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Jews in Politics – a Diaspora dilemma

October 7, 2009 – 9:38 am28 Comments
joe lieberman

Joe Lieberman

By Ariel

When it comes to this subject, I feel a great rupture between my intellect and emotions; between my acceptance of the reality of the world in which we live and my ideas of how the world should be; and between the different aspects of each of these faculties.

The subject to which I refer is that of the involvement of Jews in politics outside the State of Israel.

I should clarify that when I say “involvement” I specifically refer to sitting in the legislature as a representative of the people. Lobbying on the part of minority groups is important and with this I take no issue – all should be free to engage in the market of ideas and try to persuade politicians to adopt their view. If they happen to be convinced by Jewish communal concerns over those of others, then mazal tov.

I first became aware of my anxiety in 2000 when US Senator Joe Lieberman was running for Vice President on a ticket with a phoney environmentalist/filmmaker. Initially, I, like many, was enthralled that a fellow Jew – Shomer Shabbat– could be within a (literal) heartbeat of the Oval Office. It was at the same time revealed that a record number of Jews were sitting in Congress, in a huge disproportion to their numbers as a percentage of the population.

As I thought more about the idea however, I began to ask whether this was in fact a good thing. On one hand, how could one not be proud at how far Jews have come in terms of acceptance? It was not long ago that a Jew could not get a job in Europe or even the United States. On the other hand, a proliferation of Jews serving in world parliaments would undoubtedly lend further credence to the myth of the “Jewish cabal”, the “Zionist lobby” and the “Elders of Zion” which are hell-bent on world domination. America, as the most powerful country on Earth, is their focus and Joe Lieberman is the proof.

Yet surely a Jew – or a member of any minority – should be able to represent constituents as a loyal citizen of the state. After all, nobody would bat an eyelid if a Chinese-Australian were to sit in Australia’s Parliament (e.g. Senator Penny Wong), so why should being Jewish pose a problem?

This leads to another question: Why is it that only Jews are accused of dual loyalty (to Israel and their home countries)? Nobody accuses Penny Wong of having dual loyalties to Malaysia (her place of birth) or to China (her ancestral homeland). Furthermore, it is not only insulting to the individual to be accused of dual loyalty, but it is insulting to the State of Israel by insinuating that loyalty to Israel necessarily conflicts with loyalty to Australia, America or Britain. As though Israel is not a member of the Western, liberal-democratic world, but is an enemy state with values uncommon to the rest of the West. (In contrast, both the states of Malaysia and China do have vastly different moral compasses from those of Western democracies).

I believe the issue is that the Jew has never been fully accepted into other societies. Whilst Greek-, Italian- or Christian Lebanese-Australians, Americans and the British have essentially assimilated, the Jew remains ever separate from society at large, even though he has been tolerated and has integrated into its fabric. The Jew will always be made to feel somewhat unwanted. The more successful the more resented they will be. So, at the end of the day, the only place for Jews to serve is in the Israeli Knesset. Only in Israel can the Jew be a true representative of their constituents and not be accused of dual loyalty. Because in the end, Israel is the natural home of the Jew and it is to there that they will ultimately look to express themselves without recrimination from others.

Ariel is a full-time Jew with an interest in a variety of Jewish issues, and a passionate political analyst with a keen eye for hypocrisy and mismanagement. In order to pay bills, Ariel works as an electrical engineer in the Energy Supply Industry, but is not responsible for any electrical failures you may have experienced recently. Hopefully, someone will listen to what he has to say.

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28 Comments »

  • Chaim says:

    You raise an interesting point.

    Jews have been in the forefront of science, medicine, law (multiple Jewish supreme Justices), philosophy, prose, business. This is probably because they showed an objective supremacy in the fields.

    In politics where nobody really truly believes what politicians says and their vote does not always represent their beliefs it is a matter of faith in the individual.

    A non Jew may always ask can a Jew truly represent me.

    A Jew can succeed if he stays true to his purpose (and what non Jews expect of him) to represent a morality in the world.

    Having said that Lieberman (did they lose because he is Jewish and the US could not take that leap)seems to have always stuck to his own beliefs and was kicked out of the democratic party because of them. He actually gained diverse respect for this. But he will never be president.

  • ariel says:

    “A non Jew may always ask can a Jew truly represent me”

    This is part of the premise of the article.

    This attitude eventually expanded to the extreme concept that Adolf Yimach Shmo espoused:

    The Ten Commandments have lost their validity. Conscience is a Jewish invention, it is a blemish like circumcision.

