“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


New/Old members of the AJDS

i Jul 10th 2015

I asked two of our members to answer 10 questions that were compiled as a way of introducing ourselves to one another. But I was also wondering about the importance of representing different kinds of Jewishness, the evolution of the AJDS, the current political atmosphere in Australia and the continuing restrictions on human mobility here and elsewhere.

You too can take part in this impromptu survey by clicking here. Your answers will be anonymous.

 Liz Brumer
Leon Midalia
1. Where do you call home?My home is where my values are being shared and affirmed.Home for me is Melbourne {Toorak} but
2. What are you passionate about?I am passionate about reconciliation and social justice.I have spent about 40 years in Perth . 40 years in Melbourne and sundry in Israel or other.
3. What is your favourite avenue for expression?Exploring common humanity.I like to spend time in U3A, and AJDS Also the Humanists and the Eccentrics. I also have a close friend who lives in Port Philip so I frequently travel there
4. How do you practice progressive values in your everyday life?I practice progressive values in every day life by not allowing conservative belief systems and cultural constructs to dominate my thinking.I like to express my thoughts with all of the above as well as at coffee sessions and dinner with friends.
5. Name someone who has changed the way you think.Gandhi has changed the way I think through his philosophy “change starts with me”.My outlook on life dates back to teenage times and I recall wistfully on my history teacher Mr Staples who impressed on me the need to think for myself. Also I felt very close to my brother, Max who was a Rationalist.
6. Describe something you do that you consider Jewish.I take non Jews for a synagogue experience.Well I love to make Gefilte fish so I guess that makes me a "Bauch Yid".
7. Have you or your close family ever experienced restrictions on your freedom of movement?My parents were victims of the holocaust. As a result, they encouraged me to ignore my Jewish heritage, but at the same time, they emphasised how I should embrace Judaism. For example, they wanted me to marry a Jewish man. This dilemma has created an enormous internal conflict throughout my life.No.
8. What is your relationship with Israel?Israel to me is like a family, I love it but I don’t accept her bad behaviour.I guess you would say it is a very complex, mixed relationship.I spent nearly 2 years on a Kibbutz and my family go way back to the Biluim and the NILI. My parents were born and raised in Zichron Yaacov and Castina.
9. Are you politically active outside the AJDS?Yes, I do attend protests and I am involved in indigenous reconciliation activities and strongly oppose any abuse of human rights.See no.3 above.
10. Are there ways in which you would like to contribute more, or wish to be more engaged with other members?I would love to assist in practical ways and engage in the planning of events when required as part of my desire to support the mission of this organization. Thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to share myself with AJDS and look forward to our future engagement.Both socially and at stimulating functions. Preferably in day time as I dont like driving at night. [The issue most dear to me is] is a just peace between Israel and Palestine.
The edelweiss, a symbol of my mother's world before she left Vienna.

The edelweiss, a symbol of my mother's world before she left Vienna.

Want to find out more about the AJDS? Read out About page or listen to key members interviewed as part of the AJDS’ Oral History Project.


Vale Steve Brook, our comrade

i Aug 19th 2014


Steve Brook passed away on  Wednesday, 13 August  2014, less than fortnight after his 80th birthday.  Steve was one of the founding members of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) in 1984. He served for many years on its committee and then on its executive until his semi-retirement in 2011 (Steve never retired fully from anything).

But it was writing which was his call and he made an enormous contribution as a member of Editorial Committee of the AJDS newsletter, chief proofreader, stylist, and regular contributor. Editors from The Age to The Australian and of course the Australian Jewish News also appreciated his writing skills and wit, frequently publishing his letters. He was a comrade in the best sense of the word and wonderful friend to many.

Steve was born in the East End of London and came to Australia as a 10 pound Pom where he trained as a compositor. He ended up working for Rupert Murdoch’s Australian Newspaper; even had his hand shaken by the big boss himself.

Steve was able to talk about the Black Shirts in the East End of London based on his own childhood experiences, life in Poland in the 1960s and a million other things, including the early years and conflicts of 3CR radio, printing, Indonesian politics, and bad taste movies.

