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Are The Greens Kosher?

July 29, 2010 – 12:04 pm86 Comments

By Arielle Perlow and Ittay Flescher

The Rabbis of the Talmud teach us there are 70 faces to the Torah. Is it possible that one of them is green? Many Jews in Australia believe in the progressive ideas put forward by the Greens, but don’t vote for them as there is a perception that Greens policies are too radical and anti-Israel, or that they are a single issue party. After the 21st of August, the Greens will most likely hold the balance of power in the Senate, giving them the ability to amend each piece of legislation approved by the House. In the absence of any compelling vision for Australia coming from the two biggest parties, we decided to research several of the Green’s policy positions that may be of interest to members of the Jewish Community, in order to help us decide whether Greens really are ‘good for the Jews.’

Asylum Seekers: One does not need to be Jewish to realise that the policy of the last two governments towards asylum seekers has been more cruel than humane, but it does help. Our experience of being strangers in strange lands, of crossing borders illegally to save our lives, make many in the community resonate with the plight of refugees who seek the safety and security of Australia.

The Labor Party shamefully decided to suspend asylum applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in April, despite evidence that these are still very unsafe countries for Hazara Afghans and Sri Lankan Tamils, who constitute the majority of the people who seek asylum in this great country. Labor’s policy will not reduce the number of boats in the long run. Furthermore, having our detention centres filled to capacity due to the non-processing of these applicants in their hour of need should not be one of the goals of our society.

The Liberal Party’s policy is even worse. They advocate the return of Temporary Protection Visas that leave refugees in limbo for years, as well as sending people to remote islands like Nauru (who are not signatories to the UN Refugee convention) where there is no interaction with the local community. They also want the Navy to turn around boats at sea. I guess they forgot what happened to the StrumaExodus and SIEV X.

The Greens’ policy on this issue calls for the end of mandatory detention and offshore processing immediately. They also call for increasing the number of places for off-shore refugees and humanitarian entrants and the housing of asylum seekers who arrive without a valid visa in publicly owned and managed open reception centres.  In addition to this saving taxpayers an enormous sum of money (it costs $1,830 per detainee per day to keep someone on Christmas Island, compared to $238 per detainee per day in Villawood, Sydney), the Greens advocate these polices because they believe that the presence in Australia of people of many cultural backgrounds greatly enriches our society. They also believe that Australian society, culture, and the economy has benefited, and will continue to benefit, from immigration of people from around the world.

Finally, the Greens are the only party whose policy statement in this issue avoids using misleading words to such as ‘border protection,’ ‘illegal immigrant’ ‘queue jumpers’ or Abbott’s ‘peaceful invaders.’ The Greens state unequivocally that “Asylum seekers and refugees are no more of a threat to our borders or to our society than anyone else and must be treated with compassion and dignity.”

Israel:

Despite the fact that the position of the Australian government on the Israeli- Palestinian conflict is unlikely to have significant ramifications on the lives of people there, many Jews feel strongly that they want their government to hold views in line with their own on this issue. The myths spread about the Greens that they support the BDS campaign or seek to delegitimise Israel are not true. As progressive Zionists, we have looked closely at the Greens’ policies and have found them to be almost identical to the dovish pro-Israel lobby group J-Street.

For example, both J Street and the Greens recognise Israel’s right to exist and the need for a two state solution. Both J Street and the Greens recognise that attacks on Israeli civilians are wrong and inexcusable, and see settlements as standing in the way of achieving peace. While the Greens’ approach is perhaps equivalent to left wing Israeli political parties, it must be kept in mind that the Greens are not an Israeli political party. Their primary goal is influencing Australian policies.

