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The Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism – A History

October 17, 2010 – 4:22 pm45 Comments

Former Czech communist leader, Rudolf Slánský, at his trial in 1952. The trial was part of a vicious anti-Jewish campaign implemented by Stalin.

By Philip Mendes

The Rise and Fall of the Melbourne Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, 1942-1970

Historical research is often motivated by, and influenced by, the interests and perspectives of the researcher. When I first began writing on the history of the Jewish Council in 1987, I was newly active in the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, and highly excited at the prospect of a revived Jewish Left in Australia. It seemed to me at that time that historians had treated the Council unfairly, and that the poor reputation of the Council had also carried over onto the contemporary Jewish Left. Hence I was keen to achieve some sort of historical rehabilitation of the Council in order to potentially also influence a more sympathetic approach to the latter-day Jewish Left.

Twenty-three years later the vantage point seems very different. As most of you know, I was effectively politically purged by the Jewish Democratic Society over seven years ago for my critical statements on Palestinian political culture and violence, and I have become rather sceptical about the role that Jewish Left groups play in the Jewish community. I actually see a number of parallels between the Council’s failures on Soviet anti-Semitism, and the erroneous contemporary approach of some within the Jewish Democratic Society to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

But putting aside my personal views, the common theme throughout my research has been the challenge faced by Jewish Left groups in reconciling their Jewish and Left interests, concerns and alliances. This is certainly not to argue that Jewish and Left identities are mutually exclusive. In reality, the synthesis of Jewish ethnic and left wing political identity is a complex and grey area, but I would argue that unless Jewish Left groups display a core solidarity with most other Jews the “Jewish” aspect of their title becomes irrelevant.

It seems to me that the Council managed these different interests relatively effectively until at least 1948 and to some extent till early 1952. But once the issue of Soviet anti-Semitism loomed large in 1952-1953, the Council unequivocally prioritized its Left loyalties over its Jewish loyalties. This choice effectively doomed the Council in the eyes of the Jewish mainstream, and relegated the Council to the political margins for the remainder of its existence.

The left-wing Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism was formed in 1942 to counter the growth in anti-Semitism associated with pre and post-war Jewish immigration, and the impact of Nazism. Leaders of the Council advocated an activist and high profile approach to fighting anti-Semitism, rather than the traditional low-key, inconspicuous strategy favoured by the established Anglo-Australian Jewish leadership. By 1948, the Council had become the official public relations representative of the Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies (VJBD).

The Council was always influenced by the Communist Party and its sympathisers, but in its early years enjoyed broad communal support reflecting two key factors. The first and arguably key factor was the united Jewish support for the Soviet Union following the German invasion of June 1941. This united front was to last until at least the end of the war, and was also reflected in the almost universal Jewish support for the establishment of Israel. The Council’s pro-Israel activism in 1948 – which matched the Soviet Union’s then pro-Israel position – was highly influential in promoting a sympathetic perspective within the broader Australian Left.

The second factor was that the Council provided a sophisticated and effective response to local manifestations of anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the Council’s approach to anti-Semitism was slanted from the very beginning by its concern with combating fascism as well as anti-Semitism. This dual emphasis accurately reflected the Jewish political experience in much of Central and Eastern Europe whereby the Left was generally viewed as an ally and sympathetic to Jewish concerns, and the Right (including even mainstream conservative groups) was generally viewed as the enemy and hostile to Jewish interests. Many of the founders of the Council were political refugees with first-hand experience of Nazism and fascism, and were strongly influenced by these experiences.

However, the local application of this strategy was always going to be problematic given that the Left-Right split in Australian politics did not neatly fit this model. There was little tradition of conservative anti-Semitism in Australia, and it was actually a conservative government that first admitted a significant (if still inadequate) number of Jewish refugees in the late 1930s. There was also a significant history of Australian philo-Semitism emanating from non-Left sources including particularly the churches.

From 1948 onwards, the Council became involved in a series of public disputes and controversies that progressively undermined its support in the Jewish community. These conflicts reflected growing unease over the Council’s alliances with left-wing groups in the context of the beginning of the Cold War. Further tensions were stoked by the Council’s anomalous position within the structure of the Jewish community – acting as an official representative of the elected Jewish roof bodies – yet still retaining its organizational independence and right to advocate the views of its own membership. This situation could only continue so long as the Council continued to broadly represent the plurality of views within the Jewish community.

