Australian elections set to fall on Yom Kippur

Liberal MP says decision “disenfranchises many Jewish Australians." Jewish leader counters, “not a problem at all.”

January 30, 2013 16:43
2 minute read.
Australia's new Prime Minister Julia Gillard speak

julia gillard 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on Monday that the country’s upcoming national election will be held on September 14 – the date of Yom Kippur this year – arousing heated debate among politicians and Jewish community leaders.

After Gillard’s announcement at the National Press Club in the capital Canberra, MPs from both Gillard’s Labor party and the Liberal Party were quick to question the decision, both due to the long campaign season ahead and its perceived insensitivity to Australia’s Jewish community.

There are an estimated 107,000-120,000 Jews in Australia, about 0.5 percent of the country’s population, and several Federal Electorates have large enough Jewish populations to be politically significant.

Jewish MP Michael Danby (Labor) issued a statement after the decision, saying that “As a matter of personal conscience I will be unable to participate on Election Day. It is my practice, with my wife, Amanda, to observe Yom Kippur.”

Elections in Australia are always held on Saturdays, which has long made casting a ballot in the normal manner impossible for observant Jews.

However, local Jews have long been granted the accommodation of being able to cast their ballots by mail. Voting is compulsory in Australia.

“After hearing from the prime minister,” Danby said, “I am negotiating with the Special Minister of State Gary Gray to ensure arrangements for the fullest participation of the Australian Jewish community in our Australian democratic process. This will mean extra attention to postal voting and particularly pre-polling” in several Federal Electorates, he said.3 “Many of these electorates already have high levels of postal voting and pre-polling due to shift and emergency workers, travelers and Orthodox Jews being unable to vote during the day on Saturday,” he said.

Liberal MPs blasted Gillard’s decision.

Former opposition leader MP Malcolm Turnbull turned to Twitter, posting that he is “deeply disappointed that Julia Gillard chose to hold the election on Yom Kippur – the most solemn and sacred day of the Jewish year.”

Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg, who like Danby is Jewish, also tweeted about the chosen election date, saying that it “disenfranchises many Jewish Australians and is incredibly sloppy work.”

Leaders of the local Jewish community have been divided in their response.

Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, was quoted by Jewish Australian news website J-Wire as saying that the Yom Kippur election date is problematic for “Jewish supporters of parties and candidates who would have wished to be active at polling booths on Election Day.”

The decision “may affect Jewish candidates who will be unable to campaign on election day [such] as Michael Danby. However for voters, pre-voting and postal vote alternatives are available, ensuring that no one will be denied their vote.”

Other communal leaders said that the issue was blown out of proportion.

According to Vic Alhadeff, the CEO of New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, the election date is “not a problem at all.”

Philip Chester, the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, said while the election date may inconvenience, Jewish members of parliament who would ordinarily be campaigning on the day, “there are opportunities for voters to exercise postal or early votes prior to Yom Kippur.”

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