Jewish News August 28

The biggest news is probably the poll. There’s a survey of Jews in New Zealand and Australia, with thousands taking part. We don’t yet know the methodology. One of its leading architects is Andrew Markus, who also is an expert on Aboriginal history. As Markus is quoted as saying, there haven’t been any major surveys in almost 20 years (it would be interesting to find out more about that one).

The AJN interviews Thomas Buergenthal. They don’t seem to be familiar with his views on the West Bank Wall (such as asking him about his ruling, although perhaps they did ask and thought better of publishing it. They put him under the heading of his place with the International Court of Justice, and also Child Holocaust Survivor. Saying he regards the settlements as illegal and all parts of the wall protecting them illegal too, perhaps didn’t make the cut.)

Jamie Hyams, in his AIJAC column, writes with his trademark erudition. Under the heading “Historical wrongs”, he seeks to correct Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: “In fact, the Palestinian mandate was created following World War I, with the specific aim of the creation of a Jewish state, and anti-Jewish violence there preceded the UN partition resolution.” Emphasis added.

The first letter is interesting. Arthur Hurwitz explains that “Israel should learn from Sri Lanka how to deal with terrorists.” I think they already have (or rather, they have a few things in common, such as refusing international media access).

An editorial says there were 144 questions in the survey. They say 80% of Jews identify as Zionist – something “we should take great pride in and it should finally put to rest the absurd notion pushed by the likes of Antony Loewenstein, and Jews Against the Occupation, that there is a large and silent group of Australian Jews who don’t support Israel.

                Perhaps the survey has unwittingly revealed that these types of people are merely self-promoters who add nothing to the Australian Jewish experience.”

Okay, so the figures are often interesting. Around 8 in 10 identify as Zionist. This is pretty broad. It is frivolous for the AJN to claim that being Zionist means they’re all “supporters of Israel”, because someone can say they are Zionist, believe they support Israel, and oppose the occupation and discrimination against Palestinians. Saying they’re Zionist actually carries very little information, but what it does show is that 20% of Jews don’t identify as Zionist, and are effectively unrepresented (more on this soon).

Anyway, 21% of Jews are secular, 37% traditional, 14% progressive, 3% conservative, 19% modern orthodox, and 6% strictly orthodox. I don’t know how they figure this out either – lots of Jews identify as modern orthodox, but do not practice modern orthodoxy at all. So it’s perfectly possible that something between 25% and 8% of Jews are orthodox. In Sydney, synagogues are overwhelmingly orthodox or modern orthodox, Moriah and Emanuel are modern orthodox (etc)

On Zionism: 78% of Sydney Jews, and 82% of Melbourners identify as Zionist. It’s a strong majority, but hardly a consensus one. More than 10% of Jews across various educational attainments do not identify as Zionist, whereas the remainder of the missing 10% decline to answer. Well, it’s possible that some decline to answer because they couldn’t be bothered getting through 144 questions. That should become clear if we can look at the results and see how conscientious responders were. It’s also possible Jews were not willing to identify themselves as non-Zionists.  Or perhaps they felt the issue was too complicated. Regardless, an ordinary Jew could have read an early edition of the dreaded Loewenstein’s book, where he still supported Israel’s right to exist, and be Zionist, yet hold the view the AJN regards as so criminal and outrageous.

The other questions they tell us is that 56% of Jews feel “special alarm” if Israel is in danger (as opposed to another country. 20% feel their own life is in danger, with the greatest fears from elderly Jews. 63% of Jews follow events in Israel closely (a lot or to a large extent). Less than 5% were not at all interested in events in Israel. Now, that’s pretty striking. If you have something like 95% of Jews interested in Israeli politics, and 20% do not identify as Zionist, that means 15% of Jews care at least a bit about Israel, but are sufficiently skeptical of the views of the leading Jewish organisations to not identify as Zionist. The AJN treats these figures with triumph. If they were more intelligent, they would be alarmed. Jews overwhelmingly only hear pro-Zionist (and basically right wing Zionist) claims from all the Jewish organisations (educational, communal, spokespeople and so on). Yet a serious minority doesn’t trust them. 10% non-Zionist is about the same as the vote Greens get. The Greens obviously won’t win an election, but Australian politics means they get a voice and hearing. The Jewish News, on the other hand, thinks their equivalent is so marginal that they add nothing to the Jewish experience, and are not a large and silent group and so on. 10% of some 100 000 Jews means 10 000 Jews. And regardless, I’ll stress again: being non-Zionist does not summarise the view of those who think Israel is oppressing the Palestinians dreadfully. Lots of Zionists can and do think that (though how many Australian Jews think this is something we don’t know). This is despite a media which is overwhelmingly devoid of sympathetic coverage of Palestinian rights, that the only public commentators who ever criticise Israel are printed in small circulation magazines like Crikey and newmatilda, with the corporate media overwhelmingly avoiding printing people like  Loewenstein (and really, Loewenstein belongs to a very small category of public critics of Israeli actions and crimes).

