Survey puts Israel and Zionism under scrutiny

My following article appears in Crikey:

Monash University’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation has released the preliminary findings of its survey of Australian and New Zealand Jewry in which… 6200 Jewish people answered 144 questions on a variety of subjects, including anti-Semitism, Israel and Zionism, inter-marriage, education and identity. It’s the biggest study of its sort in nearly 20 years.

Thirty seven… per cent of Jews are traditional, 21% secular, 19% modern orthodox, 14% progressive, 6% strictly orthodox and 3% conservative. The majority of Sydney and Melbourne Jews say they have experienced anti-Semitism, though “the term anti-Semitism was not defined in the survey, but left up to individual perception”.

The majority of Jewish families share Sabbath dinner on a regular basis, students who attend Jewish and non-Jewish schools express interest in their “Jewishness” and inter-marriage doesn’t faze anybody living in a secular home.

But the most intriguing results… ”‰—”‰and ones already dishonestly spun by the AJN —”‰are attitudes towards Israel and Zionism. According to this week’s AJN editorial:

Four in five Australian Jews classify themselves as Zionists and claim some type of emotional attachment to Israel. It is a figure we should take great pride in and it should finally put to rest the absurd notion pushed by the likes of Antony Loewenstein, and Jews Against the Occupation, that there is a large and silent group of Australian Jews who don’t support Israel. Perhaps the survey has unwittingly revealed that these types of people are merely self-promoters who add nothing to the Australian Jewish experience.”

Methinks they doth protest too much. In fact, the results should deeply concern the Zionist establishment.

Of the appropriately 100,000 Australian Jews, roughly 20,000 do not identity themselves as Zionist (10% say they are not Zionist and the other 10% decline to answer). One of the survey’s benefactors, Ron Goldschlager, tells the AJN that, “Zionism has a different meaning and feeling for all individuals, but broadly, it brings a sense of identity and belonging”.

But what does attachment to Zionism and Israel really mean? The survey provides no real answers, but let me suggest a few. A Zionist can be opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. A Zionist can be a staunch supporter of Israel but vehemently disagree with the recent onslaught against Gaza. A Zionist can believe in engagement with Hamas. A Zionist can oppose the fundamentalist Jewish settlers in the West Bank maiming and killing Palestinian civilians. A Zionist can be thinking about embracing anti-Zionism. We simply don’t know from the information we currently have what these Zionists actually believe.

The past six months have seen a growing public debate between Israel and Washington. The latest poll in the Jerusalem Post finds that 4% of Israelis think Barack Obama is more pro-Israel than pro-Palestinian. Meanwhile, the vast majority of American Jews still back Obama’s Middle East policies. Who are the real “supporters of Israel” in these groups?

Zionist fanatics in Israel have their own understanding. “Four percent of the public evidently didn’t understand the question,” said National Union politician MK Arye Eldad. “If they did, 99.9% would say that he is extremely anti-Israel. The only Israelis who would say he is pro-Israel are those who join Fatah and call for anti-Israel boycotts.”

Independent Australian Jewish Voices blogger Michael Brull (disclosure: I’m the co-founder of the initiative) writes that the Australian results should worry, not please, the Zionist lobby (which the AJN largely supports):

Jews overwhelmingly only hear pro-Zionist (and basically right-wing Zionist) claims from all the Jewish organisations (educational, communal, spokespeople and so on). Yet a serious minority don’t trust them. Ten per cent non-Zionist is about the same as the vote the Greens get. The Greens obviously won’t win an election, but Australian politics means they get a voice and hearing. The AJN, on the other hand, thinks their equivalent is so marginal that they add nothing to the Jewish experience.”

The Monash study also highlights another growing trend. What are the realities of leftist Zionism and Judaism, who represent anywhere between 10-20% of Australian Jewry? Who are their spokespeople? Are they being ignored by the mainstream, hardline Zionist groups? Where are their voices in the media? Are all the major Zionist organisations simply repeating pro-occupation and pro-war sentiments from the Israeli state? Does the Zionist lobby continue to try and bully and silence alternative Jewish views, despite this study proving they represent a sizeable minority?

The increasing disaffection of Australian Jews towards Israel and Zionism isn’t about unrepresentative communal bodies (though it’s probably a factor). Slicker PR on the part of Jewish groups isn’t the answer. You can’t sell a sick product.

The problem is more profound. Israel is killing itself through its own actions, ignoring global opinion (something even some British Jews are acknowledging), expanding West Bank settlements, blockading Gaza and violently removing Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem.

The images of these actions, through the web, blogs, Al-Jazeera or even articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, are having a cumulative effect. The wider community is understandably becoming more sympathetic to the Palestinians. I’ve been hearing for years that many Jews feel distinctly uncomfortable with Israeli actions but are unsure what to do with these attitudes.

A growing minority of Australian Jews are turning off the ideology that they supposedly can’t live without.

Antony Loewenstein is a journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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