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Jewish and Green values ‘deeply aligned’: Caulfield candidate Iampolski

Ashley Browne
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Published: 15 November 2022

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Jewish voters need to get past the manufactured narrative on Israel and vote on social justice issues, candidate RACHEL IAMPOLSKI tells ASHLEY BROWNE.

Rachel Iampolksi sips on her coffee at a fashionable Ripponlea café and makes a sweeping hand gesture towards the streets and the suburb to the east.

“It’s a bit hard in this seat,” she says. “People are very set in their ways. It’s not the easiest place to be a Greens candidate. There is a perception about the party and we have to get over the hump.”

Iampolksi is an urban geographer at RMIT’s Centre for Urban Research and in addition to running for parliament, is also working towards attaining a PHD in cultural geography.

She is proudly Jewish, although avowedly secular. Her parents are Ukrainian Jews who moved to Melbourne 35 years ago and she grew up in Melbourne, attending McKinnon Secondary College.

“It was important to them to feel assimilated so part of that was not being actively involved in the community. I realise that was a mistake at the time, but back then as 20-something immigrants from a place where you were persecuted for being Jewish, it was a case of, ‘Let’s run from it as fast as you can’.”

“The Diaspora really cares about social justice and caring for each other. These are things that we at the Greens have been fighting for forever."

Part of being the Greens candidate for Caulfield is to unpack what has happened before and to understand that plenty of it was beyond her control. Iampolksi believes issues with the party’s brand in the Jewish community, and therefore, the Caulfield region, began before the 2016 federal election when Steph Hodgins-May, the Greens candidate for the federal seat of McNamara, boycotted the pre-election debate at Beth Weizmann because of issues with the term "Zionism".

“I think she had conflicting advice, but more importantly, she underestimated what a big deal it was.”

The flow-on effect for the Greens was felt at the 2018 state election. While the party’s support climbed across the state, the primary vote in Caulfield dropped from 16% to 14%.

Iampolksi said voters need to understand the party structure. “It is a federated party and the Victorian Greens are different to the New South Wales Greens, who have more outspoken members of parliament when it comes to Israel and Palestine. But if you look at our federal position it is almost the same as the ALP. We’re anti-violence and pro a two-state solution.”

The issue facing all the candidates in Caulfield is to remind voters that Israel policy plays a negligible part in state politics. “I am Jewish and feel very comfortable in the party. I’m part of a great Jewish cohort who have been there for a very long time.”

She believes there is a strong case for Jews to vote for the Greens. “If we can get past this manufactured narrative, the values are deeply aligned.

“The Diaspora really cares about social justice and caring for each other. These are things that we at the Greens have been fighting for forever.

“You have to make sure those are in mind when you vote. Caring for disadvantaged people? How’s that not a Jewish value? There’s so much care in our community and it’s quite profound. You have to be in it to see it, so by voting for the Greens, you can have this reflected in parliament.”

A challenge for the Greens ahead of this election is that the major parties are shouting their own, progressive and climate-friendly policies as loudly as they can. Sitting Caulfield member David Southwick argues that his party’s platform has never been as environmentally-friendly as it is now. Labor recently announced a major publicly-owned renewable energy policy that should fast-track the closure of the various Gippsland-located coal-fuelled power plants.

“I would love to see Nomi (Kaltmann) and the Teals do a how-to-vote card that reflects the values they’re running on that includes climate and integrity.”

Iampolski argues that the more progressive the crossbenches are in state parliament, the more progressive Labor is. But she believes there remains considerable community disenchantment with the ALP. “They are coasting off a reputation of being a progressive party back in the day, particularly federally,” she said.

And then there are the Teal independents. She welcomes their presence in Caulfield, even though it may lead to a further dilution of the Greens vote.

“As someone who loves the sport of politics and watching politics - and taking myself out of the campaign for a moment - I love the Teals running. It makes it an incredibly interesting campaign for the first time and having more options to vote for is incredible.

“But I would love to see Nomi (Kaltmann) and the Teals do a how-to-vote card that reflects the values they’re running on that includes climate and integrity,” she said.

As the election draws closer, local issues are coming to the fore. She is bemused at the call by Mount Scopus College for candidates to declare their position on the relocation of the school to the Caulfield Hospital precinct.

She says the school has offered no details as to what that support would entail. “Do they want money? Planning approvals? I can’t comment when I don’t really know what the plan is, but generally, why would we be funding a well-off private school to move on to a public site when there are many public schools in the area that are struggling financially?”

She also has concerns about any plans to redevelop the interior and surrounds of the Caulfield Racecourse that don’t require the Melbourne Racing Club to contribute significantly to the cost.

“It’s Crown Land and they (the MRC) just sold Sandown. There’s the elephant in the room. It’s obvious who should be contributing financially, but the big parties are never going to let that happen because of the income they get from gambling.

“And if I were them, I’d feel the same, but luckily for the Greens our hands are clean in that respect.”

Iampolski knows the strong likelihood is that in about a month’s time, her focus will once again be back on her work and her studies. The Greens are highly unlikely to win in Caulfield, but she hopes to improve the primary vote, even as the Teals make that goal tougher.

She also hopes that the next few weeks will serve to soften the party’s image among Jewish voters. “The more robust the democratic process, the better for the community. I ask the voters to vote with logic and compassion. That’s it.”

Photo: Rachel Iampolski (Greens)

About the author

Ashley Browne

Ashley Browne has been writing about Australian sport for the last 30 years and is currently a senior writer for Crocmedia. He was the co-editor in 2018 of People of the Boot, The Triumphs and Tragedy of Jews and Sport in Australia.

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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