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EDITORIAL: Jewish voters are not easily seduced

The Jewish Independent
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Published: 27 May 2022

Last updated: 4 March 2024

The results of the federal election showed that Jewish voters are more interested in environment and equity than the finer points of candidates' attitudes to Israel

LET'S GET ONE thing straight. Jewish voters did not decide any aspect of the federal election.

Caulfield is not Borough Park. Bondi is not Surfside, Miami. Even in Wentworth and Macnamara, the electorates with the highest percentage of Jewish voters in the country, there are nowhere near enough Jews to decide the seat.

In Wentworth, Jewish voters make up 16.2% of the voters, in Macnamara 12.8%, and in Goldstein a mere 8.8%.

But when elections are close, the capacity to woo blocs of voters can give candidates a winning edge and, on some issues and only to some extent, Jews have a community of interest.

We care about multiculturalism, about education, about the prevention of hate crime and, of course, we care about Israel – though not in as monolithic a form as is sometimes believed.

But, like all other voters, we approach these issues in the context of our desire for good government on the issues that matter to all Australians.

Election 2022 was interesting because the three electorates that have most Jewish voters were among those that experienced dramatic changes away from the major parties. In Wentworth and Goldstein “teal” independents captured formerly safe Liberal seats.

While established communal organisations withdrew invitations to Daniel, a coterie of Jewish school and youth group graduates paraded her teal T-shirts around their Jewish social circles.

In Macnamara, the result was so close it has still not been called. It is likely Labor’s Josh Burns will be returned, but the vote for the Greens was dramatically higher than expected.

Jewish volunteers were a significant part of the independent/Greens success in all three electorates.

These results make it clear that Jewish voters do not respond to smear campaigns centred on our special interests and, like other Australians, are increasingly influenced by issues of environment, equity, and probity.  

During the election campaign, there were multiple attempts to use candidates’ alleged positions on Israel to influence Jewish voters. Clearly, none of these attempts worked. Independents Allegra Spender and Zoe Daniel both garnered strong Jewish support and won their electorates, despite attacks on their Israel credentials.

In Wentworth, the suggestion that Allegra Spender was tarred by a supporter who campaigns for Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions against Israel backfired. Liberal Dave Sharma, who has long had support within the Jewish community, was ousted, his preferencing of the United Australia Party all the more offensive to many in the community.

In Victoria, the questions around candidates' support for Israel had a little more substance – but they were not decisive for many Jewish voters. The long-held opinion that the Greens could never win Macnamara because Jewish voters are uncomfortable with the Greens’ position on Israel was challenged. Greens candidate Steph Hodgins-May enjoyed unprecedented support from within the community, although a subset of Jewish voters, Orthodox Jews who don’t vote on Shabbat, were significant in the probable saving of Burns. Their postal votes pushed the Liberal candidate up the ladder later and directed preferences to Labor.

In Goldstein, there were legitimate questions around independent Zoe Daniel, who had signed a petition in support of Palestinian journalists that showed little understanding of the complexities of the conflict.

But at the same time, Daniel enjoyed the support a significant number of Jewish volunteers attracted by a candidate with a strong stance on climate and a promise to go hard against political corruption and entrenched sexism.

Two factors protected Daniel from a backlash by Jewish voters.

The first is that most Jewish voters vote as Australians first. They know an Australian candidate’s, or even the Australian Government’s, position on Israel will have very little impact on what happens in the Middle East. They subscribe to the position articulated in The Jewish Independent by Mandi Katz, ahead of the election, that “there is something very unhealthy – arguably even unethical – about voting for candidates …on the basis of what they think and feel about a political situation in another place”.

The second factor is that many Jewish people are not so comfortable about Israel’s actions themselves. They would not agree with those aspects of the petition Daniel signed which condemned Israel’s fundamental structure, but they too might be tempted to sign on to a petition criticising its treatment of Palestinians.

The case of Zoe Daniel revealed a generational divide which was also significant in Wentworth and Macnamara. While established communal organisations including Mount Scopus Memorial College and Blake Street Shule withdrew invitations to Daniel, a coterie of Jewish school and youth group graduates paraded her teal T-shirts around their Jewish social circles.

The independence of mind that caused an unprecedented number of Australians to turn away from Labor and Liberal was evident in the choices of many Jewish Australians.

Photo: Volunteers for Zoe Daniel (Zoe Daniel campaign)

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