Between 1948 and 1953, Stalin implemented a vicious anti-Jewish campaign. The remnants of Yiddish culture in Moscow were eradicated, the leaders of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee were murdered, and virtually all prominent Jewish artists, scientists, and intellectuals were purged. Stalin’s anti-Jewish obsession culminated in the Czech Slansky show trial of November 1952, and the Doctors Plot of January 1953. The Prague trial involved charges of high treason against fourteen leading Communists including the former Party Secretary-General, Rudolf Slansky. Eleven of the accused were of Jewish origin, and the trial was distinguished by its explicit anti-Jewish character.

The Soviet Doctors Plot of 1953 involved the arrest of six prominent Jewish doctors who were accused of plotting to kill Stalin and other Soviet leaders. The doctors were alleged to have acted on behalf of the international Jewish aid organisation, Joint, to conduct espionage and terrorist activities in the Soviet Bloc.

The emergence of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Bloc countries confronted the Jewish Council with a serious political dilemma. The Council believed that Left and Jewish interests were complementary, and that its struggle against anti-Semitism in Australia was dependent on the cooperation of Left and progressive groups. Confronted with increasing evidence of anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, the Council held to the position that anti-Semitism and Communism were a contradiction in terms. According to the worldview of the Council, any suggestions to the contrary reflected either temporary aberrations arising from the continuing existence in Eastern Europe of popular pre-communist prejudices, or, alternatively, manifestations of Cold War propaganda.

When pressed, the Council emphasized the alleged subtle difference in Communist rhetoric between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. The Council acknowledged that the Soviet Bloc was hostile to Zionism and the State of Israel, and argued that this hostility could be attributed to the Zionist movement’s alignment with the West in the Cold War. However, the Council consistently denied that any anti-Jewish manifestations per se were involved.

The Slansky Trial of November 1952 and the Doctors Plot of January 1953 provoked the Council into an even more thorough defence of the Soviet Bloc.

The ECAJ responded in March 1953 by formally excommunicating the Council and other Jewish Left groups that had defended Soviet anti-Semitism. They argued that the Council’s views on this issue had demonstrated that it was controlled by a communist or pro-Soviet, rather than Jewish agenda.

The Council never regained its previously high profile and status within the Jewish community. Its mainstream critics painted the post-1953 Council as a small, marginal, and generally despised left-wing group surviving only on past memories and continued antagonisms.  But a more complex analysis of Jewish identity would suggest that the Council was motivated by both left-wing concerns and Jewish concerns.

Many long-term Council activists were not formally or informally aligned with the Communist Party, and were principally driven by Jewish concerns. On the issue of Soviet anti-Semitism, however, those whose first loyalty was political rather than Jewish were able to hold sway. They were able to do so by highlighting the views of friends of the Council on the political Left who rejected accusations of Stalinist anti-Semitism, and downplaying or discrediting the views of Jewish groups such as the Zionist movement who affirmed the truth of these accusations.

It seems to me that this is also the key challenge for Jewish Left groups today. When Jewish and Left interests and alliances clash over Israel, which voices do they principally listen to? Do they highlight the voices of those on the broader Left who have long-standing sympathies with the Palestinians, or do they give equal or greater credence to the views of Jewish groups who have long-standing sympathies with Israel? Is their solidarity with other Jews in Israel or elsewhere limited only to other left-wing Jews, or does it extend to all Jews regardless of class and political belief?

This is an edited version of a paper Dr Philip Mendes presented to the Australian Jewish Historical Society forum at the Jewish Museum on 7 October 2010

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45 Comments »

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Purged? A successor to old stalinist organizatons? What a bunch of exaggerations Phillip. And this ‘I actually see a number of parallels between the Council’s failures on Soviet anti-Semitism, and the erroneous contemporary approach of some within the Jewish Democratic Society to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.’

    Come off it.. . It is a trick to use the collective ‘some’ to avoid being specific, because you have been so distant from AJDS I doubt you know what many people think. Certainly, in the thousands of words I’ve exchaned with Palestinian supporter or Jews, I’ve been no fellow traveller, since I get condemned by people on both sides of the fence. Your either tactic also seems to be to claim that people are not sufficiently Jewish–an incredibly dangerous proposition.