    There are people who are jealous of all the contributions we have made to humanity and are scared of the morality we (are supposed to) represent. The difference is that today we have somewhere to go should it ever get this out of hand (thank G-d I don’t believe it will in the next couple of generations…)

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I am pretty stunned at this post. If reflects (excuse the jargon), an extraordinary ontological insecurity–and I suppose, it comes up in the Community Survey that no matter what the case, there is a sense of temporariness, and that just around the corner….

    I remember seeing complex survey data done in the 1990s by the Bureau of Immigration Research (all junked by the Howard government), which showed that there are all sorts of weird views about different minority groups and between minority groups. It’s endemic and part of the human condition. Whether or not people do anything is another issue of course. Managing this, through effective social policies and community relations is an important way of diffusing tensions.

    Additonally, such thoughts need some reality checking through looking at the actual history of the situation. The writer forgets that until some decades ago, ABCs Australian Born Chinese were more or less an underclass, a direct result of the White Australia Policy.

    About two decades ago, Geoffrey Blainey, through some loose writing about the cultural practices of migrants in Springvale, induced quite hot discussion on Asian migration.

    Yet Jews have been accepted in political and other senior roles (Isaac Isaacs for one) here since the 19th century and only rarely have there been dual loyalty issues. But the same accusation has been raised of other parliamentarians (e.g. Greek-Australians).

    But sometimes, reality cannot make it though psychological perceptions.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Larry

    I think the issue of dual loyalty has become a significant consideration since the establishment of Israel in 1948.

    Ariel sort of touches on it but doesn’t address the point that Israel is an independent country with its own interests and these do occasionally conflict with other western nations (which usually share values/positions). Additionally, Israel has been involved in espionage against traditionally friendly states (eg. the Pollard case) which hasn’t helped perceptions.

    As to dual loyalty – pop onto New Matilda (and its from the left – we are not even going to go to the far right which is the usual abode of such ideas) and read some of the contributor comments about Danby for instance. Several of them refer to him as working for Israel’s interests etc.

    I must also add that I find it ironic that you refer to G-G Isaacs because if I recall correctly, he didn’t actually support Zionism and so I suspect that it would have been hard to accuse him of dual loyalty in the first place (and the fact that he died before Israel was established).

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Good point re Isaacs–I should have had more coffee, but there are plenty of other post-Israel examples of positive political engagement.

    From what you are implying, it appears you are saying that Israel that has been a cause of dual-loyalty accusations. In our region, the idiotic involvement of Israeli agents in getting NZ passports through fraud with some local support certainly did not help public perceptions. This then lets loose the conspiracy theorists.

    But there will always be rabble comments on New Matilda (and on Haaretz), so they are no true measure of reality.

    But onto Danby- I think my views are known.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Larry

    I would suggest that perceptions concerning Israel and a whole bunch of other stuff (usually incorrect) about Jews contribute to dual-loyalty concerns – Israel would be the centre of the concern though.

  • Chaim says:

    Larry – this is based on experience not just fear. The last example being only a mere 60 years ago where there were people with the same outlook and opinion as you amazingly shocked when Europe turned on them and the US failed to step up to protect them. This is a question about innate anti-semitism and the fact that Jews are always seen as different not just because of religion.

    On the other subject of dual loyalty to Israel – A Jew who has never been to Israel and may descend from generations of Australians is still looked at with the question of loyalty as opposed to only first or second generation immigrants from other countries. The question is not whether Jews are in politics but rather can they become the prime minister.

    The A-G (although Gough would not agree) really has no independent power.

  • ariel says:

    Chaim, your point about Jews who are several generations Australian born and who may never have been to Israel, yet who are still viewed suspiciously vis-a-vis loyalty is also a large part of what I had had in mind.

    I was reminded about the way in which Australians and Americans of Japanse and German orgin were treated during WW2 even if they had been here for several generations. Yet today, nobody questions their loyalty. As I wrote above, nobody questions Penny Wong’s loyalty and she was born overseas! Yet Michael Danby has been called “The Member for Likud” by fellow ALP members and had his motives questioned!

    On a similar point: nobody questions the loyalty of an ex-pat New Zealander when he/she wears an All-Blacks jersey, yet a number of Jews have been harassed or beaten for wearing Israeli football jerseys. Yet, a guy I went to uni with often wore a Turkish football jersey and was never questioned even though Australia fought a war with Turkey!