As if they want to give me a heart attack, watch the vox pop on should Israel negotiate with Hamas.

People actually are in favour of it, with the first person saying it’s complicated, another saying no, another saying “you have to negotiate with your enemies”. The lady is from Habonim. I have a very low opinion of Habonim, so that was a pleasant surprise (though I know one dude from Habo who I think is a good dude, but politically I have sharp differences).

Anyway, the Zionist identification. Yes, no, and decline will be presented as numbers after catgeories:

Year 11-12: 80.9, 11.8, 7.3 (sample size 560).

Diploma: 74.1, 16.2, 9.7 (384)

Some tertiary: 85.1, 10.4, 4.5 (503)

Bachelor: 84.4, 10.6, 5 (1519)

Postgrad diploma: 81.8, 11.5, 6.8%

Masters degree: 83.7, 11.3, 4.9 (635)

PhD: 77.4, 14.5, 8.1 (207)

I would have anticipated a far smaller non-Zionist turnout. Perhaps my views were skewed, because I’ve been involved in so many Zionist Jewish organisations, which as it turns out are of course not representative.

Why don’t Jews feel part of the community (or feel like they are only slightly part of the community)? 4.8% say they have “views different from leadership”. 1.8% say “Not Zionist”. Now that means that they feel alienated from the community because of the leadership’s stance on Israel. That means if the polls is representative, we should extrapolate to 1 800 Jews who are basically radical anti-Zionists. This presumably seems a tiny minority of the Jewish community. Yet the experience of Jews criticising Israel in Australia is a very new phenomenon. I grew up without anything like it, but Jews who grow up with this can increasingly be expected to be open to drifting leftwards on the question of Israel. Besides that, if 1800 Jews take a position which is somewhat radical, how many Jews are less radical, but still critical of the Israeli government and opposed to the leadership’s endless support of Israeli crimes?

This is all very interesting, and in a way, I think it is cause for optimism. There is more of an opening in the Jewish community than I had actually realised. Even in the tiny category of 1800 radical Jews, it does not include those who are anti-Zionist, but feel part of the community. What is also news is that contrary to Mendes, it turns out people are Jewish even if they are not Zionist (or whatever ridiculous criteria he applies to Jews with opinions he disapproves of).

I think really, what this poll shows is that the Jewish left isn’t so different from the Australian left. Australian voters support the Greens at about the same rate as non-Zionists (10%), if we put aside the decline to answer category. Of course, non-Zionism may be more complex, but only 5% of Jews aren’t interested in Israel, so we might say 15% of Jews take a stance which is really quite uncommon and unexpected for Jews. And again, we don’t yet know what respondents would have said if asked “do you think the settlements in the West Bank should be dismantled right now?” or “Do you think Israel’s attack on Gaza this year was immoral?” In fact, it’s sort of interesting to think, I think about 28% of Australians recently asked in a poll identified as pro-Palestinian, whereas 24.5% said they were pro-Israel. If perhaps 10% of Jews might identify as pro-Palestinian (and it’s possible that it’s actually more, or that some of those who don’t follow events in Israel are actually Zionist anyway), that means there’s not such a huge gap between the Australian public and the Jewish public in supporting Palestinian rights (except that the uneducated in the Australian public find their corresponding figures in Zionists).

Of course, I would think a more important study would be of attitudes towards Israeli governments. What do they think of Lieberman? Do they like Netanyahu? And so on. Regardless, this is a significant study, and should be a welcome contribution. The anti (or non)-Zionism in Australia is actually similar to the Knesset representation of Palestinians in Israel. I’m sure there are some bigots who will say this makes the anti-Zionist left the Jewish Australian Arabs. For my part, I’m pleased and interested, and receive the news with pleasant surprise.

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