    You have strong political differences Phillip, that’s all, and if you look at what I or others have written over the years, ‘we’ have been strongly critical of Palestinian political culture, but at the same time, don’t forget that there is a complete power imbalance in the relationship that skews the chances of conflict resolution. That is perhaps something you can’t accept-that there are other, justifiable, but stronger opinions than ones you, or others hold.

    But to try and imply as you have on a number of occasions that your ‘some’ are dupes for some nasties is a big fib.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    I apologize to all for my spelling…Italian spell checker..

  • Steve Brook says:

    Dr. Mendes implication that he fell victim to some kind of Stalinist purge in the AJDS because of his critical attitude to Palestinians. This apparently was at variance with AJDS policies at the time. It would be worth pointing out that especially since the rise of Hamas, the AJDS has not hesitated to point out that the Hamas Covenant is borrowed directly from the “Protocols of Zion” and that this works against the peace process. I do not recall Dr. Mendes ever writing anything about this. But his credibility may be gauged from the fact that in a press interview some years ago, Dr. Mendes said he had initiated the programme “Jewish Forum” on 3CR Community Radio. The first programme in the series went to air on August 20 1985 and continued fortnightly until March 1989. The first featured Moss Cass and the late Norman Rothfield discussing the need in the Jewish community for an organization like AJDS. The programme was anchored by Yours Truly, and Dr. Mendes had nothing to with it. I have tapes of all the programmes. He may have hosted one or two later programmes, but its main organizer was myself. I mention this bit of historical minutiae not to claim any glory, but as a measure of Dr. Mendes’ credibility on matters historical.

  • Harvey Cohen says:

    I heard Philip Mendes give a similar presentation to AJHS Vic (Australian Jewish Historical Society -Victoria) which is available online as a podcast at

    http://www.ajhs.info/podcast

    He presented a very strong case for parallelism between the support group of the Melbourne Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism and the AJDS. In both cases one can see a Rise to a Peak, followed by a precipitous fall. Thus at one time the MJCCFASM enjoyed wide (though not universal support) followed by a total fall from grace. Likewise the AJDS was albeit grudgingly admitted to what is now the JCCV, and now with a tiny but still vocal membership the AJDS is at the stage of getting unaminous motions of censure from the JCCV. I could go on — but listen to the end of the podcast holding comment from the audience.

  • Harold Zwier says:

    Philip’s research on the Council to Combat Fascism & Antisemitism (CCFA) has resulted in a very worthwhile contribution and I read it with interest.

    But I’m troubled by this comment in his article: “As most of you know, I was effectively politically purged by the Jewish Democratic Society over seven years ago for my critical statements on Palestinian political culture and violence.”

    The issue is of concern to me because I was a member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) executive in 2003 and therefore Philip’s claim, to some extent reflects adversely on me.

    It is strange that Philip uses his article about the CCFA – an organisation that existed between 1942 and 1970 – to raise more modern personal concerns, but odder still is that the claim he makes about the AJDS is simply not true.

    Being “politically purged” is, of course, the stuff of communist controlled organisations and the terminology fits neatly into his historical discussion about the cold war period in the late 1940s and early 1950s which was the heyday of the CCFA.

    But the AJDS is less of an activist organisation and more of a forum for the discussion of political ideas on the Left. It has never expelled a member or refused to accept a member or taken any action that could be described as purging a member. As with any organisation with a political focus, the political views of individual members do diverge from the general views expressed within the organisation. Views and perspectives change over time and people drift in and out depending on the degree to which they feel aligned to the organisation. In the case of the AJDS, any parting of the way has to be initiated by the member, because the organisation doesn’t dictate how members should think, or the political line they need to follow.

    Let me give a firm basis to that assertion.

    Seven years ago, in June 2003, Philip wrote an article published in the AJDS newsletter (vol. 4 issue 4), entitled “Deconstructing The Left On Zionism and Israel” in which he was highly critical of the international Left which he said had “been venomously critical of both Zionism and the state of Israel”. The July 2003 AJDS newsletter (vol. 4 issue 5) was a special edition in which a number of people responded to Philip’s article. Some were quite critical of his views, though there were also points of agreement.

    His article generated so much interest that a forum was convened in August 2003 at the St Kilda Library in which Philip, Sol Salbe and Itiel Bereson were speakers. The forum was entitled “Antisemitism 2003 – a growth industry?”. Meanwhile, a second July 2003 newsletter gave Philip a right of reply to previous respondents and he had a further contribution in the August 2003 newsletter. Several others also commented in that and the subsequent newsletter.