Owing to his literary and historical talents, his writing, journalism, and biographical reflection was a significant source of documentation of the Jewish left in Australia and its international connections from outside academia and from the point of view of a non-ideological, humanist insider. He gained a Master of Arts in Indonesian studies from Monash University in Melbourne and also worked as a public servant for many years surrounded by internecine Trotskyist warfare. He also possessed a vast and unparalleled collection of kitsch and political propaganda.

To quote an article about him in the London Jewish Chronicle, he said that “other Jewish kids of my age in London wanted to be engine drivers or Israeli military heroes. As a young fan of H G Well’s science fiction, I thought it would be nice to be a writer and have all those girls running after me.”

His account of time spent with the English language service of Polish Radio (1966-1974) (in Strawberries with Everything) was a sympathetic, but not uncritical look at Poland under Soviet hegemony where ‘socialism with a human face’ was attempted. It also included the Polish cultural scene in the 1960s and 1970s and the political use of antisemitism in Poland. It is worth quoting Steve’s own blurb for the book because it was so well-written and self-deprecating:

Strawberries with Everything brings a new tone to political memoirs. How did a nice Jewish boy finish up in a place like Poland? In sometimes hilarious detail, Steve Brook describes his early years in prewar London, the emigration of his family to Australia, and his eventual Aussification. While still in his teens, he gets a heavy dose of Left politics. After a holiday in Poland, via London, he is offered a job at the Polish Radio in Warsaw. He spends eight years on the wrong side in the Cold War, with a ringside seat at some of the most significant events in European history including the Warsaw Dog Show, the ‘anti-Zionist’ uproar of 1968 and the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia the same year. He returns to Australia in 1974 and after numerous Candide-like adventures, he finds himself wondering if it was all worthwhile. Of course it was.”

He also established the Yarra Bank Show on 3CR Community Radio, under the banner of Paths to Peace, an organisation/publication started by Norman & Evelyn Rothfield which preceded the AJDS. This was a significant achievement at a time when there was substantial opposition to reasoned discussion on the Israel/Palestine issue on both the left and the right.  3CR politics were robust, and in his own style Steve conducted a battle against the forces of unreason at the station, with brilliant spoof leaflets of Maoist propaganda.  A high point for him was the graffiti on the wall:

steve brook 1994

Taken from the Australian Jewish Democrat, 4/4, Summer 1994


from which he also absorbed a valuable lesson about the importance of diligent proofreading.

Later his talent diversified even more. He was a prolific member of the AJDS committee coming up with enough ideas to fill not one newsletter each month but two or three. Often these ideas related to his own experiences. He hated anything that reminded him of the subtle and not so subtle antisemitism he experienced in Poland.  So anything from the Hamas Charter to mad right-wing Christians was subjected to his ire. Sol Salbe who edited the AJDS Newsletter for most of the previous decade says that the newsletter was impossible to put together without Steve. “One time Steve was in Bali on holidays and it took three people to carry on his work. He knew how to explain things; how to improve a rough translation. On more than one occasion he tried to improve on translating a passage in the Bible.”

bookAnd then there were his books. Steve’s fiction and nonfiction publishing was prolific.  His books included:

McQuail: A Likely Story (2003)

Bali Sugar: A Tale of Tropical Love, God and Politicking (2004)

Strawberries with Everything: a Polish Odyssey 1967-1974 (2005)

Now Hit Enter! (2009)

For Sam. A Fantasy in Three or So Acts (2009)

Death by Teatowel (2011)

Smash the White Eagle (2013)


You can read more about Steve on his own blog:

Steve’s sister Rena died last year.  He is survived by his wife, friend and political partner  Meni Christofakis, a niece and her two children, Steve’s Odd Daughter & tornado boy, and two cousins.


Written by Sol Salbe and Larry Stillman

The 4th Renate Kamener Oration with James Button

i Jul 1st 2013

TOPIC: Do Traditional Political Parties Have a Future?

With James Button,
Former Age Journalist &
Author of: “Speechless: A Year in My Father’s Business”

$15 admission, students $10

All proceeds will go towards supporting the:
Renate Kamener Scholarship for Indigenous students
at Ormond College at the University of Melbourne.

Additional donations welcomed.

For further enquiries, please contact:
AJDS Community Organiser – Max Kaiser at or 0423.234.069.

The Renate Kamener Oration is organised by the Kamener family and the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS).

Thanks to all that attended this event. Some event photos may be found here: