australian viewpoint

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.


Statement about One Nation coming to Caulfield

i Nov 25th 2016

As many would be aware, One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts will be coming to Caulfield to spruik their divisive and racist politics to the Jewish community. Along with many others in the Jewish community, AJDS stands firmly opposed to the ideas which they put forward, standing instead for principles and practices of inclusion, diversity, and real, substantial multiculturalism.

When they hold their meeting at a gym on December 4th, AJDS will stand together with many others out the front, making clear that we oppose the hatred and fear which One Nation – like other white supremacist groups internationally – foster in our society. We look forward to taking this opportunity to stand alongside many others in order to celebrate the community which we want to build: one which makes no space for racist thought or speech, but which recognises that racist and anti-immigrant statements have a lot of purchase throughout the country. This is historically true and remains true today. It is only through collective action – through fostering and celebrating movements for justice and peace – that a non-racist future can be produced.

Come join us, as we stand united with fellow Jews, Muslims, Aboriginal people, women, queers, and others, to loudly proclaim that racism, fear, and hate are not welcome in our community.


This statement was issued 25/11/16.

You can follow updates about the demonstration against One Nation here.


“Israel is moving to the Right but we don’t have to follow”

i Jul 21st 2016

By Yael Winikoff, Sivan Barak and Linda Briskman. In New Matilda, 20/7/16.

new matilda, lieberman

The far Right: Avigdor Lieberman.

The Jewish community in Melbourne is known for its unconditional support of Israel, but as Israel increasingly shifts to the far right, are we too going down that path?

Israel’s shift to the extreme right in policies and public sentiments even prompted public figures in the top echelons of its military and political institutions to speak out. Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned of “seeds of fascism” in Israel’s current government, while former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon drew comparisons to 1930s Germany.  Following the latter’s resignation, ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman has been appointed Defence Minister.

Attacks on democratic principles and demonisation of human rights groups is clearly illustrated in Israel’s non-government organisation (NGO) bill requiring all Israeli NGOs receiving funding from international governments to detail their finances online. The bill targets human rights NGOs who are most likely to receive funding from international governments, not right-wing and settler organisations, who tend to receive funding from private sources overseas.

Recent events in Melbourne have been alarming in echoing similar tendencies. First, the attack on the play ‘Tales of a city by the Sea’ and the campaign to remove it from the VCE drama studies syllabus. The play, by Palestinian Samah Sabawi, which depicts a love story in Gaza, was called into question by the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC), who demanded its removal from the VCE curriculum.

Dvir Abramovich, ADC chair, accused the play of portraying Israel as a “blood-thirsty, evil war-machine.” Playwright Sabawi wrote in response: “What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”

Calling for an apology, Sabawi continued to assert that “Anti-Semitism must always be taken seriously. False claims of anti-Semitism used to drive political agendas only trivialise and undermine our fight and resolve to eradicate it and other forms of racism.”

Within weeks another controversy erupted, calling into question the value of free speech and marginalisation in the Jewish community. This was splayed over the Australian Jewish News and across social media. Professor Bassam Dally, an Adelaide academic, was disinvited from Limmud Oz, a festival of Jewish ideas at the end of June featuring speakers on a range of topics relevant to the Jewish community. Dally was scheduled to engage in conversation in a joint session with Sivan Barak from the Australian Jewish Democratic Society entitled “Fighting for coexistence”. The session went ahead without Dally, with a one-sided dialogue highlighting how not to fight for coexistence.

The policy stance that Limmud Oz maintains alleges to a double standard of Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions proponents, who would take platform at a Jewish event but deny the reciprocation of this through the strategy of sanctions. The very act of wanting to speak at Limmud Oz and engage with the Jewish community reflects the opposite: that BDS activists are willing to engage with Zionist and Jewish dialogue, not to shut it down.

Dally told the Jewish News that “The session was never intended to be about BDS and, therefore, the organisers are deciding not only what, but who, their audience may be permitted to hear – in my case, an Israeli citizen of Palestinian heritage.” The very conversations which need to occur for any progress of both Palestinian and Jewish Israeli self-determination are being censored and stifled by fragments of the Jewish community.