    Philip maintains that the meeting was stacked against him and that he was treated badly. I was also present at that forum and my recollection is of a vigorous and fairly passionate discussion; the same sort of passionate discussion that occurs in many meetings within the Jewish community when people with different political perspectives argue the merits of their views. While my recollection of the tone of the forum is different to Philip’s I can say that the debate on that night was primed by the debate that had already occurred in the pages of the AJDS newsletter. Both Philip and the people who supported his views, and those who disagreed with him, came to the forum with an expectation of an open discussion.

    But the events during that period seven years ago don’t fit with Philip’s statement about having been “effectively politically purged” by the AJDS. ie. The AJDS published his article in its June 2003 newsletter which, even before being published was known to be challenging to the views of some members of the AJDS. A vigorous debate ensued in the pages of subsequent AJDS newsletters with Philip’s active participation. Finally a forum was organised by the AJDS at which Philip was the principal speaker.

    It’s hardly the stuff of political suppression let alone purging. On the contrary, it indicates that the AJDS was happy to discuss matters that essentially challenged its members attitudes.

    The problem is, that saying: “I was effectively politically purged by the Jewish Democratic Society…” carries the clear implication that the AJDS as an organisation took some action against Philip. Since that’s not the case, it would be more correct for Philip to say simply (if somewhat less grandly): “I parted politically from the Jewish Democratic Society over 7 years ago…”.

    Harold Zwier

  • Steve Brook says:

    Harold — Mendes’ present attitude to the AJDS is, it seems to me, a reflection of his quest for political respectability. Thus it’s convenient for him to describe the AJDS as an continuation, under another guise, of the Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, an organization which bore all the hallmarks of its time. But it is no more respectable today to mention the positives about the Soviet system than it was then. [Positives? What about the falling life expectancy in the former Soviet bloc?] If Dr. Mendes feels tainted by his former association with the AJDS, let him come right out and say so, instead of doing a gigantic dummy spit.

  • philip mendes says:

    When Harold Zwier informed me privately that he intended to respond to my comments on being purged from AJDS, I emphasized that this was solely an interpretation of my personal experience, and nothing more. I added that a specific response to my personal narrative would be of little, and would simply highlight matters which were probably of interest to very few. Nevertheless given that he has gone ahead with his comments on my narrative, I feel obliged to publish my private response to him, and put the record straight. I am very confident that my memories of what happened are correct.

    Dear Harold,

    These comments were intended solely as a personal reflection to illuminate some of the changes in my understanding of the functioning of Jewish Left organizations including particularly the JCCFAS over the years. The relevance was that the JCCFAS introduced activists from external far Left groups such as the Jewish Progressive Centre to stack public meetings and consultations in order to maintain the accepted political line on Soviet anti-Semitism in the early 1950s. As a result, a number of JCCFAS activists including Walter Lippman left the organization as I explained in my talk. Some may have said they were purged, others would have used different terminology. Similarly, it was noticeable to me and others that far Left activists from the Jews for Just Peace group were given prominent space and time at the early 2003 St Kilda Library forum to attack my views, and reinforce the preferred AJDS line on Palestinian violence and extremism. One of these persons had publicly disgraced himself shortly before that forum via an obnoxious personal attack on myself, and it was bizarre that he was encouraged to be present and vocally aggressive on that night.

    Again this is merely an interpretation of my personal experience. It is not intended to be a substantial or definitive reflection on AJDS per se. The only historical reflection I have made on AJDS during those years from 2000 onwards is the book chapter which I think you have seen (The Jewish Left, Jewish Identity, Zionism and Israel: Attitudes to the Palestinian Intifada, 2000-2005 by Philip Mendes published in Israel, World Jewry and Identity edited by Danny Ben-Moshe and Zohar Segev. Sussex Academic Press. 2007.) If I ever update my earlier history of AJDS – which perhaps will happen in the longer term – I would not be writing about personal experiences, but again about the broader political and ideological direction of AJDS.