Furthermore, one of the biggest problems Zionist Jews often have with human rights organisations’ approaches to Israel is not so much the content itself but their apparent fixation on Israel to the detriment of other legitimate causes. Put simply, Jews feel that they are unfairly being singled out. The Greens cannot be accused of doing this. They have a record for speaking out against atrocities committed (human and otherwise) worldwide. In fact, in its page of policy on international relations,  the Greens present a viewpoint on Iraq, East Timor, West Papua, in addition to Israel. Indeed, on Bob Brown’s website, the side bar mentions Tibet but not Israel. This means that by voting for the Greens, your vote would not go to a party which is obsessed with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, but rather it would go to raising awareness of and tackling important international human rights issues that are not addressed by the other major parties.

Sustainable Economy:

Judaism has always held strong the idea of striving to build an economy that respects the Earth and operates within physical ecological limits. Indeed, the Torah mandates that the land should lay fallow every seventh year (Exodus 23:10-11) and that fruit trees may not be cut down to be used to lay siege (Deuteronomy 20:19). Judaism also supports the idea that the community should take care of those in need and holds dear the practice of tzedakah. Both the Greens and Judaism find these two principles of supporting fellow man and the Earth to be inseparable.

The Greens believe that the Australian economy must embrace ecological sustainability and incorporate these principles into all levels of planning, infrastructure and government. They also believe that environmental practices are economically sustainable and argue that their policies on carbon taxation will save Australia $2 billion. These values are coupled with the idea that the rights of workers should be upheld. This includes fair and equitable remuneration for labour regardless of gender, ethnicity or marital status. That is, a strong, fair and accessible industrial relations system. Through these policies and measures, the Greens truly support the kind of sustainable economy that Jews can be proud of. In the words of Isaiah, “Learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)

Climate Change:

In 2007, Kevin Rudd commissioned Ross Garnaut to examine the impacts of Climate change on the Australian economy. Garnaut’s climate change review panel recommended that Australia push internationally for carbon dioxide equivalent concentrations of 450 ppm, which would commit Australia to reductions of 25% on 2000 levels by 2020, and 90% by 2050. More recent climate science shows that much deeper cuts are needed to avoid catastrophic climate disruption. Most importantly, the Garnaut Review concluded that acting on the climate crisis early was better for the Australian economy than delaying action.

The Labor government’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) aimed to reduce emissions by  5%, well short of the recommended target. The Greens did not support the ETS because it would have given $24 billion to the biggest polluters with any emissions reductions being done off shore through the sale of dubious offsets. Whilst there are those who argue that something would have been better than nothing, passing the ETS would have meant Australia would not seriously be investing in proven technologies that can reduce climate change now. Rather, it would have meant transferring to foreign countries the economic prosperity, the technological breakthroughs, and the export opportunities derived from tackling climate change.  Furthermore, there would have been no domestic reduction in carbon emissions.

In regards to the Liberal Party’s policy on climate change, one need look no further than Tony Abbott who said in 2009, “The argument is absolute crap. However, the politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.” At least Abbott believes the world isn’t flat.

The Greens’ target on climate change is to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions as soon as is feasible and by no later than 2050 with a minimum of 40% reduction on 1990 levels by 2020. They plan to do this through making sure future energy needs are met by using sustainable, renewable energy sources. This will result in the creation of thousands of new green jobs in business and manufacturing.

Conclusion:

We now return to answer the question posed earlier, whether the Greens are ‘good for the Jews.’ Through their policies directed to the environment and climate change, we see that the Greens uphold the Biblical notions of valuing the Earth and respecting that which sustains us. Through their policies on asylum seekers and their stance on non-violent resolution of the crisis in the Middle East, they place a high value on humanity and respect for the Biblical refrain of “loving the stranger” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Most importantly, the Greens ask both the voters and the government to care and be involved, fulfilling the ethics of our fathers when they say “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”

Ittay Flescher is a Jewish Educator in Melbourne and Arielle  Perlowis a student at Monash University. Neither of them are affiliated in any way to the Australian Greens Party.

This article is part of a series Galus Australis is running for the election.  We plan to publish articles by supporters of the other major political parties.  Please contact us if you are interested in contributing.

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