Jewish or democratic values: it moves Palestinians and Israelis further away from achieving justice and peace. As a result, increasing numbers of Jewish people worldwide are standing up in opposition to the policies and practices of Netanyahu and his governmental coalition.”

In one example, a petition titled ‘Jewish Australians say no to Netanyahu’, initiated by a diverse group of Australian Jews, has been signed by over 600 Australian Jews and their supporters, with many commenting on their disappointment, as Jews, in the actions of the State of Israel under Netanyahu.   The petition draws attention to increased demolitions, the two wars in Gaza, the corruption charges that Netanyahu is currently under criminal investigation for, and Netanyahu’s blind support for President Trump despite the climate of antisemitism that he is invoking.


Israel’s expropriation bill and the response from AIJAC and ECAJ

i Feb 15th 2017
expropriation bill enables the expansion of illegal settlements

The expropriation bill enables the expansion of illegal settlements. Illustration photo by Eddie Gerald/ Getty Images.

On the 6th of February, late in the evening, the Israeli Knesset passed a bill 60-52 termed the “Regularization Law” or ‘expropriation bill’. The bill retroactively legalises some 4,000 homes in 16 Israeli settlements in Area C of the West Bank that are on private Palestinian land.  According to the bill, the land on which the residencies are built will remain that of the legal owner, but their usage will be expropriated by the State.  Compensation will also be made to landowners, regardless of whether Palestinian landowners wish to sell or not.

This bill follows a recent surge in approval of settlement construction, with Prime Minister Netanyahu announcing the approval of immediate construction of 300 housing units in the West Bank settlement of Beit El, as well as moving forward with the planning of 500 new housing units in Jewish neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem over the past couple of months.

The expropriation bill has been so controversial that a number of peak Australian Jewish bodies and organisations have publicly condemned and denounced it.  The youth group Hashomer Hatzair released a statement the day following the passing of the bill, in which they denounced the bill and stated: “We are ashamed and disgraced by these actions, which will inevitably strengthen the illegal and unethical occupation of the West Bank. The act of expropriating Palestinian land only adds to the wider institutionalised injustices faced by these people at the hands of the far right Israeli government. The very nature of creating two different sets of laws for different peoples violates the basic principles of democracy.”  The statement was also supported by Habonim.

In an apparent shift in Australian Jewish sentiment towards Israel, AIJAC and ECAJ also released statements condemning the bill.  Although the status quo likes to portray Australian Jewry as strongly unified in its Zionist sentiments and support of Israel, to the extent where any criticism of Israel is strongly decried and made to be marginalised, perhaps this time the Israeli government has pushed it too far.  Or perhaps there is a shift in the political landscape of Australian Jewish communities and their relationship to Israel.

Whilst we agree with and commend the condemnation of the Regularization Law by AIJAC and ECAJ, both of these bodies also expressed very clearly that this condemnation in no way suggested that Israel’s policy of settlements in the occupied territories are the key barriers to peace.  AIJAC clearly wrote: “The biggest barrier to peace at the moment is the Palestinian refusal to negotiate.” ECAJ echoed the same sentiments claiming that the bill will serve to “feed(ing) the false narrative that settlements are the primary reason for the absence of peace and will provide the Palestinians a further excuse to keep avoiding a return to direct negotiations with Israel.” In essence these statements condemn the extreme aspects of settlement activity whilst maintaining that settlements aren’t in fact a key issue in the conflict.   More alarmingly, they place the inability to achieve peace directly on the Palestinian refusal to negotiate.  In the most recent context of the Middle East peace talks in Paris, Netanyahu was very clear in his refusal to participate in these negotiations.  The Prime Minister has on numerous occasions showed his lack of willingness to engage in peace negotiations, including his pre-election promise that if elected there would be no Palestinian state.  Polls of Israeli citizens indicate that many have lost faith in the Netanyahu government’s intention of negotiations.

Downplaying the role that settlements play as an obstacle to peace, AIJAC make the claim that they comprise 2% of the land in Israel.  This fact ignores the reality that almost 10% of the West Bank is included in the jurisdiction of the settlements municipal area, as well as an additional 34% or so of the West Bank which is under the jurisdiction of the settlements’ “Regional Councils,” all of which is off limits to Palestinians. [1]  On top of this, Israel has taken hundreds of kilometres of the West Bank to build roads that access the settlements which further divides the West Bank and restrains the movement of Palestinians throughout the West Bank, and exacerbates the violence and militarisation in the West Bank.

We should not issue condemnations of Israel’s more extreme policies while continuing to downplay Israel’s role in the ongoing violence and tension.  The bill should be condemned for the brazen continuation of Israeli policy of occupation and settlement expansion which appropriates Palestinian land, dispossess Palestinians from their land and has in effect abandoned a negotiated two state solution which organisations like ECAJ and AIJAC are quick to blame the Palestinians for.