    You suggest here that you will be writing a response to my comments. If you do highlight that experience then to provide a serious analysis, you would also need to highlight other personal experiences, for example:

    – The fact that a number of other long-term AJDS members also walked away in disgust around that time;
    – That two of the other invited speakers (one of whom chaired the meeting) were very unimpressed by the events of that night, and felt that they had been disingenuously and dishonestly invited to participate in an open discussion of anti-Semitism when the real agenda of that evening was to trash/purge/eliminate (you choose the preferred term) my views from the AJDS discourse. They also commented at length how amazed they were that most of the long-term leaders of AJDS had sat there in silence and made no attempt to challenge some of the bizarre accusations that were being thrown at me by people who had no record of involvement in AJDS;
    – That although I chose to move on from this purging, and said nothing publicly on this matter, it was widely believed in the broader Jewish community by people who attended that night or heard reports of the meeting from people other than myself that I had been thrown out of AJDS;

    On a more positive note, I think a personal but substantive reflection by you on the history of AJDS over the last ten years would add significantly to our understanding of events, and would almost certainly be of serious interest to the Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal. It is certainly something I would like to read knowing of some of the dilemmas and tensions that you have experienced during that period.

    PM

  • philip mendes says:

    Steve Brook refers to the Jewish radio program he hosted on community radio station 3CR, and seems to think his role has been under-stated. In fact, the only historical reference I made to this program was contained in my history of AJDS published in the Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal vol 15(1999), p.120 where I refer to “a weekly Jewish radio program on 3CR hosted by Steve Brook”. And again on p.126 where I noted that the program “was hosted for a number of years by Steve Brook, and subsequently by Rebekah Marks and Philip Mendes”.

    PM

  • philip mendes says:

    Given that Larry and Steve so passionately reject any analogy between the JCCFAS and AJDS, I would be very keen for them to respond to the question in my last sentence regarding the means by which AJDS consults to determine its views on Israel:

    “It seems to me that this is also the key challenge for Jewish Left groups today. When Jewish and Left interests and alliances clash over Israel, which voices do they principally listen to? Do they highlight the voices of those on the broader Left who have long-standing sympathies with the Palestinians, or do they give equal or greater credence to the views of Jewish groups who have long-standing sympathies with Israel? Is their solidarity with other Jews in Israel or elsewhere limited only to other left-wing Jews, or does it extend to all Jews regardless of class and political belief?”

    PM

  • Harold Zwier says:

    Philip,

    I certainly agree with you that this issue is probably of little interest to people in the broader community. I note that aside from you, me and several other AJDS members, there is only one person, whose name is not familiar to me, who has made a comment – someone who attended the Jewish Historical Society meeting.

    Since the chairperson at that August 2003 AJDS forum was someone much more aligned with your own political position with respect to the Israeli Palestinian conflict it is logically flawed to claim as you said in your response above:

    “it was noticeable to me and others that far Left activists from the Jews for Just Peace group were given prominent space and time at the early 2003 St Kilda Library forum to attack my views, and reinforce the preferred AJDS line on Palestinian violence and extremism.”

    The forum was an open and public meeting at which anyone was welcome to attend.

    In earlier e-mail exchanges between us I suggested that you personally contact the 2 people to whom you refer, when you wrote:

    “They also commented at length how amazed they were that most of the long-term leaders of AJDS had sat there in silence and made no attempt to challenge some of the bizarre accusations that were being thrown at me by people who had no record of involvement in AJDS.”

    I have spoken or e-mailed to both people concerned in the last week and a half. One of them confirmed to me that he was not present at the meeting (he also was not billed to appear on the platform and I also have no recollection of him being there). The other person does not support your view that you were “effectively politically purged”.

    And this is the salient issue. Saying: “I was effectively politically purged by the Jewish Democratic Society…” carries the clear implication that the AJDS as an organisation took some action against you. Since that’s not the case (as I outlined in my earlier response above), you should stop trying to justify the unjustifiable and accept what we all know to be true, namely that you parted politically from the Jewish Democratic Society over 7 years ago. It neither diminishes your political position nor reflects adversely on you.

    Harold Zwier

  • Steve Brook says:

    Phillip, On 3CR, I was not referring to the Jewish Historical Society journal, but to an interview you gave to, I think, the Jewish News. I was quite incensed and rang you directly after the article appeared, only to be told: “Too bad. What are you going to do about it?” I do not have total recall, but I think I then, for therapeutic reasons, went back to watching The Bill.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Phillip, there is an implication in your last post addressed to me and Steve Brook of something akin to a loyalty oath “Is their solidarity with other Jews in Israel or elsewhere limited only to other left-wing Jews, or does it extend to all Jews regardless of class and political belief?”