    So the question remains, why only the Jew?

  • TheSadducee says:

    Chaim

    Can you elaborate a little further on what you mean by:

    “This is a question about innate anti-semitism and the fact that Jews are always seen as different not just because of religion.”?

    Ariel

    I would suspect that Danby gets criticised because he puts himself out there publicly and discusses Israel and responds to its critics. I would be surprised (and would like to see some examples) if Wong does the same for China and/or Malaysia. People ask the natural question – why is he putting himself out there, as an Australian MP, for Israel?

  • frosh says:

    Sadducee,

    Danby doesn’t so much do these things as a Jew, but he does these things as someone with many Jewish constituents (being the Member for Melbourne Ports).

    An MP is a product of their constituents. This is why MPs representing areas like Lakemba etc tend to be very anti-Israel.

    I having only been living in Melbourne for two years, but I understand that Danby predecessor at Melbourne Ports was not Jewish but was very pro-Israel.

    Furthermore, the situation is not unique to Australia. Hillary Clinton was not especially pro-Israel as “first lady.” Then as a New York senator, she consistently made very pro-Israel statements. Now as Secretary of State (The US State Department is traditionally the least favourable to Israel in comparison to other US branches and departments of US government) we can see she resembles other US secretaries of state.

    The position makes the person more so than the person makes the position.

  • frosh says:

    I should add:

    Jewish MPs representing areas without a large Jewish constituency rarely seem to involve themselves with Israel (the way Michael Danby does).

  • TheSadducee says:

    Frosh

    All I can say is that the other side of looking at your remarks is that it suggests the existence of an Israel lobby and that it influences the representative in its interests – especially in areas with large Jewish numbers. I don’t think this is healthy – I thing. The representative should be deriving their positions from their party (or national Govt) policy, not those of an important constituent body i.e. special interests.

    As to your remarks about Lakemba MP’s – I really think you should reconsider it – it strikes me as a casual expression of prejudice. Both of the Federal MP’s responsible for Lakemba and associated areas are not anti-Israel. Indeed, I believe that Jason Clare was on an AIJAC development program last year and Tony Burke has been on national tv criticising Iran’s rhetoric towards Israel – hardly anti-Israel by any stretch.

    And besides, why pick Lakemba to illustrate your point?

  • ariel says:

    Saducee,
    Frosh picked Lakemba because the majority of it’s constituents are white ango-saxon protestant judeophiles

    The issue you raise about Danby is part of the point I’m trying to make. Namely, why should he be criticised for speaking favourably about Israel, whilst no one is criticised for praising like-countries, such as Italy or Spain. My whole point is that China is not a beacon of morality and democracy and Wong is right not to defend it (probably why her family ended up moving away from that place). Israel and Australia, however share the same values and goals in the world, so Danby should not be vilified for defending Israel.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Ariel

    The point of concern about Danby is that many people see hypocrisy and hypersensitivity: he has a first class record on the rights of asylum seekers, Tibet, the Uigurs, human rights everywhere, but cannot in any way, countenance that Israel has a human rights and military problem and he treats critics, including myself, with various degrees of contempt.

    What he so often fails to see, as I have written about elsewhere, is that criticism of Israel by people such as me is not disloyalty (!!!), but that it comes out a deep concern for the future of Israeli democracy. Yet he lumps people into the one block of Israel-haters.

    With the sort of campaigning and advertising he conducts on Israel issues, no wonder that he is regarded by some as an ethnic politician rather than a representative politician–a sort of old style ward boss. Thus he is also able to get the numbers to get endorsement, because he is also a highly successful machine politician, whether you like it or not, and most of us don’t have the time, resources, or inclination to play that Labour Party game.

    And because Israel/Palestine, unlike most other national issues, is a hot issue, it’s probably felt that he crosses the line too often.

    But I emphasize, that on other issues, I have no problems with his politics, particularly when it comes to the rights of working people.

    BTW Ariel, Wong is Malaysian.

  • frosh says:

    Sadducee,

    If an MP represents the interests of their constituents (be they Zionists, gay, Muslims, Indians, or wheat farmers etc) that is hardly evidence of a nefarious lobby group. That is democracy, and I am not sure why you believe it to be less “healthy” situation than representatives ignoring their constituents in order to be blindly obedient to a centralised government.

    If I am wrong about Lakemba (I don’t have time to research this now – extremely busy day job and all) then that hardly shatters the general trend that exists throughout the democratic world.