A recent poll in the Jewish News revealed an overwhelming majority believe people who call for a boycott of Israel should be allowed to speak at Jewish events. This is an inspiring reflection of the open mindedness of the Jewish community at large but Jewish institutions such as Limmud Oz and various associated Zionist organisations are not echoing this.

Zionism Victoria President Sharene Hambur spoke in support of Limmud Oz’s decision. “BDS does nothing to foster coexistence or a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but rather is designed to isolate Israel economically, academically and socially in an effort to destroy it,” he said.

While Limmud Oz and its supporters would have you believe BDS is about the eradication of Israel, the BDS movement’s principal aims don’t attest to that. BDS’s call for equality inherently implies the rights of Israelis, yet it has been misconstrued to a call for destruction of Israel. We believe this is to counter attack the BDS movement, and silence anyone associated with it.

While most in the Jewish community in Melbourne would like to see progress towards a peaceful solution to the “Israel Palestine conflict,” one wonders how we are to move towards this goal when Palestinian voices are increasingly being marginalised and silenced. And it’s an absolute shame, because the wisdom, compassion and vision articulated by these two Palestinians is something that every Jewish person concerned with the fate of Israel should be encouraged, let alone allowed, to hear.

Originally published in New Matilda


Statement about accusations of anti-Semitism in the Greens

i Jun 23rd 2016

The AJDS issued a statement 11/06/16 critical of the decision by Stephanie Hodgins-May, Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports, to pull out of the Zionist Victoria event. We stated: “we feel that it’s important that local candidates be prepared to address and engage with audiences in their electorate.”

Whilst this move by Stephanie has been hurtful to some in the Jewish community, the uproar following her decision has been highly inflated and overly accusatory, with allegations from the Jewish community both in the media labelling Stephanie and the Greens anti-Semitic.
AJDS does not associate itself with this canard. We want to reiterate that the AJDS statement was in no way meant to insinuate any labelling of Stephanie or the Greens as anti-Semitic. The term “anti-Semitic” is thrown around much too freely.

There is no evidence that the Australian Greens or any of their representatives are anti-Semitic. There appears to be a confusion (sometimes deliberate), between the political views of Greens on the Israel-Palestine conflict and the impression that these views are anti-Semitic. In fact, the views taken by Greens on issues such as the Occupation or a two-state solution are by and large, those taken by members of the Israeli left, including support for two, legitimate states (see their policy statement here). Such views are in fact also supported by members of the Labor Party and supporters of Palestinian rights are even found in the Coalition.

Regrettably, Michael Danby has used Hodgins-May’s action for his own political agenda, which tries to wedge the Jewish community by creating a climate of fear of “Green” anti-Semitism.

In a statement released by Danby (9/6) he claimed; “The Greens boycott of the Jewish community shows their deep and intractable antagonism towards the Australian Jewish community.” Danby has also been caught handing out how to vote cards that preference the Liberal candidate for Melbourne Ports ahead of the Greens, defying his party’s National Executive (SMH 16/6).
Stephanie has responded to the controversy that she is in fact willing to be involved with the Jewish community, stating that she has accepted numerous invitations from Jewish community groups, including AUJS, Habonim, Mt Scopus and Jews for Refugees.

This indeed shows her willingness to engage with the needs and concerns of the Jewish community at large, and that she took particular offence at generalized views put out by Zionism Victoria about the UN, a body which she has worked for in the past.

While we stay out of election politics and do not endorse or promote any particular party or candidate, we believe that the Greens should not be dismissed by politically inflated accusations that they are anti-Semitic, and reiterate from our original statement that the issue has been “drawing attention away from the important local and national policies on which this election should be decided.”


Statement about the Greens withdrawal from candidates forum

i Jun 11th 2016
Greens VS Zionism Victoria

Stephanie Hodgins-May’s campaign poster. Image found here.

