Partisan politics in everyday Australian Zionist life

An essential focus of Jewish communal advocacy has been fostering support for Israel within the corridors of Australian political power.

AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Chris Cannan (in white shirt) with members of the Nippers executive board (from left) Danny Hakim, Lisa Segelov and Paul Hakim. (photo credit: JORDAN POLEVOY)
AUSTRALIAN AMBASSADOR Chris Cannan (in white shirt) with members of the Nippers executive board (from left) Danny Hakim, Lisa Segelov and Paul Hakim.
(photo credit: JORDAN POLEVOY)
For a community that is just over 120,000-strong, Australian Jewry punches well above its numerical weight. Not only have individual Jews risen to prominence in every conceivable field by dint of talent and hard work, but communal Jewish organizations have also made a real impact on the politics and culture of the nation.
An essential focus of Jewish communal advocacy has been fostering support for Israel within the corridors of Australian political power. National organizations like the Executive Council of Australian Jewry and the Zionist Federation of Australia have worked hard to promote the cause of Jewish national self-determination in Canberra. At the same time, the state-level affiliates of these national advocacy organizations have done the same in the parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland and South and Western Australia.
These efforts have been crowned with considerable success. With the exception of a few isolated outliers a remarkable pro-Israel consensus has taken hold within both major Australian political parties. The ranks of the Center-Right Liberal-National Coalition and Australian Labor Party are filled with parliamentarians who admire Israel’s democracy, economic vitality and dynamic culture.
The dominance of pro-Israel sentiment within the “sensible center” of Australian politics is clear from the political record. Former Labor prime minister Julia Gillard was outspoken in her criticism of Hamas rocket attacks from Gaza when she was in office, and current Coalition Prime Minister Scott Morrison recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city.
The Australian Greens, of course, are a different story, having fully embraced the antipathy toward Israel that has become an article of faith for the “woke” hard Left in the 21st century. But as one pro-Israel Labor senator explains, the dark Green cloud that hovers over the leftist fringe of Australian politics has a definite silver lining.
The very radicalism of the Australian Greens serves as a political safety valve that immunizes the Center-Left Labor Party against extremism. With the Greens soaking up votes from the far Left of the Australian electoral spectrum, there is little danger of Corbynism taking root in the Australian Labor Party.
None of this is the result of mere happenstance. The broad base of support for Israel throughout mainstream Australian politics is the fruit of sustained effort over many years by a vibrant network of Jewish communal organizations. The New South Wales Zionist League was founded in 1904, a mere two months after the death of Theodore Herzl. Twenty-three years later, Australia’s greatest military leader, Sir John Monash, was instrumental in the establishment of a national-level Zionist body, the Zionist Federation of Australia.
IN TURN, the effectiveness of these political advocacy bodies derives from a community that is proudly and unabashedly Zionist. One sociological study found that “on almost every available measure – visitation, resident relatives, emotional attachment and philanthropy – Israel figures centrally in Australian Jewish identity.”
Affection for Israel is fostered by a well-developed network of day schools and youth groups that play a central role in Australian Jewish life. Many young Australian “shnatis” spend a gap-year in Israel between high school and university.
Of course not every Australian Jew is a Zionist, and Jewish critics of Israel can be loud, but their volume is inversely proportional to their influence. This small smattering of leftist anti-Israel Jews is relegated to the margins of Australian Jewish life and the margins of Australian politics.
The Zionist movement in Australia was established on explicitly political lines. The election of delegates to this World Zionist Congress produced broad representation from Mizrachi, Likud, Ameinu, Meretz, Reform and Conservative religious streams.
But beyond WZC elections, I’m pleased to say that partisan politics play little part in everyday Australian Zionist life. The movement’s leaders are chosen on the basis of their commitment to the broad Zionist cause, rather than a particular ideological movement with which they might be affiliated.
This unifying principle is exemplified by the last five presidents of the ZFA. All were alumni of Zionist youth movements, four from Bnei Akiva and one from Betar. Of the five, three attended Jewish day schools as well.
Many of us had parents who were active in the ZFA. In my case, I’ve followed in the footsteps of a grandfather and father who were both Likud delegates in 1972, the first WZC that I attended as a student leader
As we look toward the future, Australian Zionists must maintain a steadfast commitment to promote the national rights of the Jewish people in the State of Israel, regardless of whichever party happens to hold government in Jerusalem.
I would like to see the WZO focus on support for the Zionist movement in the Diaspora as its most important goal. This objective should be in concert with the promotion of immigration, settling the land, Jewish education and Hebrew as the international language of the Jewish people.
The WZO has come a long way over the last 10 years, and credit for those achievements are due to Chairman Avraham Duvdevani and the Zionist executive, of which I’ve been privileged to serve.
Dr. Danny Lamm is president Mizrachi Australia, deputy chairman World Mizrachi, chairman Aliya and Rescue Committee JAFI, member of Extended WZO Executive, immediate past president Zionist Federation of Australia and past president Executive Council of Australian Jewry.