    And, I am hardly “picking on” Lakemba. As I said, this is simply democracy in action, and the same applies to Melbourne Ports where I am proud to be a resident.

  • rachsd says:

    Hi Saducee,

    I think lobbying – usually used to describe the intentional effort of interest groups to excercise an influence government that is disproportionately large given their size – is different from the tendency for House of Representatives MPs to make efforts to represent the interests of the majority their constituents.

    You might argue that ideally MPs would be guided only by party platform and not at all by the particular interests of their particular constituents, but I can’t imagine that anyone would seriously argue that this is actually how politics works. This does not only apply to foreign affairs.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Ariel

    I understand what you are saying but I ask you to point out Federal MPs who have some ethnic connection to a foreign country and are engaging in extensive promotion and/or defence of that country’s interests. You just dont see that many and this is the reason that Danby gets criticised in my opinion – due to a perception (incorrect in my opinion) that his interests are conflicted.

    As to your suggestion that Israel and Australia share the same values and goals – I would generally agree. However, again I go back to the point that Israel is an independent nation with its own goals and policies and it will act upon those when necessary – even if they conflict with the goals/policies of like-minded nations and it has demonstrated this on many occasions. This fuels concerns (again, incorrect ones in my opinion) about dual-loyalty esp. if the supporter is ardently supporting Israel and is Jewish.

    Additionally, Israel is significantly more controversial than Italy or Spain based on the fact that it is experiencing an ongoing conflict which occasionally escalates into armed conflict with its neighbours. Sometimes this is conducted badly by Israel and it naturally gets criticised for its excesses as do her supporters.

    I personally don’t believe that all Jews are regarded with suspicion as potential agents for Israel – if however we are, I would suggest that our community leadership is mostly responsible – by advocating constantly for Israel despite any situation (good or bad) it has created that perception in the mind of ordinary people.

  • frosh says:

    Sadducee,

    You left out Leo McLeay, former Member for the seat containing Lakemba (immediate predecessor to Tony Burke).

    His record speaks for itself.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Frosh

    I suspect you picked Lakemba because it has a large Muslim population (I believe it might be the 2nd largest in NSW) and you automatically equated this to it impacting on its representatives in an anti-Israel manner. I can’t prove my suspicion but I can’t see any other reason as to why you brought it up.

    Additionally, I’m not advocating that there is a nefarious lobby group of any kind. AIJAC is not nefarious by any stretch of the imagination and it openly lobbies government reps.

    What I read from your comments was that government reps in areas with large numbers of Jewish constituents will reflect the sentiments of this constituency. If they are sympathetic to Israel, then I would consider it a lobby that advocates for Israel and influences it representative. You posited the example of Danby in Melbourne Ports and Clinton in New York – I think they accurately reflect my understanding.

    I see it as being unhealthy, in the case of Danby, because he goes well outside of the party/government policy/platform on the topic and spends a significant proportion of his time dealing with I/P related matters – as Larry noted earlier there are a number of valid objections to his actions.

  • TheSadducee says:

    rachsd

    I would suggest that Melbourne Ports electorate is not a majority Jewish electorate but rather majority Christian electorate esp. Catholic. (Check the census data) Do you see Danby spending extensive periods of time addressing Catholic issues?

    Why is that?

    I’m not saying there is anything wrong with representing interests of your constituents, I’m suggesting that there is a point that Danby has well passed which reflects his own interest in the topic and that of a like-minded minority, rather than that of his constituency overall which would probably be rather apathetic.

  • ariel says:

    Larry,

    Wong was born in Malaysia, but she is ethnic Chinese, as I mentioned in my article. Minorities get a bit of a bad rap over there, as do all non-Muslims.

    Saducee,

    It comes back around to the question of whether Danby would have to defend Israel so much if it weren’t being attacked so often! Nobody attacks Spain because of the Basques so nobody defends it.
    Nobody attacks Italy as being a nation of paedophiles and sex fiends just because of the accusations against Berlusconi. Thus, we don’t see the likes of Joe Tripodi, Frank Sartor or John Della-Bosca having to come out and defend Italy from delgitimisation.

  • TheSadducee says:

    Frosh

    I’m not defending Leo McLeay – he has his own opinions (I don’t agree with them) and possibly these reflect that of his constituency (I don’t think you can be certain of this). I would note that he was the rep for Lakemba back in 2004 – I sort of expected that we were talking about 2009 and the current member.

