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Who speaks for Australian Jews?

A culture of ‘two Jews, three opinions’ means any expectation that the Australian Jewish community will speak with a single voice is doomed. But not all those who speak on behalf of the community have equal claims to representativeness.
Deborah Stone
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TJI_article image_Who speaks for Australian Jews

Published: 20 March 2024

Last updated: 22 March 2024

Government, media, or other communities seeking to understand the Australian “Jewish community view” on any given issue soon learn that there is no such thing.

The Jewish community is diverse, opinionated and disproportionately articulate. The 100,000 Jews who make up less than 0.4% of Australia’s population run the gamut of opinion on virtually any topic.

The number of organisations who are described as speaking on behalf of Australian Jews is growing and contemporary public space makes it increasingly easy for varied groups to find a soapbox.

Call yourself a “Council”, an “Institute” or an “Association” and the opinions of any dozen randoms can be broadcast with a veneer of officialdom.

Journalists can make easy work out of “dial-a-quote” spokesmen (they are almost always men) who can be relied on to express undifferentiated outrage at the smallest hint of antisemitism or to cheerlead Israel, whatever the context.

Social media favours simplification over moderation, amplifying exponentially those who are good at grabbing attention.

Official bodies and anyone inclined to caveats or the honest expression of ambivalence must compete with stentorian voices that make better headlines.

The groups covered in this article are those that either claim to speak on behalf of the community or are frequently treated as doing so. There are, of course, many other Jewish organisations that represent segments of the community and are sometimes quoted as Jewish voices.

We aim to help you understand who you are really listening to, ranking significant Jewish media players according to their representativeness.

The Jewish Independent

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) is the only organisation that has a formal claim to representing the entire Australian Jewish community. It is comprised of councillors appointed through constituent state peak bodies and affiliate national organisations.

The ECAJ speaks for Jewish organisations rather than Jewish people. As in any form of representative democracy, there can be a difference between popular opinion and the policy of community leaders.

It has a strong focus on public policy, particularly anything related to antisemitism, multiculturalism, or security. Its official role is recognised by the Federal Government, which recently awarded it $25 million to coordinate the security needs of the Jewish community across Australia.

Its constitution also gives it the role of “strengthening and supporting the connection of Australian Jewry with the State of Israel”. It consistently supports Israel’s actions and resists criticism of Israel.

Officially the ECAJ is apolitical. Its policies are frequently progressive in orientation, supporting a two-state solution, rejecting religious rights that discriminate against LGBT+ people, and emphasising multiculturalism. But it has always leaned right and has drifted further from the centre as the political left has aligned itself more closely with Palestinian politics, and since longstanding CEO Peter Wertheim has been joined by firebrand Alex Ryvchin.

The Jewish Independent

Each state (except Tasmania) has a peak body which combines the interests of communal organisations: NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (NSWJBD), Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), Jewish Community Council of WA (JCCWA), Queensland Jewish Board of Deputies (QJBD), and Jewish Community Council of South Australia (JCCSA).

State peak bodies work closely with state governments and have been particularly strong in pursuing state-based legislation criminalising Nazi symbols.

The NSWJBD and JCCV each has more than 50 affiliate organisations running across the political and cultural gamut – and sometimes creating passionate internal disputes.

Being closer to their varied constituent bodies and more focused on local issues than the ECAJ frequently makes them more centrist and responsive to diversity. The JCCV has shown leadership on child abuse and the NSWJBD runs an LGBT+ mentorship program.

The Jewish Independent

The Zionist Federation (ZFA) of Australia represents Australian Zionist organisations – not Australian Jews.

But it’s complicated. For many Australian Jews, their primary Jewish affiliation is through a Zionist organisation such as a youth group or a support organisation for an Israeli cause. Zionism is threaded through Australian Jewish life and community organisations, from the Maccabi sporting club to the Australian Union of Jewish Students, which are among the 20 organisational affiliates of the ZFA.

Traditionally, the ZFA has supported Israel without question and that is still its primary approach, but some cracks appeared in its response to the inclusion Ben Gvir’s extremist Religious Zionists in the current Israeli government, and the ZFA is a little more willing to brook criticism of Israel than previously.

The ZFA is a highly active and responsive media player, efficiently churning out media statements on any issues vaguely related to Israel and occasionally straying beyond its brief to comment on unrelated Jewish community issues, such as the Malka Leifer verdict. 

