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The Forum > Article Comments > Australian politics and the Jewish community > Comments

Australian politics and the Jewish community : Comments

By Philip Mendes, published 1/6/2005

Philip Mendes argues for a united Jewish political front in Australia.

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it is amazing how so many people presume that all muslims oppose israel about every single aspect of its existence. even pakistani muslims, who fail to realise that the views of pakistani founder muhammad ali jinnah were heavily influenced by the views of theodore herzl and others concerned about the plight of jewish minorities in emerging european democracies.

why does this happen? because sadly, the loudest voices in the islamic world are the ones least ready to compromise. these people wax lyrical about saladdin but never remember that saladdin sent his (jewish!) physician to heal the wounds and illness of richard at the first opportunity.

similarly, even the most moderate muslim opinion is often afraid of approaching jewish opinion-holders on such issues. why? because they presume all jewish people support israel on everything and will never tolerate criticism of israel.

jewish criticism of israel must be louder than it currently is. for dialogue to occur, both sides have to be open and honest. as an old middle eastern saying goes, "you can't clap with one hand".

if anything came out of the hanan ashrawi affair, it was that muslims went and bought the australian jewish news and read with their own eyes the criticism ordinary jewish australians were making of their organisations. and ordinary muslims discovered that they are not the only faith-community with leadership crises.

today, it isn't hard to find educated aussie muslims openly supporting dialogue between the two sides. the same people are also condemning suicide bombings. they do so not because it looks ideologically funky. they do so because they realise that jewish israelis are, as the Caliph Ali described, "brothers and sisters in humanity".

i know there are jewish australians out there who would love to speak out more openly. they should not feel afraid. we are living in a democracy. and we are all brothers and sisters in humanity.

shalom and ma salameh.
Posted by Irfan, Wednesday, 1 June 2005 10:38:17 AM
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This properly acknowledges that the Jewish community and its views are diverse. Unfortunately, one would never know that from the media, where socially conservative and strongly pro-Zionist attitudes seem to predominate. In today's 'Sydney Morning Herald' an Israeli scholar-cum-politician, Naomi Chazan, argues strongly against the aggressive tactics of recent Israeli governments; but I have a feeling that if I stated that, as a Gentile, in the media I would be immediately shouted down by the major Jewish organisations here. In short, one gets the impression that Australian Jews are more under the thumb than those in Israel.
The implication of that is that it would be utterly disastrous to follow Philip Mendes and seek a united Jewish political front. In view of his earlier discussion of the variety of views in the Jewish community, that seems illogical. Like members of other religions, why not simply have Jews contributing their values and perspectives, as they individually see them, to the general variety of political and other organisations? Why precisely does Mr Mendes want Jewish unitarian regimentation? Does he want heretics to be defined, then squashed?
Posted by oldpro5, Wednesday, 1 June 2005 3:37:20 PM
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I welcome Irfanís constructive contribution to this debate. I think most Australian Jews recognize that the Australian Arab and Muslim communities are diverse in their attitudes to the Middle East.

My view on Israel has always been similar to my political views on Australia. I am proud both to be Australian, and to have close family and cultural links with Israel.

Equally the democratic features of both countries allow me to openly express my political views and party allegiances. In Australia, I am a vigorous critic of the Howard Governmentís policies on a range of issues Ė particularly around social issues such as welfare and illicit drugs. I cannot conceive that I would ever vote for a conservative government here.

Given that I donít live in Israel I cannot vote there, and my views will not have any direct bearing on their political debates. Nevertheless I am a long-time supporter of two states, and a critic of the settlement movement. I doubt that I could ever support the Likud Party there, although I certainly support as a good first step the current proposals of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon regarding withdrawal from Gaza and some West Bank areas.

On both counts I regard my critical views as entirely compatible with my national loyalties to Australia, and in a more detached way to Israel.

I assume many Muslims and Arabs feel the same way both in regards to Australian policies, and in regards to the politics of their countries of origin.

Having said that, most members of ethnic communities (particularly those who have a history of oppression) like to maintain a united front in the broader community. So you wonít have many Jews criticizing Israel in The Age or Australian, just as few Australian Palestinians will criticize their national narrative or their country of origin in the general press. But I can tell you that Australian Jews are no different to Israelis in holding a wide range of views on all the key issues affecting Israelís future.

Philip Mendes
Posted by radical phil, Wednesday, 1 June 2005 5:41:28 PM
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The early suras written by Mohammed the prophet in the Qur'an endorse the right of Jews to the land while he had some compassion for the people of the Book. The passions of fundamentalist Muslims believing the latter suras of Mohammed the warlord who desired to eradicate Jews as the jihad edict from Allah; and the fears of the Jewish people of this happening, will continue to fuel sepratism in the minds of some Jews and anti-semitism in the mind of Muslim fundamentalists.

Ethnicity alone is not sufficient reason to form a political lobby or Party in a democratic society. True democracy is people of all races cooperating to build a better society based upon a common set of values.
Posted by Philo, Wednesday, 1 June 2005 8:28:46 PM
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In response to Philo, we live in a global community comprised of many different cultures and value systems. There is no universally shared narrative. Western-style ideas such as individualism, liberalism, and parliamentary democracy have little if any meaning in most other cultures. Global cooperation can only be based on recognizing rather than denying this diversity.

As for cooperation between "races", this is the language of racists. We are all human beings - just different.

Philip Mendes
Posted by radical phil, Thursday, 2 June 2005 9:01:52 AM
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Thank you, Philip, for a much-needed essay.

I think we Jews (and organisations that represent us) may "agree to agree" on some important issues, such as a united stand against bigotry and support for Israel's right to exist within secure and safe borders. But beyond such points we don't need a "united front." Despite the many common threads in political thought among Jews, we have a wide diversity of opinions on any number of topics (oh boy, what an understatement!).

Rather than being a sign of weakness, this diversity of opinion should be displayed as a sign of our strength, and a refutation of the dark, shady, conspiracy theories about "the Jews," as if we all think alike. Indeed many major Jewish organizations in the US did not take a position on the Iraq war because they could not find consensus among their own members and leaders.

This diversity creates a welcoming environment as well for non-Jews, like Irfan, who would like more dialogue.

But non-Jews have a role to play as well in avoiding vilification. As long as criticism of Israel (for example) is expressed using the same rhetoric and wording as centuries-old anti-Semitic tracts, I think Jews will tend to circle the ideological wagons.

Although there may be some validity to the claim that charges of anti-Semitism are overused, the assertion that "to criticise Israel is to stand accused of anti-Semitism" is sometimes used as a pre-emptive rhetorical tactic long before the "A" word is ever brought up. In this way rebuttals to criticisms of Israel are discredited before they can be made. So here's a proposed ground rule for this type of dialogue: "I won't accuse you of being anti-Semitic if you don't accuse me of accusing you of being anti-Semitic."

Similarly, given the (valid) statement that criticism of Israel does not necessarily equal anti-Semitism, the converse applies: support for Israel does not equal Islamophobia. (Similarly we have a responsibility to denounce vilification of Muslims.)
Posted by W_Howard, Thursday, 2 June 2005 11:26:11 AM
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