The group Independent Australian Jewish Voices represents a fringe, anti-Zionist minority in Australian Jewry, according to communal leaders down under.
The NGO misrepresents both its own agenda and the diversity of opinion among Australian Jews, the leaders said Wednesday of the group formed this week.
While its Declaration of Principles calls for a peace "that recognizes the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians," its "prime movers are not just critical of Israeli policies but of its right to exist as a Jewish state," according to Dr. Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC).
Furthermore, said Rubenstein, the group's claim that it faces intimidation from Australian Jewish institutions "is not only inane and untrue, but clearly plays into the conspiratorial mindset of the growing number of people who are violently hostile to both Israel's existence and to the Jewish community. What they are really seeking is a privileged position for their own views, making them immune from any criticism by the Jewish majority who strongly disagree with their ill-informed pronouncements."
The organization caught the public eye this week with a petition saying there is an "urgent need to hear alternative voices that should not be silenced by being labeled disloyal or 'self-hating.'"
According to the group, "uncritical allegiance to Israeli government policy does not necessarily serve Israel's best interests. Our concern for justice and peace in the Middle East is a legitimate opinion and should be met by reasoned argument rather than vilification and intimidation."
But, Australian Jewish leaders protest, the community has long been conducting such discussions in an open atmosphere that is open to anyone who isn't overtly anti-Zionist.
The implication that those critical of Israeli policies face intimidation, says Grahame Leonard, head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the umbrella organization of the Australian Jewish community, is simply untrue.
"In Australian Jewry, there is constant vigorous debate on what's happening in Israel, and there's no automatic rubber-stamping of the actions of the Israeli government, irrespective of its political complexion," he told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
"Many Jews here aren't happy with settlement policy," he added, pointing to a group that protested Israeli government actions during a communal plenum in Melbourne on Tuesday. A majority of Australian Jews and Jewish institutions, he said, support a two-state solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
However, Leonard said, Independent Australian Jewish Voices "crosses the line," since its founding members "imply Israel's right to exist is problematic."
As an example of the "deceptive" nature of the petition, Australian Jewish leaders point to one of the central organizers of the petition, writer Antony Loewenstein, who has "called Israel fundamentally anti-democratic and wants a binational state," Rubenstein said. "Despite the apparent wording of the declaration, this has been put together by organizers who essentially believe Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state and have been calling for its dissolution."
According to Independent Australian Jewish Voices, its petition has been signed by "prominent Australians" including philosopher professor Peter Singer of Princeton University, Melbourne University Publishing CEO Louise Adler, Monash University's Dean of Law Prof. Arie Freiberg, author Antony Loewenstein. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Zionist Hashomer Hatza'ir youth movement signed on to the petition, according to IAJV.
This doesn't surprise Leonard. The text of the petition is not very different from the views of most Australian Jews and Jewish institutions - "the very things we all would ascribe to," he said. But "a lot of well-meaning, naive Australians don't understand the motives and agenda behind the core group that established it," leading them to sign alongside anti-Zionists, Leonard said.
And, emphasized Rubenstein, "their claim that they're censured doesn't [take away] their critics' right to point out their flaws."