The Jewish Independent

The Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) is a self-appointed think tank with considerable influence, thanks to generous private funding and a high-functioning professional staff. Chairman Mark Leibler and Executive Director Colin Rubenstein, a former politics academic, have run it since it was established in 1997. Lately Executive Manager Joel Burnie has done much of its media.

Its influence derives primarily from direct relationships. Most powerful is its Rambam Israel Fellowship program, which sponsors visits to Israel by selected senior journalists, politicians, political advisers, senior public servants and student leaders. These trips provide both effective educational opportunities and lobbying pathways — and have sometimes been targeted as an example of an insidious “Jewish lobby”.

AIJAC makes public statements on almost every issue related to Israel or the Jewish community. It tends to centre-right positions, but supports the two-state solution and expressed concern about Israel’s judicial overhaul proposals. On the Israel-Hamas war, its strong support of Israel has been carefully tempered by awareness of Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

The Jewish Independent

The Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) is wholly focused on fighting antisemitism.

It is primarily a platform for Chairman Dvir Abramovich, a Jewish studies academic who posts extensively on social media and is frequently quoted in the media response to antisemitic incidents.

In the past, the ADC drew its authority from its research, interfaith and educational activities, but most of these programs are no longer functioning.

The ADC is funded through direct donations and does not have a membership base. It was established by B’nai B’rith in 1979 to mirror the prominent US organisation the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) but has since split from the parent organisation.

(Disclaimer: Deborah Stone is a former Executive Director of the ADC.)

The Jewish Independent

The Australian Jewish Association (AJA) is a conservative organisation which advocates traditionalist social concepts ("Torah values”) and endorses settlement in the West Bank (“Judea and Samaria”).

It is passionately supportive of the Israeli right and the Israel Defence Forces, and has also been active on a variety of local issues including campaigning against the Voice and denouncing the “transgender agenda”.

The AJA describes itself as centre-right, but the organisation’s policies on both Israel and local issues place it in the far-right camp.  

It is a membership-based organisation but will not disclose membership numbers. President David Adler, a medical doctor, and CEO Robert Gregory are the organisation’s public face.

Although only established in 2017, the AJA has gained some prominence through effective use of social media and strong contacts in the right-leaning mainstream media. It is frequently quoted in The Australian and on Sky News, in particular.

The Jewish Independent


The Jewish Council of Australia is the latest addition to the long list of organisations speaking for Jews. (Its acronym JCA is confusing because it is already used by the Jewish Communal Appeal, the NSW’s community’s primary fundraising organisation.)

The Jewish Council has been set up over the past couple of months to represent the minority of Australian Jews who make a clear distinction between Jewish identity and attachment to Israel.  It seeks to counter antisemitism without conflating it with anti-Zionism.

The Jewish Council is too new to have a firm base or to have been widely quoted. It does not claim to represent all Jews but its importance lies in the section of the community it speaks for – a younger demographic unwilling to be represented by mainstream community organisations.

Its spokespeople Sarah Schwartz, a lawyer, and Max Kaiser, an academic specialising in antisemitism, are both a generation younger than most other Jewish community spokespeople.

Its supporters align with the left and are highly critical of Israel. The humanitarian crisis in Gaza resulting from Israel’s war against Hamas has hardened attitudes to Israel in this demographic, and they are no longer willing to choose between their Jewish identity and their belief in the Palestinian cause. We can expect to hear more from this group.   

Research: Oscar Kaspi-Crutchett

About the author

Deborah Stone is Editor-in-Chief of TJI. She has more than 30 years experience as a journalist and editor, including as a reporter and feature writer on The Age and The Sunday Age, as Editor of the Australian Jewish News and as Editor of ArtsHub.

Comments13

  • Avatar of Deborah Stone

    Deborah Stone26 March at 10:00 am

    They are what the organisations do.

  • Avatar of Deborah Stone

    Deborah Stone26 March at 10:00 am

    Thanks for that. We’ll get the image corrected asap.

  • Avatar of Peter Scott

    Peter Scott25 March at 07:42 pm

    @Guy22 March 22.
    “NONE of these bodies are open for Jewish Australians to vote based on our identity.”

    That is untrue. I was a General Franchise member of the NSW Board of Deputies. As far as I know, General Franchise deputies still make up 50 percent of the plenum and are elected by individuals – not organisations – who chose to join the membership of the Board. I most certainly did not represent any organization.

  • Avatar of Peter Scott

    Peter Scott25 March at 07:25 pm

    ECAJ was established in 1944, not 1994.

  • Avatar of Peter Arnold

    Peter Arnold25 March at 03:30 pm

    What are “activites”?

