The Ausraeli Approach: the Diasporic identity of Israelis in Australia

August 11, 2015 by Ran Porat
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Approximately 15,000 Israelis live in Australia, mostly in Melbourne and Sydney, and almost all of them are Jews…but Ran Porat says “most Israelis remain estranged from organised Jewish Australia.

Ran Parat

Ran Porat

They constitute around twelve percent of the 120,000-strong Australian Jewish community. Yet, several factors and recent developments grant Ausraelis (Australian-resident Israelis) considerable importance that outweigh their numeric size.

The first factor is demography, as reflected in the data of the Australian census. Since the turn of the century, the rate of immigration from Israel to Australia has skyrocketed, leading to a twenty percent jump in the number of Ausraelis every five years. This trend escalated recently, with a possible thirty percent growth between 2011 and today. In fact, when examining Australian Jewry according to country of birth, Israelis are by far the fastest growing non-Australian-born group in the community in recent years.

The positive Ausraeli contribution to the demographic profile of Australian Jews is evident across a range of characteristics. Many of the newcomers from Israel are young families with children, thereby invigorating an aging Australian Jewish population. Recent Israeli emigrants are skilled and educated, , fostering a relatively swift integration into the local market as middle-class Australians.. From a Jewish community perspective, Ausraelis can be potentially regarded a healthy cadre for a new generation of active members.

However, as a rule, Israelis remain estranged from organized Jewish Australia. One reason for this is life in Israel, where Jews are the majority and where the state provides all educational, social and religious services. Israelis abroad rarely go to or join synagogues, which for Diaspora Jews are an important social foci. Most Israeli emigrants are secular, and they associate synagogues with religion and its institutions and political parties – both unpopular in light of the long history of secular-religious tensions in Israel.

The lack of a community mentality is just the tip of the iceberg. Living in a Diaspora setting is the prominent force which determines the boundaries and content of the conversation between Ausraelis and Australian Jewry. The latter can be conceptualised as a historic religious Diaspora, the Aussie subsidiary of the Jewish Diaspora worldwide. The former is evolving a budding Ausraeli diasporic identity, part of the wider national Israeli Diaspora. This new identity is constructed around a triangle of affiliations: Israeli (homeland nationalism), Australian (new home society) and Jewish (religious). Each of these affiliations are internally debated by individuals and themselves, and/or vis-à-vis the relevant sector of Australia’s population: Israeli residents in Australia, other Australian Jews and the wider Australian society.

The state of Israel participates in, and even moderates, the discussion between its national and historic Diasporas across the globe. These days, Jerusalem is officially reaching out to and embracing its former residents. This is possible because current Israeli emigrants display features of confident transnational migrants, with a growing cross-border political awareness of the issues facing the homeland. Institutionalisation is the latest trend of the Israeli Diaspora. Newly formed local organisations of Israelis abroad, including AIA (the Association of Israelis in Australia, co-founded by the author), are on the verge of creating a global Israeli Diaspora roof body.

Tapping into the inner voices of the Israeli community of Australia reveals another interesting finding. Inside designated closed online social platforms, within their own Hebrew-only forums, websites and print media, Ausraelis are engaged in a dynamic re-definition process of their identity in the Diaspora setting. Specifically, among the recent Israeli newcomers to Australia, there is a dominant group that exhibits a distinct self-perception, ‘The Ausraeli Approach’. This is based on a certain demarcation of Israel’s past and on a negative prognosis of its future. The Ausraeli approach challenges the original Zionist nation-building narrative, which stigmatised past emigrants as Yordim (descending) – a derogatory label (in 1976, the Israeli PM Rabin famously described Yordim as “a fallen among weaklings”). Yerida (the act of emigration) revolved around guilt, shame and temporariness as embodied in cultivation of the ‘myth of return’, constantly contemplating resettling in Israel. The Ausraeli approach sees immigration to Australia as Aliyah (ascendance) – a term exclusively used for incoming Jews to Israel (Olim, ascenders). Aliyah further implies an improved personal status and a higher moral and normative character as a result of the homecoming to Israel. In fact, the Ausraeli approach is a reversal of classic Zionist discourse.

