The Ausraeli community in Australia: a new report

November 11, 2020 by Ran Porat
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Israeli emigrants to Australia, aka Ausraelis, have built a vibrant community which operates within and outside the wider Jewish community.

This is one of the conclusions of a new report I authored for the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisations (ACJC) at Monash University.

Ausraeli Jews – A profile of Israel-born Australian Jewish residents” is the latest in a series of studies analysing the findings of the Gen17 Australian Jewish Community Survey issued by researchers at the ACJC. In this report, I also review relevant data from the 2016 Australian census and the Gen08 Jewish Australian population survey, conducted more than a decade ago.

Approximately 10,000 Israel-born Jews now call Australia their home. Most of these Ausraelis reside in Melbourne and Sydney, living mainly within or in the proximity of the major Jewish clusters of the 120,000 strong Australian Jewish community.

Immigration from Israel increased at the turn of the 21st century, amounting to a few hundred a year. Although not as big as previous immigration waves to Australia by Jews from South Africa or the Former Soviet Union, Israelis now remain the only steady source of a stream of Jews resettling in Australia, many of which are families with young children rejuvenating the local Jewish population.

Another important contribution Ausraelis make to Jewish life in Australia is maintaining the vibrancy of Hebrew here. Hebrew is spoken at their homes and a considerable number of Israelis teach Hebrew and other Israel-related subjects in Jewish schools.

Economically, Israelis are quite successful newcomers to Australia. Most of them are skilled migrants with a relatively good command of English, Ausraelis manage to immerse themselves into the Australian business and jobs markets using their high education levels. A few years after migration, most Israelis settle into the high end of the Australian middle class.

The relationship between Israelis abroad and the local Jewish communities are complex. In Australia, on the one hand, 64 per cent of Ausraelis surveyed in Gen17 testified feeling connected at some degree to the Jewish community, a 10 per cent increase compared to 2008. At the same time, many other Ausraelis feel disconnected from the Jewish community and its institutes. Approximately a fifth of Israel born Jews in Australia said that they felt “discrimination from the Jewish community” here, and a similar percentage think that belonging to a Jewish community is ‘very unimportant’ or ‘fairly unimportant’ to one’s Jewish identity. Compared to other segments of the Australian Jewish population, these rates of disconnectedness to the community are the highest. Israelis also attest to hardships in befriending non-Israeli Jews, maintaining a circle of friends mostly devised of people from their home country.

Most Israelis in Australia are secular or conservative/Masorti of some sort. A low percentage of Ausraelis believe in God, observe Halacha and/or pray. Attendance in synagogues is also relatively very low – less than a quarter attend the synagogues once a month or more. This is also because most Israelis see the synagogue as limited to a religious place of worship, and they are unaware of its social importance for diaspora Jews. Secular Israelis may also reject synagogues because they see it as part of the religious establishment in Israel, which is at loggerheads with the secular forces in a cultural war over power and influence on the nature of the Jewish state.

The identity of the second-generation migrants is shaped to a great degree by the education choices made by the parents for their children. Israeli parents are the least likely to send their offspring to Jewish schools. Only around 40 per cent – the lowest rate among Australian Jews – of Gen17 Israel born participants with kids said they are planning to send their children to Jewish schools. Like many others in the Jewish community at large, the main challenge noted by Ausraelis is the high school fees and costs.

Ausraelis exhibit a strong connection and deep interaction with the State of Israel. In a variety of Israel-related issues, Israelis lead the Jewish community in Australia. For example, 75 per cent of Ausraelis consider themselves Zionist, are keeping up to date with events in Israel and frequently visit the Jewish state, where family and friends live. They lead the community in the importance they attribute to affiliation with Israel as central to Jewish identity.

At the same time, Israelis in Australia are far more critical of their homeland, its democratic institutes and society. More than half of them agreed that there is discrimination in Israel against non-Jews and that the religious institutes have too much influence on Israel’s society. With regards to attempts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, Israelis here are situated more to the centre and to the left of most other Jews in Australia. More than half support territorial concessions in Israel in exchange for peace with the Palestinians while a third reject the claim that control over the West Bank is vital to Israel’s security. Ausraelis were almost divided on the question should Israel negotiate peace with the terrorist organization Hamas.

In 2020, we can see that the Israeli population in Australia is shaping up to be a politically aware ethnic group. It is an integral part of the wider Israeli diaspora worldwide, strongly involved and tied to the State of Israel while maintaining an independent yet connected relationship with local Jewish communities.

The report was published last Thursday. Ausraeli Jews: a profile of Israel-born Australian Jewish residents – Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation

Dr. Ran Porat is a research associate at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation at Monash University, a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya and a research associate at the Future Directions International Research Institute, Western Australia.

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