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A troubling trend: the mainstreaming of the Australian Jewish Association

The Jewish Independent
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Published: 10 May 2022

Last updated: 4 March 2024

The media dissects candidates but has given the AJA – a far-right, unrepresentative group opposed to the two-state solution – a free pass to mainstream credibility

THIS ELECTION CAMPAIGN has shone an intense spotlight on the Jewish community like few before. Candidate and media attacks about BDS, allegiance to Israel and antisemitism have been as fierce as they have been frequent.

While the conflict generated by these skirmishes will most likely fade after May 21, a more troubling byproduct, with a greater horizon, has taken root almost unnoticed.

It is the mainstreaming of the Australian Jewish Association.

During the past six weeks, national media outlets across the political spectrum have quoted the AJA prominently and frequently through the election campaign. The AJA has appeared next to, and sometimes ahead of, recognised community leadership bodies such as the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and the Zionist federation of Australia (ZFA).

The AJA has no standing as a representative body and does not represent the views of the majority of Australian Jews. Perhaps its name, which includes the word association, has implied to other media that it somehow represents a broader grouping of Jewish community interests.

But let’s be clear. It is a private advocacy group, formed some five years ago, whose policies and views place it on the far-right of the political spectrum in relation to the Middle East and public debate. The AJA does not support a two-state solution in the Middle East.

It does not recognise the right of Palestinians to have their own state. Its mission statement says “the land of Israel includes the biblical Jewish homelands of Judea and Samaria”. That is settler speak for the occupied territories.

As Philip Mendes pointed out in a recent article, the AJA president David Adler has argued that “most Palestinians (or at least their leaders) are aligned with terrorist activities”, a point which the AJA’s Director of Public Affairs, Robert Gregory, emphasised in an article responding to Mendes.

Media outlets have given the AJA an equivalent weight to recognised community bodies by quoting it in the same articles - without accurately describing what sort of political group it is.

The AJA has also described the ALP as having as having “embraced Palestinian terror”, and shared a photo on Twitter overlaying the ABC logo with a hammer and sickle.

Its far-right values have been transparent since its formation five years ago. When the AJA hosted a forum on the NSW State election in March 2019, it chose to invite, among members of other political parties, representatives of small right-wing parties such as Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Australian Conservatives.

Moreover, the AJA is not affiliated with either of the NSW or Victorian community roof bodies, the JBD or JCCV, and is not recognised by the ECAJ or ZFA. When The Jewish Independent published a lengthy article on the AJA in 2021, neither of the national bodies was prepared to offer a comment about it.

Yet over the past six weeks the AJA has been quoted prominently on election issues by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian, and in January featured on the Facebook page of the independent candidate for Wentworth, Allegra Spender – without any explicit acknowledgement of its political character. These references grew out of its contribution to the Sydney Festival BDS boycott debate, when it was quoted by the SMH and interviewed by Sydney radio station 2GB.

Here are some of the election references:

April 8 (The Australian)

‘Independent Zoe Daniel’s campaign organisers compare Scott Morrison to Hitler’

Bottom of story: The Voices of Goldstein Community Group is also rife with anti-Israel sentiment on Facebook. One member described the Australian Jewish Association as “far right-wing nutters” and “outright fascists”.

April 9 (SMH)

‘Jewish community ‘split’ in Wentworth as Spender lays claim to seat’s values’

Opening paragraph: “A surprising proportion of Jewish voters are backing Allegra Spender in Wentworth, says Australian Jewish Association president David Adler, who gave the independent candidate his tick of approval amid criticism of the broader Climate 200 movement.

In the third paragraph, the article describes Adler as “conservative”.

April 12 (SMH)

‘AJA is apolitical’ (letter to the editor)

A letter written by David Adler, following the SMH story on April 9, including the following: “AJA does not endorse any political party or candidate, and nor do I. We discuss issues of concern to the Jewish community and regarding Israel with a broad range of politicians and candidates.”

April 29 (The Australian)

‘Anthony Albanese ‘regrets Nazi reference’ from 2001’

“Head of the Australian Jewish Association David Adler said that it was disappointing that politicians still used Holocaust references in political debate and that it was time for it to stop.”

On January 25, Allegra Spender posted on her Facebook page: “Thanks David Adler, President of the AJA, for your time earlier in the week. It was really valuable to hear concerns about the community, including the current BDS boycott and antisemitism.”

Independent candidate for Wentworth, Allegra Spender, with David Adler, in January (Facebook)
Independent candidate for Wentworth, Allegra Spender, with David Adler, in January (Facebook)

OF COURSE, THE AJA is entitled to voice its views, and political candidates and national media organisations are allowed to speak to it and ask for comment.

What is alarming is that these media outlets have given the AJA an equivalent weight to the recognised community bodies by quoting it in the same articles as those organisations – without having accurately described what sort of political group it is. Taken together, these decisions have endowed the AJA with a mainstream credibility that is misleading to the public - and dangerous.

Misleading because it gives the impression the AJA is another community leadership organisation of a similar ilk and authority. Dangerous because it creates a platform for the AJA to portray itself as representing a broad Jewish constituency that it does not, and lays the ground for political parties to invite the AJA into policy discussion and formulation.

More broadly, it pushes the weight of visible Jewish communal voices, which are already firmly on the conservative side of politics, further to the right.

Jewish community leadership in Australia already has more than enough recognised conservative voices, which are aired prominently in the media. By contrast, there is precious little media space given to progressive Jewish voices in this country.

On all counts, the media’s uncritical courtship of the AJA is an unwelcome step in the wrong direction.

Photo: AJA president Dr David Adler

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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