  • Avatar of Clinton Cook

    Clinton Cook23 March at 10:26 am

    Where is the Australian Jewish Democratic Society in your list? A long-standing now, progressive voice.

  • Avatar of Deborah Stone

    Deborah Stone22 March at 05:23 pm

    Thanks Julie! I’ve fixed that

  • Avatar of Julie Nathan

    Julie Nathan22 March at 05:58 am

    Typo: not “The Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)” but “The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC)”

  • Avatar of Joe

    Joe22 March at 05:03 am

    Two Jews – 10 opinions?

  • Avatar of Gavin Silbert KC

    Gavin Silbert KC22 March at 02:53 am

    Thank God we have some acknowledgment of diversity and the fact that there is not one monolithic Jewish view. Organisations such as the Israel/ Jewish Affairs Council conflate all Jewish opinion and are extremely confusing and misleading. Much of the attitudes to the current international situation and, indeed, local antisemitism depends on the individual’s background. The views of someone from a Holocaust background differs markedly from someone from a convict background quite understandably. I abhor stereotyping and seldom agree with anything I see from “ a spokesman for the Jewish community “.

  • Avatar of Gary

    Gary22 March at 12:47 am

    Thanks for this analysis. Would be great to know the budget size for each org. It appears the political direction depends more on who the current leadership is than the constitution. eg: ZFA is much more moderate with Jeremy Leibler than it was under Danny Lamm’s leadership.
    Interesting how few women are on this list.
    I thought it was funny that ADC was considered centrist, when it is clearly a right wing mouthpiece for one man.
    Lastly, howcome no mention of the Zionist Councils in each state who also see themselves as representative bodies who speak on behalf of the community?

  • Avatar of Guy

    Guy22 March at 12:02 am

    The claims that some of these organisations are somehow “representative” is an insult. NONE of these bodies are open for Jewish Australians to vote based on our identity. These bodies only represent the organisations that sign up to it – a far cry from being “representative”. While you make a quick mention in the article that these represent orgs rather than people, this nuance is completely lost everywhere else – in the graphics (which show levels of “representation” though – again – none of us have a right to vote for these on account of our identity) you even show allegedly their level or “representation”, which further obfuscates this matter.

    Despite being anti-Zionist myself, I am much more comfortable with the way the Zionist Federation of Australia, for example, present themselves, compared with any of the supposed “councils”, be they right or left wing. The Zionist Federation are clearly not representing me – as their name suggests, they only represent the Zionist ideological movement. Their public presentation does not create an illusion of being an elected body of the Jewish community as a whole. Which can’t be said about ECAJ, JCA, and all the other “councils” with bombastic names.

    The reality is that there is not a single actual representative body of Jewish Australians (whether one should or shouldn’t exist is a matter for another debate), and existing bodies need to be much clearer about who they actually represent when they present themselves publicly.

  • Avatar of Michael Burd

    Michael Burd21 March at 05:25 am

    Good overview of prominent jewish orgs in Melbourne and Sydney coming from a left wing perspective .Most of these orgs have self appointed leadership the main steam Jewish community do not elect any of these leaders .There are nuances like ZFA and AiJAc father and son leadership and mainly in lockstep in most issues .ECAJ and Left leaning JCCV along with ZFA usually work together or also in lockstep on most issues . As a founding member of AJA a politically centre right conservative group we have been Shunned ,disparaged tried to shut down by all the groups you mention in this article from day one up until today .I have had personally been told by visiting Israeli and English speakers they have been contacted by the usual suspects not to work with AJA .Our main difference is we are unconditionally pro Israel unlike all the other groups who do not shy away nowadays from joining the Israel bashers on certain issues AJA will not publicly vilify or criticise Israel or or it’s leadership . My belief why all the other leaders / Representatives are so hostile to AJA particularly both Leibler’s is AJA success in such a short period of time r with so few funds and little infrastructure and the fact that the conservative media particularly SKYNews and The Australian first port of call on issues relating to Israel and Judaism is usually AJA ,s Dr David Adler ,they resent this although will never admit to it as they have called AJA irrelevant .AJA is not irrelevant to the people who count .The AjN also has had a black ban on AJA since it’s inception under Zeddy Lawrence continues today AJN very rarely mentions any of the work AJA does and usually only mentions AJA in a negative Light In my view .AJn have a problem with Jewish conservatives but have no problem whatsoever promoting hard leftwing anti Zionist progressive Jews like NIF , The main steam Jewish communal orgs like to go on about inclusitivity as long as it doesn’t include centre right ,conservative Jewish voices .

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