Community Support for Israel

November 8, 2012 by Manny Waks
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It is overdue that we examine the role of advocacy for Israel in our community organisations, particularly those that nominally are not designated a specific role to represent Israel’s interests…writes Manny Waks.

Manny Waks

Of course support for Israel is critical, both at the community and individual level, and never more so than in the face of hostility to Israel throughout the world. This does not, however, preclude a careful assessment of the work undertaken by groups whose principal mission is to represent the domestic interests of the Australian Jewish community.
There are a plethora of dedicated pro-Israel organisations, including the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA), and the Women’s International Zionist Organisation (Australia). This raises the question as to why other organisations, largely established to cater to the community needs of Australian Jews, so often pivot their focus to include issues already capably within the hands of pro-Zionist groups.
It was indeed curious that there was no discernible difference in the recent Rosh Hashanah messages to the Jewish community from the presidents of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) and the ZFA, respectively, despite their distinctive roles in our community. Both concentrated their comments on Israel, but in the case of the ECAJ, this was at the expense of local issues that are intended to be its primary focus. The centrality of Israel in the workings of the ECAJ and other mainstream “peak bodies”, such as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, is misplaced and a waste of critical and limited community resources. Local issues, some of which include aged care, social welfare, education, abuse, alcohol/drugs and social entrepreneurship, deserve the attention of groups whose imprimatur is to support the community needs of Australian Jews.
Another example of this skewed representation of local interests occurred when the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) decided to invite Israel Defence Forces Brigadier General Gal Hirsch to make the prestigious Gandel Oration, its centerpiece annual fundraiser and publicity event. Previous speakers have included University of Southern California Shoah Foundation Executive Director Stephen Smith, human rights scholar Professor Anne Bayefsky, human rights lawyer Irwin Cotler, Ambassador Martin Indyk and former prime ministers Bob Hawke and Malcolm Fraser. The ADC’s mission is clear, and though peripherally concerned with the demonisation of Israel as a means to defame Australian Jews, General Hirsch did not appear to be credentialed as an expert on matters that would advance the mission of the ADC, despite the disingenuous title of the evening’s oration, “‘Human Rights, International Law and the IDF”.
As should have been expected, given even a cursory examination of the General’s military record and utterances, he spoke mostly about his experience in the Israeli military as well as pleading with the audience and their families to make Aliyah and to join the Israeli military. Clearly this is irrelevant to the ADC’s mission to combat antisemitism and racism.
Like the ECAJ, the ADC does admirable work, and I was once proud to head this organisation. Nevertheless, there are a multitude of effective Jewish organisations addressing issues related to Israel. The ECAJ, the ADC and all of the other organisations whose primary mission does not relate to Israel should shift their resources and energies towards Australian-related issues. This will be of benefit to the Australian Jewish community, the organisations themselves and their constituencies.
No doubt some within these organisations will argue that Australian Jews are staunchly Zionist and so expect a natural focus towards Israel. This is facile, for no one recommends any movement away from the vigorous support of Israel already maintained by pro-Zionist groups. True, fundraising in a difficult economic environment is enhanced by a pro-Israel focus, but apart from the diminishment of community interests, the inappropriate attention to Zionist causes continues to alienate many younger Jews who question the centrality of Israel but nevertheless wish to work for Jewish renewal and continuity in their Australian community. Disaffection with Jewish identity amongst the young has reached a crisis point, and the attitude of the ECAJ (and others) continues to prove counterproductive.
Anyone who attends mainstream Jewish community events should be discouraged at the predominance of older and middle aged participants and office bearers, and the dearth of younger persons in attendance and in representative positions. Time is of the essence here. We cannot continue to alienate younger Jews who want to identify with our community, and at the same time disenfranchise those whose needs should be met by locally focused groups. Perhaps a wider debate on these important issues will produce a meaningful consensus for a way forward.

Manny Waks is a former Vice President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Immediate Past President of the ACT Jewish Community and founding President of the Capital Jewish Forum.


8 Responses to “Community Support for Israel”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    I agree with Shirlee , but only to the extent that the NSWJBD has been very poorly guided by the curent and. more so, by the immediate past leadership. We are witnessing a prevalence of left-wing activists detracting from the mainstream Zionist principles. This is what Shirlee is also aluding to when evoking the poor aducational skills of some of the young ones otherwise part of the Jewish education structure.
    All these facts do NOT support at all what Manny Waks is on about.
    Waks is utterly erratic and follows a personal quest for attention and relevance. His wholesale criticism of the importance of Zionism as detrimental to creating Jewish awarness and activism in its comprehensive structure does not bear any logic, it is, indeed, the antithessys of what being a Jew means.
    I, of all people, have been the most ardent critic of local Jewish organisations. For decades I have been almost the only voice raising issues at the NSWJBD, when a Deputy. It reached the point when the Board used all means to get rid of me, implicitely of the criticism which I promoted. And, with utmost realism and modesty , I must insist that ALL issues raised by me over the years were real and valid. Sadly, improvements have not been apparent, quite to the contrary. Yet, this cannot possibly advocate for a diminution of the Zionist activities within any, I repeat, any Jewish organisation that involves active participation of all ages.
    As such ,Manny Waks does not intend to improve but only to fly his own kite while, indeed, provoking some discussions which, totally unrelated to Waks’ agenda, would deserve attention. Providing Waks support for his own selfish trajectory is, however, the most undesirable effect, side issues of relevance notwithstanding.

