Support for Israel continues to unite Australia’s diverse Jewish community
The piece has been published in ABC Religion & Ethics by ECAJ co-CEO Alex Ryvchin.
It has long been a mantra of anti-Zionism that a “growing number” of Jews are turning against Israel, while the mainstream representative bodies of the Jewish community slumber on, fervently clinging to their unenlightened Zionist worldview. Some seem to hope that by asserting the proposition, doubt will be cast on whether the Jewish leadership has substantial support when it, for example, opposes the reversal of the Australian government’s recognition of west Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But all the evidence points to the fact that Israel remains an essential part of who we are. The Gen17 survey of the Australian Jewish community — by far the largest and most credible study of the community — found that “Israel is a strong unifying theme for Australian Jews.” It noted that “the vast majority (88%) feel a personal responsibility” for the continuing survival of a Jewish homeland.
Support for Israel is a powerful unifying theme in an otherwise remarkably diverse community. This support is as deep as it is generational. The same survey found that younger generations identify as Zionist “as strongly as their elders”. Ironically, it is the consistently tiny number of Australian Jews who identify as anti-Zionist, who are ossified in their narrow worldview that Israel is a unique evil and hold the vast majority of Jews in contempt for daring to disagree.
What is the source of the bond between Israel and the Jewish diaspora? To be sure, just as our identities as Australians soar above the rise of Hansonism or hard-left theatrics, the connection to Israel has nothing to do with politicians, coalition governments or the ultra-nationalist and Islamist parties represented in Israel’s parliament. It comes from seeing and experiencing Israel first-hand (more than 90 per cent of Australian Jews have visited Israel) and from grasping that a Jewish state, challenged and flawed as any other, is something to be cherished and defended. Israel is the only country in the Middle East and North Africa which Freedom House classifies as “Free”.
Israel exists as a testimony to what is possible. To all but a few within the Jewish community, it is a source of pride that our people survived and now take their rightful place as equals among the nations. The notion of a people losing their homeland to imperialism, dwelling in exile while colonisers took it as a chattel, then returning from all over the world to reconstitute their state in the same land, is a feat unprecedented in human history. Jews overwhelmingly feel connected to their roots and this unfolding story.
Decades before Israel again became a state, the American essayist and author Mark Twain reflected on the ability of the Jews to survive and remain true to who they are:
The Jew has made a marvellous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendour, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.
While Twain was enchanted by Jewish perseverance, others are driven to madness by it. Kanye West has recently threatened to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE” [sic]. West then alleged Jews were corrupting Christian values, and were conspiring to control media, finance and entertainment. The Brooklyn Nets basketball star Kyrie Irving notoriously promoted a racist propaganda flick alleging that Jews stole the identities of the “real” Jews, African-Americans.
Herein lies perhaps the most frustrating aspect of being a Jew, a condition that has blessed and defined me for thirty-nine years, and which has been my work for ten. To be a Jew is to be told by others — including those who really don’t like us — what we are, what we think, how we behave, and what we want.
We were once told that we consort with the devil despite being the original believers in one God. We were told our recipes for baking unleavened bread require Christian blood. We are told we think we’re better than other people because the book of Deuteronomy says we were “chosen” to assume additional religious obligations to pursue righteousness and justice, but never, never, to think we’re superior to anyone.
We are told that our Israeli brethren have formed themselves into an “ethno-state” run by (you name it) “genocidal”, “ethnic cleansing”, “organ harvesting”, “child-killing”, “media-controlling”, “apartheid-practising”, “neo-Nazis” who again crave the blood of the innocent. The fact that most of the nations of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East define themselves and their national symbols in terms of their respective ethnic majorities is typically waved aside. To anti-Zionists, we diaspora Jews who dare to see things differently to them are every bit as “blind” as medieval Christianity said we were.
The greatest mistake the Jews have made has been to think that substantive refutations, forensic takedowns, and witty ripostes will confound our accusers once and for all. It won’t. It just makes the Jews look guilty. Which is really the point. There’s an old Jewish saying that the antisemite accuses the Jew of stealing not because he thinks he stole something, but because he enjoys watching him turn out his pockets. Israel is a part of who we are. The Jews have nothing to hide and even less to prove.