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Israel Hamas WarOpinionAustralia

It is not treachery for Jews to criticise Israel’s conduct of the war

Australia’s Jewish representative bodies do not speak for all Jews. Those who are critical of Israel are struggling to make their voices heard.
Sarah Schwartz Max Kaiser
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soldiers looking through a gap in a wall to a city

Israeli soldiers look out onto Gaza (IDF spokesman’s unit)

Published: 13 March 2024

Last updated: 21 March 2024

Australia’s Jewish representative bodies do not speak for all Jews. Those who are critical of Israel are struggling to make their voices heard.

We all know the saying, “two Jews, three opinions”. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Jews in Australia have a multitude of views on Israel. Yet, any member of the wider public listening to the voices of our Jewish representative organisations would hardly know that Jews opposing Israel’s conduct even exist. 

Back in November, almost one thousand Jews in Australia signed a letter call for a ceasefire saying that Israel’s actions in Gaza don’t align with their Jewish values. Hundreds more have attended rallies and events throughout the country, calling out Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians.

Around the world, thousands of Jews are rising up and crying “Not in Our Name”, staging some of the largest ever acts of civil disobedience. Only this week, Jonathan Glazer, the English Jewish director of Holocaust film The Zone of Interest, criticised the hijacking of Holocaust memory as justification for ongoing occupation and violence against Palestinians. In Australia and around the world, there is a rich history of Jewish criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionism.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that many Jews disagree with Israel’s conduct.

Flying in the face of this diversity, our peak representative body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) frequently makes assertions of absolute unity behind Israel - saying Jewish people “are together, one people, with one mission and one destiny … hop[ing] for the swift and complete victory of the heroic forces of the IDF.” 

With 30,000 dead (including 11,000 children), two million displaced, and now widespread risk of death from starvation in Gaza, we have not heard one word of criticism of Israel from our sclerotic right-wing Jewish community bodies.

Rather, they have launched an out-and-out offensive against any criticism of Israel in Australia. They have opposed our government’s calls for peace through a ceasefire, spoken out against accepting Palestinian refugees, lobbied the media against showing the full extent of Palestinian suffering, and slandered people who support Palestinians as antisemitic terrorists.

Even worse, in their lobbying for Israel, they have joined forces with racists and Christian evangelicals - people who espouse views that are transphobic, Islamophobic, and who believe we should all move to Israel to bring on the rapture.

Not only do these organisations like ECAJ, the Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) and the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) unequivocally beat the drums of war for Israel, but they and their representatives go after Jews who disagree with them.

The Jewish Council of Australia launched just over one month ago in the midst of Israel’s horrific bombardment of Gaza, as a Jewish voice on antisemitism and racism, and one which acknowledges that many Jews support Palestinian freedom and justice. We do not claim to be representative - no one elected us and we do not claim to speak for all Jews. However, we have been overwhelmed with support from hundreds of Jews who agree with our stance.

It shouldn’t be controversial to say that many Jews disagree with Israel’s conduct. Yet, in the few weeks since our launch, Jewish representative leaders have come out swinging, posting attacks on social media which have painted the Council and its supporters as traitors. One post said the Council was formed to deny antisemitism, another said we “might as well join Hamas” and a third, sent to a supporter, said “not surprised by your support of the Jew Haters Council of Australia”.

This is in spite of us speaking proudly of our Jewishness, and about rising antisemitism, in almost every publication and interview. 

We have not heard one word of criticism of Israel from our Jewish community bodies.

This week, we put out a media release condemning a disgusting group who made a Nazi salute at a Zone of Interest screening. On twitter, we unsurprisingly received many comments from actual Nazis, who have been harassing some of us since our launch. Amongst the Nazis, one derogatory post suggesting we were “Jews for hire” turned out to be from a senior journalist with the Australian Jewish News (AJN).

It was perhaps unsurprising that two weeks after our launch, the AJN published a hostile op-ed article on the Council. We promptly requested a right of reply in the form of an op-ed, a request which was ultimately denied.

The fact that the AJN is unwilling to publish the perspectives of Jews who support Palestinian human rights reflects this broader unwillingness on behalf of leading Jewish institutions to recognise that there are many Jews who refuse to toe the pro-Israel line. 

In promoting and enforcing this monolithic view of the Jewish community, organisations such as the AJN and ECAJ are failing all of us. Painting Jews as holding a singular politics, with interests identical to Israel’s, is not only untrue, but it means we all get tainted by Israel’s human rights abuses. 

While many Jews have stopped paying attention to these organisations, many younger Jews, in particular, pay them absolutely no heed.

Now more than ever, it is important for all of us who disagree with our portrayal by these Jewish representatives to make our voices heard, and exercise our proud Jewish tradition of speaking out against injustice.

About the author

Sarah Schwartz and Max Kaiser are co-Executive Officers of the Jewish Council of Australia


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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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