    Anyways – I feel like I’m becoming a bit of a lightning-rod here! :)

  • TheSadducee says:

    ariel

    Do you think that any of the criticisms of Israel are valid? Or are you suggesting that Danby only defends/confronts illegitimate criticisms?

  • ariel says:

    Saducee,

    I would say that Israel is in a unique situation in that its very existence is being questioned. Nobody questions the right of existence of Spain because of the Basque issue and nobody even questions the right of existence of everybody’s favourite democracy, Zimbabwe!
    Winston Churchill bombed 1000s of civilians in Dresden from the air and was hailed as a hero of the free world!!

    So it’s left to prominent Jews to defend Israel from delgitimisation and demonisation.

  • Leo Braun says:

    “When it comes to this subject, I feel a great rupture between my intellect and emotions; between my acceptance of the reality of the world in which we live and my ideas of how the world should be; and between the different aspects of each of these faculties”! Indoctrinated to believe that of a greater ethical importance was to condemn the prejudices against one’s own people, than that against all the others, written-off as Gentiles. In fact precluded in their own countries from asking imperative questions in the era of universal deceit.

    Whilst not a day passing by, without a Jewish lobby, newspaper, television or radio pundit to ask: “Is it good for the Jews”? Obviously, because of the innate affinity, naturally felt by the Jews, who belonged to the same species. Indicative of the authentic source, Jewish people intuitive connection, inherited naturally at birth.

    Unfortunately exploited for the wrong reasons!

    Where besides the survivors of the hard knocks, unless one was jolted by the first-hand experience on the receiving end, there is actually no panacea for the brainwashed category, at long last to come out of their shell. Hence no rational deliberation as to the common denominator of the Jew dilemma eventuated as yet.

  • Yitzchak says:

    While I have to agree with Larry Stillman intellectually, I know exactly the feeling Ariel is describing.
    Larry, the truth is that unless we are seen as secular Jews, we are regarded as outsiders whose observances are impenetrable to others. I still remember my shock at being told by my neighbour, an English migrant, that he felt so sorry for me to be a third-generation Australian but never able to belong.
    By the way, Isaac Isaacs was not widely accepted at the time of his nomination – is there not a letter from London to the PM of the day asking why he persists with his nomination of Isaac Isaacs as the GG and reporting that the King felt that such an appointment could only give encouragement to the Jews, communists and socialists?
    Just a final comment – when the British Government set up an inquiry into antisemitism a few years ago, the Chairman was a non-Jewish member of the Commoms. One of his colleagues expressed surprise that he hadn’t realised that he was a Jew. After all, no-one but a Jew could possibly be interested in antisemitism – I mean, bugger human rights.

  • Leo Braun says:

    “Isaac Isaacs was not widely accepted at the time of his nomination”! Wasn’t because he was sharp critic of the Zionist enterprise? Quoted to voice: “The very idea of a Jewish state is absurd, unjust, and ultimately untenable, since it makes all non-Jewish citizens necessarily and inevitably second-class citizens”! At the time when Monash was certainly much more open about his support of the Zionist cause. Nonetheless Monash wasn’t offered the Governor-Generalship, well his name didn’t proclaim: “I’m Jewish”! At least when Zionist establishment asked him to become their Honorary President, he agreed, and took the job quite seriously.

    Needless to add, that not for the fault of their own, the overwhelming majority people couldn’t see the forest for the trees and thus failed to grasp that the ruling class was exclusively chosen elite occupied. Headed by the Governor General, who asserted: “I promise to be alive, open, responsive and faithful to the contemporary thinking and working of Australian society”! Only to tour on a mission and gather support for Australia’s bid to secure a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, and thus Zionist glorious victory.

  • Leo Braun says:

    “It was not long ago that a Jew could not get a job in Europe or even the United States. On the other hand, a proliferation of Jews serving in world parliaments would undoubtedly lend further credence to the myth of the ‘Jewish cabal’, the ‘Zionist lobby’ and the ‘Elders of Zion’ which are hell-bent on world domination”! [Ariel]

    • Luckily Jewish Philosopher Hannah Arendt survived to point-out: “Where indeed, was there a better proof of the fantastic concept as a Jewish world government than in this one family — the Rothschilds. Nationals of five different countries (in close co-operation with at least three different governments), whose frequent conflicts never for the moment shook the solidarity of interests of their state bankers. No propaganda could have created the symbol more effective for political purposes than the reality itself”!

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