  2. Shirlee. says:

    I agree with much of what Manny Waks has to say.

    Definitely organisations which are there for local issues, should be just that and not for some of our so-called Community leaders who use their positions for grandstanding and self promotion.

    The NSW JBD is an organisation which was formed for the Jewish Community, yet it appears, that more time is spent educating non-Jews than Jews, running from one non-Jewish institution to another. There is a strong undercurrent in the Community about this. The money and time should be spent in our schools, educating our children, who finish up knowing little about Israel and with no feeling for Israel. I can vouch for that, I have two grandchildren recently finished school at Moriah College, both having attended since they were three years old and who know little about Israel. I have just spent considerable time with the one who has just finished school explaining Zionism. He told me he wasn’t a Zionist. Now he is going to Israel with Birthright.!

    David Hazony summed it all up beautifully last week. We will end up being like the American Jews if we continue down this path we are heading now. I was aghast in Israel when the guide at the Ayalon Centre at Rehovot spoke about a kibbutz and the three children of an American family had never heard the word

    It’s not only children, adults know little too, because our organisations are more interested in Muslim cooking classes. That in itself is a huge joke in the Community

    The JBD wonders why more people aren’t interested. They see nothing being done for them basically. Money is wasted everywhere on unnecessary things which have nothing much to do with the Community. This upcoming Mission to Israel is a classic example, what has this to do with the NSW Jewish Community? Leave this for the ZCNSW, UIA, JNF etc.

    I am in full agreement with Manny in regards to his thoughts about Jewish community events being patronised by older and middle aged participants and office bearers. Until we educate our young people at school about Israel, they won’t attend these functions and they are fast losing their Jewish identity.

  3. michael says:

    Manny is entitled to his opinion and he likes to seek attention thats for sure., I only hope the Jewish community org’s ignore him.

  4. Liat Nagar says:

    Manny Waks is speaking specifically and broadly, also with depth; he’s inviting exploration of his thoughts and constructive debate on many important Jewish issues, and he’s interested to have younger Jews in Diasporic communities become actiive in the Jewish organisations that look out for local Jewish affairs. That’s what his article is about. He’s obviously not into rhetoric, or taking sides, so for you to attempt to use points he might make that you consider worthy to push your own very different barrel, is both obvious and ridiculous. Try reading with intent to learn something new.

  5. Otto Waldmann says:

    As Shirlee Finn is finely waxing “Ben”, I shall concentrate on tireless Manny.

    All over the shop, Mr. Wax cannot distinguish between elementary notions of Jewish activism and that is, so obviously, the direct result of a messy, confused mind-set seemingly unable to arrive at definitory notions of simple functions.
    Manny Wax’s gratuitous attempt at local organisations involved in their fundamental activities is so devoid of logic that one wonders what is the real agenda a currently irrelevant communal entity follows.
    Wax’s “argumentation” is too stridently absurd to deserve a decent reply. To attack Jewish organisations for their dedication to Zionism, their earnest effort of keeping their constituency abreast of matters indispensible to any responsible, active Jew in our community defies logic, it is simply, plainly unacceptable.
    Considering the highly controvential activities pursued by Wax’s own set-up, of promoting all manner of diplomatic and generally foreign persons within the activities of his own CJF, the erratic address posted by him here reeks of competitive farcical elitism and a spurious attempt at deligitimising a raft of other Jewish organisations which follow an expected range of activities as far as promoting Zionism, an essential component of ANY Jewish entity.
    I am saying all these although I do have my own reasons for being citical of a number of Jewish organisations for reasons quite contrary to Manny Wax’s incongruous indulgences.

  6. Harry says:

    JWire – what’s with the lack of paragraphing in this article? A line break between paras would make this much easier to read…

  7. Ben says:

    Waks has raised many worth points, but the axiomatic endorsement of Israel has spoiled it. Waks should be bolder and question the hasbara.

    • Shirlee. says:

      For G-d’s sake Ben, your idiocy is a painful. Go play elsewhere.

      You are lucky to be given air space here, unlike the pro-Palestinian ones you get your garbage from. We can’t get single word posted.

      In case it hasn’t entered your pea sized brain. We are Jewish, this is a Jewish website, ergo we support Israel.

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