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Adler’s logic about Jews and the Voice is wrong, his attack on other Jews vile

Stephen Boroda
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Adler’s logic about Jews and the Voice is wrong, his attack on other Jews vile

Published: 11 August 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The AJA head was wrong when he implied on Sky News that group rights are not good for the Jews; he was despicable when he said Jewish support was driven by money.

I naively assumed that all Jews intended to vote Yes in the upcoming referendum on the Voice. After all, a central tenet of Judaism is the Torah’s instruction Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof (Justice, Justice you shall pursue).

We also learn that Aharon HaCohen - Moses’ brother and the first High Priest - was known as one who loved peace and pursued it.

Peace and justice are so fundamental to Judaism that an opportunity to right historic wrongs and move in the direction of justice for Indigenous Australians and promote peace and reconciliation between all Australians should be a no-brainer.

However, I should have remembered the old phrase, “two Jews, three opinions”, and realised there would be those who advocate voting No. As such, it should not have come as a surprise when David Adler, President of the Australian Jewish Association, said Jews should vote No.

Before I continue, it should be made clear that the AJA is a private advocacy group. It has no standing as a representative body and does not represent the views of the majority of Australian Jews.

Appearing on Sky News Australia’s Outsiders program on July 9, Adler gave three reasons why Jews should vote against the Voice. I will address each but place my emphasis on his second point.

Adler’s third point is that Australia’s Indigenous communities have publicly supported the Palestinian cause. This point is irrelevant. The Voice is about domestic policy affecting Indigenous Australians.

First, Adler says, “If you put into your constitution that on a race-based mechanism (that) some people will be treated differently to others, that offends the principle of equality.”

This assertion is as sensible as suggesting that a novice golfer should not be allowed a handicap when facing Tiger Woods. 

When some start at a significant disadvantage, treating people equally is grossly inequitable.

Adler’s third point is that Australia’s Indigenous communities have publicly supported the Palestinian cause, including waving the Palestinian flag alongside the Aboriginal flag at Invasion Day rallies.

This point is irrelevant. The Voice is about domestic policy affecting Indigenous Australians. What happens in the Middle East would have no impact on their communities.

And just as Adler has shown not all Jews think alike, neither do all Indigenous Australians.

Adler’s “inner-city extremists” are rabble-rousers who are either antisemitic, anti-Zionist to the extent that they deny Israel’s right to exist, or both. Their views should not prevent 800,000 First Australians from being granted a constitutionally enshrined Voice.

His second point is the one to which I will devote specific attention. 

“There is not a single example [through Jewish history] where these sort of ethnic or racial divisions are commendable, where they have done good for a society. Not one,” Adler said. 

In short, group rights have never been good for the Jews.

The late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks would beg to differ. In a piece republished in the same week Adler appeared on Sky, Sacks referenced the famous statement of the Count of Clermont-Tonnerre at the 1789 French Revolutionary Assembly: “To the Jews as individuals, everything. To the Jews as a nation, nothing.”

“Initially,” writes Sacks, “this sounded reasonable. Jews were being offered civil rights in the new secular nation state. However, it was anything but. It meant that Jews would have to give up their identity as Jews in the public domain. Nothing - not religious or ethnic identity - should stand between the individual and the state. It was no accident that a century later, France became one of the epicentres of European antisemitism.”

Sacks powerfully demonstrates that Adler’s assertion that there is “not one” example of where group rights benefited Jews is false. On the contrary: where Jews were denied rights as a group, as in post-revolutionary France, antisemitism inevitably followed.

Moreover, Sacks teaches us that, “Judaism insists on the value of those institutions that preserve and protect our identities as members of groups.” That is exactly what the Voice to Parliament will achieve for Indigenous Australians.

Adler suggested Jewish communal leaders were supporting the Voice to curry favour with the Labor Party, to increase their chances of receiving government grants.

Adler then showed his own political colours and made a despicable accusation. When asked by the Outsiders panel why Jewish communal leaders had taken a position to support the Voice, Adler offered two explanations.

Firstly, he said “the Jewish community has not been immune to the Long March of the Left through the institutions.” It is possible, he suggested, that some Jewish supporters of the Voice have been “taken up in this woke movement” that has seen us “get involved with climate change and gender issues”.

That tells you everything you need to know about Adler’s political views. If you don’t accept that climate change is a hoax or you are not comfortable that Australian women earn 13.3% less than men, then your views on the Voice are suspect.

His second explanation borders on the libellous. Adler suggested the reason Jewish communal leaders were supporting the Voice was in order to curry favour with the Labor Party, to increase their chances of receiving government grants for their organisations or government contracts for their businesses.

Ironically, Adler then eloquently explained exactly why the Jewish community should be supporting the Voice. “We are all for helping disadvantaged people. Jews have a great record in combating racial inequality, played a major role in the Black Liberation movements, ending apartheid, marching alongside Martin Luther King in the US - that’s part of our culture as well.”

The "as well" must be erased. The only other supposed aspect of Jewish culture that Adler discussed was a tendency to “follow the money”.

If a non-Jew had said that on national television, we would have been up in arms. We should be equally disgusted when it is said by one of our own.

My daughter Eva recently returned from a trip to Israel for Australian university students, both Jews and non-Jews, selected for their interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

One of the students was of Aboriginal descent. After visiting Yad Vashem, he wept uncontrollably. 

Not only was he affected by the reality of the cruelty that human beings can visit upon one another, he remarked how tragic it was that a museum dedicated to the historic cruelty visited upon his people would never be built in Australia.

Justice demands that we do everything in our power to address historic wrongs visited upon Indigenous Australians. As Jews, we should identify with this most strongly - not only because of our own tragic history but because of the values that our Torah holds so dear - pursuing justice and pursuing peace.

Adler’s arguments to the contrary are either wrong or irrelevant. There is only one authentic Jewish way to vote in this upcoming referendum: Yes.

In the words of Mark Leiber, who has been involved in what he calls the “journey towards constitutional recognition” for more than 10 years, “I view the model we will vote on at the referendum as conservative, yet meaningful. The best of both worlds.”

I cannot think of a more powerful endorsement.

Photo: Dr David Adler (left) appearing on Outsiders on Sky News last month (screenshot)

About the author

Stephen Boroda

Rabbi Stephen Boroda is an active member of the Melbourne Jewish community. He is an iMA Certified Professional, helping people to connect better with others by speaking on their wavelength, instead of their own. Rabbi Boroda served as Rabbi of Kew Hebrew Congregation from 2008-2015.

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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