By Jeremy Leibler
Ted Lapkin, the Executive Director of the Australian Jewish Association (AJA) believes that the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) has lost its way and is on a ‘leftward bent’ (AJN 15/5).
Lapkin misconceives the role of a roof body. Unfortunately, his comments also reflect a grave communal danger: fear of diversity. The ZFA reflects our evolving community and represents the full spectrum of ideas that flourish within the Zionist framework. The ZFA is neither left nor right. It is left and right. And it is everything in between. When the ZFA awarded the Jerusalem Prize to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and met with Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong, neither meeting was a partisan act but rather a fulfilment of our role as a national roof body.
Our affiliates reflect the diversity of our passionate community. The ZFA reserves seats at the table for Meretz Australia and Ameinu on the left and Friends of Likud on the right. We also incorporate non-political fundraising organisations such as UIA, JNF and WIZO.
When I became the President of the ZFA in 2018, I was elected on a platform of ensuring diversity of opinion. I wrote in these pages that our community must come to terms with the disparate communal attitudes towards Israel. If we supress this complex reality, we will lose generations of genuine and passionately Zionist Jews from active involvement in the community from both the left and the right.
This mandate is inspired by President Rivlin, who said “Complexity is not a plague … a lack of backbone. Complex people do not only vote for the centre. They vote for the right, and for the left. Our complexity is what binds us together”.
Lapkin and the AJA would benefit from engaging with the complexity of our community rather than attacking the expression of difference. It is our complexity and our diversity that make us one of the strongest Zionist communities anywhere in the world.
Lapkin’s primary grievance is that the ZFA hosted Yair Golan in an online ‘lockdown learning’ session. Golan is a retired Major General, former Deputy Chief of Staff of the IDF, and current member of Knesset for Meretz. Golan attracted criticism on Yom Hashoa in 2016 after an IDF soldier shot an unarmed and immobilised Palestinian terrorist. Golan drew a comparison between the atmosphere in Israel at the time and Germany in the 1930s. That statement was deplorable and widely condemned. Golan himself withdrew it and described it as “an absurd and baseless comparison”. He also said that “the IDF is a moral army that respects the rules of engagement and protects human dignity.”
Israel’s then opposition leader and now Jewish Agency Chairman, Isaac Herzog described Golan as a “courageous commander” adding “the crazies who will now start screaming against him should know: this is what morality and responsibility sound like.”
Lapkin was also outraged that, in welcoming the decision of the Australian Government to recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the ZFA pointed out that the establishment of a Palestinian state is still possible as part of a negotiated peace agreement. Since when is support for a two-state solution a ‘left wing partisan’ position?
Finally, Lapkin accused the ZFA of ‘leaking political correctness’ for participating in the 2020 Pride March. Somewhat bizarrely, Lapkin characterised our participation with many of our affiliates as a “calculated insult to those Orthodox elements of our community that espouse a Tanach-oriented view of sexuality and family”. It saddens me that in 2020, I have to explain that participating in a parade to support a segment of the community – a minority that has been at best ignored and at worst victimised for too long – is not an insult to anyone.
Then again, everything is relative. From AJA’s vantage point, any perspective that doesn’t conform with its values is a manifestation of leftist groupthink. While AJA purports to support mainstream conservative principles, its actions say something very different. From invitations to tour Bondi with white supremacist Lauren Southern to publicly defending former Senator Fraser “final solution” Anning, and from supporting Pauline Hanson to describing Senator Malcolm Roberts as “a quality addition to the Senate”, the AJA has left no doubt that it occupies the extreme fringe of the Australian Jewish community.
While AJA is entitled to express its opinions, while catering to its undisclosed number of members, Lapkin’s op-ed is a reminder of the challenges that our community faces. One of the defining features of Jewish tradition is our ability to grapple, tussle and engage with competing ideas and opinions. As the roof body for Zionist organisations in Australia, the ZFA’s role is to embrace the diversity of its constituents and facilitate this discourse. The ZFA will not allow labels of ‘left’ or ‘right’ to obstruct the myriad ways that we express our Zionism.
I will continue to work with our CEO, Ginette Searle and our diverse Executive to deliver on the pledge I made when I assumed this role: to ensure that each ‘tribe’ has a place at the table because of our differences, not despite them.
Jeremy Leibler is President of the Zionist Federation of Australia.