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An open letter to Mr Bandt, from ZFA President Jeremy Leibler

Dear Mr Bandt,

RE: Greens statement on antisemitism

Following our previous correspondence regarding the antisemitic comments by former Greens candidate, Julian Burnisde QC, I, together with the leaders of other Jewish organisations representing diverse interests across the Australian Jewish community, was flabbergasted to come across the Greens’ recently released and incongruously named Statement on Fighting Antisemitism. A statement that was developed without any consultation with the mainstream Jewish community.

In reality, the statement concerns the party’s rejection of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism – a definition endorsed by the Australian Jewish community, governments of all persuasions around the world and both the Australian Government and Opposition. The Greens’ statement defends the decision by citing the position of fringe, unrepresentative Jewish organisations and extreme Palestinian advocacy groups that openly endorse the BDS movement.

The fact that the overwhelming majority of everyday Jewish Australians values the IHRA definition as an important tool to combat the age-old menace of antisemitism is ignored in the Greens’ statement. The statement also fails to make any reference to the rise in left-wing antisemitism or contain a strategy to address it. Do the Greens believe antisemitism only exists on the far right?

It is difficult to imagine that the Greens would develop and announce a policy regarding discrimination of another minority group without first consulting with that minority group to understand and hear their perspectives.

If you had, you would have been offered the following feedback on the statement:

  • The IHRA definition has never sought to constrain or silence criticism of Israel. In fact, it explicitly states that “criticism of Israel, similar to that levelled against any other country, cannot be regarded as antisemitic”. However, where the Jewish people, collectively, are held responsible for Israeli government actions or when Israel’s right to exist is challenged, a dangerous line has been crossed.
  • There has been no call by any representative Jewish organisation or political party for the definition to be codified or enforceable by law. The IHRA has always promoted it as an educative tool to assist organisations, institutions and nations to recognise how, unlike racism more broadly, antisemitism mutates over time – from the blood libel of the Middle Ages, through the racially-based, genetic manifestation of antisemitism perpetrated by the Nazis, through to the irrational demonisation of the only Jewish state we see today.
  • Anyone reading your statement would imagine that antisemitism is exclusively a feature of far-right ideology. Sadly, we are increasingly seeing it manifest on the far-left as well – the dissembling of the UK Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn demonstrated the devastating impact of antisemitism camouflaged as concern for human rights.

Indeed, the complete disregard for the views of the Jewish community and notable failure to call out antisemitism on the left is something that could have come out of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party. However, even Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party ultimately adopted the IHRA definition after his bid to avoid doing so was recognised by the British public for what it was. Ultimately, as you know, the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission found that widespread racist discrimination across the party was a direct consequence of the leadership’s unwillingness to tackle antisemitism.

The Jewish community is diverse and is neither uniformly left nor right. The fight against antisemitism and discrimination should not be fought along political lines, as reflected by the bipartisan endorsement in Australia of the IHRA working definition.

While there are elements of Greens policy that would resonate with members of the Australian Jewish community, the substance and failure to consult in good faith the Jewish community on an issue which directly impacts upon them is deeply alienating.

I urge you to reflect on the process that you undertook to reach this deeply troubling position and reconsider the Greens policy in light of feedback from the Jewish community.

Sincerely,

Jeremy Leibler
President, Zionist Federation of Australia