According to the Zionist story, settling in Israel is the only path towards redemption for Diaspora Jews, and the only way to escape a deterministic fate in the ‘Mortified Exile’ (Golah Dvuyaih). This idea of ‘negation of exile’ was embodied by the adoption of ‘the wandering Jew’ antisemitic myth by early Zionism. The Christian fable of ‘the wandering Jew’ holds that Jews are to always wander the earth. The Zionist version suggested that the Israeli – a new and reinvented national Jew – was supposed to lay his Wandering forefather to rest. On the other hand, the Ausraeli approach repositions leaving Israel as an escape to the Diaspora from a deterministic fate of never-ending troublesome life in Israel with ongoing security and social tensions (‘the myth of no return’). It suggests that ‘the wandering Jew’ did not find spiritual relief following Jewish national resurrection in Israel and, therefore, his never-ending journey continues.

To sum up: what can be learnt from the Ausraeli approach? That Zionist success in manufacturing new Jews – the Israelis – was so great that Israeli emigrants feel detached from their historic forefathers, Diaspora Jews. And the emigrants themselves are evolving into now a new segment of Israeli society, as Israeli Diasporants. Now it is high time to examine the identity of children of Ausraelis. As one vocal Ausraeli described it in an internal online forum: “What is the relevance of an Israeli tradition for a child who is about to turn into an Australian?”. I wonder.

Dr . Ran Porat is a lecturer and researcher at Melbourne’s Monash University for Israel studies. He is co-founder of AIA – Association of Israelis in Australia

This article was first published on The Conversation website



4 Responses to “The Ausraeli Approach: the Diasporic identity of Israelis in Australia”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    I had to smile, then laugh, then say to meself ; ” MA PITOM,” lack of community mentality “, “guilt of being yordim “, not being able to associate with the “wondering Jew ” etc.
    Improvising theories about the general inability/unwillingness of Israelis to simply be socially affable to other Jews is so prevalent that one encounters this syndrome in any situation with Israelis, whether they are residents, tourists or, as it happened to me more than once, even when traveling long distance to a family reunion.
    Let’s face it, most Israeli Jews born and bred in Eretz Israel are chiseled in completely different ways to Jews living outside Israel – exceptions of the more sophisticated ones are self evident -.
    The excessively assertive sabra would have serious problems “practicing” his nature if language is an obstacle and, let’s face it, most Israelis I have met are happy with residual English and, yet, they can master at once a ” what you takin aboutt , you dont know nossing !!!”. Naturally, then , that among themselves they can go forever with that famous “ma pitom !!!” and tok all kinda bizniss and lashon hora aplenty about Yossi, Uri, Ilan and all other mamzerim NOT PRREZENT.
    If only they knew how good some of us, not quite full blood sabra, are at arguing, even with as good an Ivrit as their English is….Trouble – for them – is that, if they engage in what comes natural, arguing and know from start that there is a language handicap, then off they go to their own cozy caffes or whatever Society will be formed thus making sure that we, the “diasporic” Yidds and them, completely different sorts (!!!) shall never twine.

    • Otto Waldmann says:

      … mind you, we also have some road bumps mit our Russian cousins, but that’s a completely different story, so, yourse guys are stuck with ME !!!!

  2. Ron Jontof-Hutter says:

    Your new Israeli-Diaspora organization is timely. In Berlin where I reside, there are also thousands of Israelis. They are very disconnected from Jewish communal life, and didn’t even attend a support demo for the kidnap/murder of the 3Israeli teenagers, or support demos for Israel during the Gaza war. Some give anti Israel interviews to the media, are heavily involved in BDS activities, and assimilate with Non -Jewish German partners.
    I wish you success.

  3. Michael Jaku says:

    Interesting and thought-provoking. Raises challenging issues: European Jews supposedly emigrating to Israel in droves while significant numbers of Israelis are leaving.

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