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NSW JBoD and Greens finally meet to patch up differences

Wendy Frew
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Published: 19 March 2019

Last updated: 4 March 2024

IN THE LEAD UP to the NSW State election, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the NSW Greens have literally “broken bread” in a bid to find common ground and improve their relationship.

The sit-down followed several years of tension between the two groups but was described by both sides in positive terms, with another meeting due to be held after the State Election.

However, the leaking of material critical of the Greens to a high-profile newspaper columnist after they had accepted the lunch invitation, but before the lunch took place, has raised questions about whether the JBoD was trying to pressure the Greens.

Members of the Board and four NSW Greens members, including Balmain MP Jamie Parker, member of the Legislative Council David Shoebridge, and Greens’ candidates for Coogee, Lindsay Shurey, and Vaucluse, Megan McEwin, lunched together on February 26.

JBoD President Lesli Berger, Public Affairs Chair David Ossip, Community Relations Chair Gael Kennedy and Chief Executive Officer Vic Alhadeff represented the JBoD.

Vic Alhadeff told The Jewish Independent there was merit in continuing to “explore points of difference” between the two groups, while David Shoebridge described the meeting as cordial.

However, in an interview with The Jewish Independent just before the lunch, Vic Alhadeff said NSW Greens’ members sympathetic to the Jewish community were operating in a toxic environment” where other party members held extremist views about Jewish people.

“Our concern is that organisationally there has been an abject failure by the NSW Greens to engage with the Jewish community and that is despite multiple overtures to sit down with us,” he said.

Alhadeff also said the Greens ignored the fact that not all Jewish people supported Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians. “That is outrageous,” he said. “We don’t want to be pigeon-holed. Because of [the NSW Greens] position on Israel they are holding every Jewish Australian to that issue. That is one of the definitions of anti-Semitism.”
Parker rejected the allegation the NSW Greens had not attended a Shabbat with the JBD because of a lack of good will. “Organisationally and logistically it is quite hard for all those people to meet at the same time … so the fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a matter of logistics."

The Greens’ recognition of Palestine as a state, and support from some sections of the NSW party for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, including a boycott of the now-defunct chocolate store chain Max Brenner, has in recent years attracted accusations of anti-Semitism.

A decision by the then Greens-controlled Marrickville Council in inner Sydney (with the support of Labor councillors) in 2010 to ban Israeli products was also a lightning rod for criticism.

Alhadeff told The Jewish Independent that when he spoke to The Australian’s opinion columnist Janet Albrechtsen in February about these issues and gave her his speaking notes from a Shabbat meeting held with the local community in Allawah in Sydney’s south, he was unaware the Greens had finally accepted an invitation to meet the JBoD.

As part of its outreach work, the JBoD regularly invites key sectors of civil society to attend a Shabbat service, followed by dinner.

In her article published on February 13, Albrechtsen wrote that the Greens had for years refused to take part in any of the community dinners held by the JBoD.

The article went on to claim the Greens had a history of organisational bigot­ry towards the NSW Jewish community and that the party’s extremism precluded engagement with Jewish people.

However, Alhadeff now hopes the JBoD’s relationship with the Greens will improve following the lunch, where both sides raised contentious issues. “We appreciated the Greens’ offer to meet again after the state election and we look forward to breaking down the barriers which have existed for some time,” he said.

Jamie Parker, who has addressed previous JBoD meetings and attended Jewish community events, agreed the détente with the board was a positive move. “The Greens as a whole have a good relationship with the Jewish community and we are continuing to strengthen our relationship with the Jewish Board of Deputies,” Parker said.

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He rejected the allegation the NSW Greens had not attended a Shabbat with the JBD because of a lack of good will. “It is because organisationally and logistically it is quite hard for all those people to meet at the same time … it is a big undertaking. So, the fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a matter of logistics,” he said.

“Many of our objectives and those of the JBoD are the same, such as on issues like discrimination, concerns within the community about security and safety ... There are a whole range of issues on which we see eye to eye.

“We are absolutely opposed to anti-Semitism … People do take the issue of Israel and Palestine very seriously but we are 10,000 miles away from that conflict,” he said, adding that views within the Jewish community on how to end the conflict were mixed.

Upper House member David Shoebridge denied the party was bigoted or that it had failed to engage with the Jewish community or the JBoD. “I was a councillor on Woollahra Council for eight years, I live in the Eastern Suburbs and I work productively with the Jewish community and the entire local community,” said Mr Shoebridge.

“My face-to-face meetings with members of the JBoD’s board simply don’t have that feel. Yes, there is friction with some in the community about our strong stance on Palestine but our policy supports a two-state solution,” he said.

Asked whether the party’s Israel policy could turn some Jewish voters away from the Greens on March 23, he said it was not his job to speak for the Jewish community. “But I think we share fundamental values on issues such as human rights, diversity, and multiculturalism”.

He said the recent meeting with the JBoD, organised before Albrechtsen’s article was published, was held on a confidential basis. “But I will say this: not only was the meeting cordial and productive but we committed to a further meeting after the election at Parliament House.”

Image: Vic Alhadeff (left) and Jamie Parker (right)

 

 

 

 

About the author

Wendy Frew

Wendy Frew is a Sydney-based journalist and author who has worked in Australia and overseas for major media outlets including Fairfax Media, Reuters and the BBC

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