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) is disappointed that Greens candidate for Melbourne Ports, Stephanie Hodgins-May, has decided to withdraw from the candidates forum organised by the Australian Jewish News and Zionism Victoria (ZV). While Hodgins-May may disagree with the politics of these groups – she has specifically mentioned ZV’s attitude towards the United Nations as the basis for her withdrawal – we feel that it’s important that local candidates be prepared to address and engage with audiences in their electorate. Her decision to withdraw has the very real possibility of drawing attention away from the important local and national policies on which this election should be decided, which is a disservice to the electorate.

This statement was issued by the AJDS June 11, 2016


AJDS Statement about Limmud Oz

i Jun 5th 2016

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) is deeply disappointed that the organising committee of Limmud Oz 2016 has decided that the invitation extended to Bassam Dally – who was to speak with Sivan Barak (a member of the Executive of the AJDS) in a conversation entitled “Fighting for Coexistence” should be withdrawn. While the organisers claim that the programming policy enables them to ban Bassam from speaking, we believe that this decision represents a hopeless and shameful misstep and should be reversed.

Limmud Oz makes a claim to being a space for broad discussion, dialogue, and challenging conversations. Yet, in deciding that Bassam is not allowed to speak they have effectively applied a very specific and limited litmus test to one speaker. Indeed, this test demonstrates a deep disrespect for the intelligence of the attendees of Limmud Oz and the Jewish community, and shows the organisers to be out of step with where the community is headed. It beggars belief that the organisers truly believe that talking with a Palestinian who also supports the principles of BDS will harm the community. Indeed, a current poll in the right-leaning Australian Jewish News shows considerable support for hearing the views of BDS supporters at Jewish events. Jews of all ideological persuasions want the right to judge for themselves.

In any case, Bassam and Sivan’s session did not plan to touch on BDS in any way. Ironically, it was to be a session about dialogue and coexistence. The possibility of these seem distant when this session, and likely one of the sole Palestinian voices at the Conference, can be swiftly silenced by invoking the BDS bogeyman. At the same time, the organisers thought it appropriate to include in the program a talk with the antagonistic and loaded title, “ The BDS Movement and the Demonisation of Jewish Supporters of Israel.”

Barring people from a conference because they promote a strategy of non-violence as a response to decades of violence is extremely counter-productive. Such censorship limits the already miniscule number of Palestinian voices that mainstream Jews hear. It is also out of step with the increasing support at home and worldwide from Jews themselves.

Moreover, if the reports are accurate that Limmud Oz’s funding was threatened if Bassam had participated, then we worry about the place of donor funding in the community. Surely, as a community, we should be striving to make spaces for the most challenging and demanding conversations, not allowing financial imperatives to close them off.

The Jewish community in Melbourne, and throughout Australia, would benefit immeasurably from talking more, and more openly, with Palestinians. We have much to learn. Sadly, it would seem that the organisers of Limmud Oz are intent on ensuring that this will be made more difficult.

The AJDS calls on Limmud Oz to reverse their decision, and to ensure that future programs are not tainted by this restriction on the sharing of knowledge and open conversation. Our Jewish community will be richer for it.


This statement was written by the AJDS Executive Committee, June 5, 2016


Gaza play director, Samah Sabawi, demands an unequivocal apology

i Jun 3rd 2016

‘Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a play about Gaza, which tells of a love story set amid war and siege, remains on the VCE curriculum despite accusations it spreads anti-semitism. “It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art” wrote Samah Sabawi in the Age, adding, “This is wrong on so many levels.”

“What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.”

In this Monday, Feb. 15, 2016 photo, Palestinian women sift through used clothing at the weekly flea market in Nusseirat refugee camp, central Gaza Strip. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Palestinian women sorting used clothing at the Nusseirat flea market in central Gaza, February 15 2016. There are few other income sources for women in the Strip. Image found here.

Read the rest of “Vision of everyday life in Palestine too bleak for some” by Sabawi.

Read an earlier post about the vicious accusations and call for withdrawal of the play from the VCE curriculum.

The Anti-Defamation Commission’s chair will be speaking at Limmud Oz this month, about the subject of bigotry.