Loyalty of Australian-Israelis shouldn’t be doubted
The suggestion that the tragedy of Ben Zygier’s death was caused by a conflict of loyalty inherent in Australian-Israelis is deeply offensive, writes Philip Chester.
This article originally appeared on ABC Drum Online.
Much media reporting surrounding the tragic suicide of Ben Zygier has been driven by unsubstantiated conjecture and rumour.
Commentators can’t resist the temptation to guess who did what. The speculation has now extended to disturbing suggestions of Jewish disloyalty – evoking age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes.
Leslie Cannold on The Drum raises the question of how the Australian Jewish leadership should respond to “questions about Jewish Australian loyalty” which according to her could be “certainly” understood to arise from the Prisoner X case as if loyalty to Australia and Israel are mutually exclusive.
In fact, the opposite is true. Being loyal to Australia and to Israel is an easy fit. Australians and Israelis share common values.
Both nations pride themselves on their robust democracies, free speech and media, and independent legislature and judiciary. Both peoples share common interests – education and culture, sport and a love of each country’s natural geographic beauty.
The relationship of the Jewish people to the land of Israel is millennial and for most Jews the state of Israel is a central part of their Jewish identity.
History, culture and the nationhood of the Jewish people converge in that tiny strip of land. Since the formation of the state in 1948, millions of Jews from around the world, including many thousands from Australia, have made the decision to emigrate to Israel (in Hebrew, make “Aliyah”), not because they rejected Australia but rather to fulfil the dream of living as Jewish people in a democratic and free Jewish homeland.
As a multicultural society, Australia has long recognised and accepted that its citizens have the right to hold dual nationality. Many Australians enjoy the rights and privileges of citizenship of other countries by reason of birth or the nationality of their parents or grandparents. For most Australians who have migrated to Israel, this is a much appreciated privilege and the assumption of Israeli citizenship has not detracted at all from their pride in or identification with Australia.
Australians in Israel generally continue to maintain strong links to Australia and take great pride in Australia’s impact on their upbringing and the contributions that they have made to Australian society.
Just as migrants to Australia from many countries continue to celebrate the cultures of their homelands – sometimes for generations after their ancestors moved here – Australians in Israel celebrate their Australian identity in events as diverse as Australia Day barbies, Grand Final parties and avid attention to events that impact on Australia.
Despite the distance, Australian-Israelis tend to return home to Australia frequently, maintaining relationships and contact with family and friends here. Likewise Israelis who have migrated to Australia maintain an avid interest in what happens in and to Israel, just as migrants from Italy, Greece, Lebanon and Syria maintain their interest and concern for the lands of their birth.
Australia and Israel are strong allies, and relationships built on the battlegrounds of the two World Wars underscore the enduring nature of the friendship and shared values. In a geopolitical sense, despite the vast distances, Israel and Australia are close. Our abhorrence of terror and commitment to Western democracy make the alliance firm and natural.
Bilateral trade, partnerships in medical, scientific and environmental research among other examples underscore this historically strong relationship between the two nations.
Cannold refers to the fact that the Zionist Federation of Australia has assisted more than 10,000 Australian Jews emigrate to Israel. Yes, that’s right, 10,000 in the last 65 years, who have made a decision based on family ties, career opportunities, religious or ideological belief – in fact, any of myriad reasons why an individual may choose to change their country of residence.
There is no dissonance here – no reason why someone emigrating to Israel should be considered any less loyal to Australia than someone emigrating to any other place in the world.
During the ABC interview referred to by Cannold, I made these points and said the Zionist Federation of Australia was never told about or involved with any cases of misuse of Australian passports. Indeed, as I said, we fully expect all emigrants to comply with Israeli and Australian laws and that it was perfectly appropriate for the Australian Government to investigate any alleged breach of Australian passport regulations.
We do not know the facts or details around Ben Zygier’s death or the circumstances leading to it. To suggest that this tragedy was brought on by inherent conflicts of loyalty and identity casts dangerous and unwarranted aspersions on the entire Jewish community.
There should be absolutely no doubt that the fundamental loyalties of Australian Jews and dual nationality Australian-Israelis to both homeland and birthplace remain solid, balanced and totally compatible.
Philip Chester is the president of the Zionist Federation of Australia and has headed the Zionist Federation of Australia since 2006.