    You have posed the most unintelligent question in an attempt to box me and others into a narrow and flawed picture of mihu and mahu yehudi (who and what is a Jew)? Do I beat my wife as well? You’ve tried another rhetorical game, but in this case, it hasn’t worked. What you are doing is a mirror-reflection of old, hard-line left politics, using word and conceptual games to force people into appearing ‘disloyal’ lacking credibility, and creates of other, dark, subversive forces, without the power to make up their own minds and have independent opinions.

    What you are implying in your attempt to impose ‘solidarity’ as a key means of judgeing if I or others is legitimate in our views is a kind of complete hands-off policy, that we need to have solidarity with settlers who commit crimes, with extremists in the religious community and, others who want to impose halachic law, build a third temple, or expel Palestinians etc.

    It’s the kind of question that I think if you put to the strongly Zionist but highly critical Mark Baker, he would also regard as absurd and somewhat beyond the pale as a marker of affiliation or group loyalty at all costs (see his recent oped in the Aust. Jewish News). The implication of your question is that I or others need to have solidarity with Leiberman. Now what do you think the answer is?

    I have written countless time that part of my identity is tied with with the life of Jews in Israel and its culture, but not necessarily with the poltics and I find the political Zionist framework inadequate, particularly because it implies a particular set of loyalities and actions (made very clear by the jurist Ruth Gavison for example, who is held up as a stellar example of enlightened humanistic Zionism committed to law) which in the final analysis, appear to continually disadvantage another community (Palestinians). My personal view is for a democratic and secular constitution for Israel, something I know that others would not agree with, and I have argued for this in Galusaustralis. With respect to affiliation or loyalty to other Jews around the world–az mah? so? Just because I enjoy the company and always share something with Jewish colleagues or friends from other countries, does that mean I have a loyalty to them above anything else in times of peace? If you mean am I concerned with the civil rights and free life of Jews everywhere, what do you think the answer is? But should I feel the need to defend Madoff or Lev Leviev, one of the most shady creatures to emerge from Bukharah? I will let you answer that…unfortunately, some Jews do feel the need to defend all Jews at all times. But I suspect you don’t fall into the same category.

    Where do my political views come from and those of others come from? Your view of how people get critical viewpoints is quite uninformed, and you once again pose a rhetorical and threatening question, but it doesn’t bother me. I get my information mostly from reading Haaretz and countless other news websites and occasionally books and journal articles, including those of a variety of different Zionist viewpoints. Sometimes, these include Hebrew, French, or Italian points of view. There is no ‘machine’ at work on me or connections with covens of Israel bashers. Far from it. As with many other forms of intellectual work, much happens da solo–alone at a desk/computer and increasingly, through online debate. Or is that not good enough for you, that intellectual work is just wankery and membership of a full range of Jewish organizations is also required as kind of badge of approval and/or a long publication list? Not all of us have the time and energy to become academic megastars in more than one field. I am not one for pomp and circumstance.

    The issue of a lack of ‘long-standing sympathies’ that you use to discredit other opinions is another trick being played by you. You are throwing around emotive terms such as ‘long-standing sympathies’ in an attempt to box me and others into a particular category from which you can then develop a particular rhetorical position characteristic of much of your political argument against those you don’t agree with. Your method of argumentation in turn appeals to more traditional and conservative elements in the Jewish community because you have 1) distanced your self from organizations such as AJDS while claiming you are still on the left (whatever left means these days) 2) demonstrated, through you method, that AJDS and others are in fact, enemies of a correct and loyal, if officially mildly critical, view of Israel.

    You applied this technique to your highly personal contretemps with people in Sydney of some years ago (and perhaps not without some justification) , and you have turned your attention to those who you difer with in Melbourne. I have criticized your generalizing analyses elsewhere, including labelling of (unamed) members of AJDS as ‘good Jews’ willing to lend their names to nasty extreme causes, or other negative aspersions that are only identified by unspecified collective nouns and qualifying words such as ‘arguably’, or all sorts of emotional leading and judgemental adjectives -a useful technique when there are no facts. (http://webstylus.net/?p=129).

    For critical thinkers, ‘sympathy’ and ‘empathy’ should not get in the way of trying to cut through the propaganda on the Israeli side and similarly on the other and I think Gideon Levy and Avishai Margalit have written very well about the negative effects of having to ‘prove’ sympathy, loyalty and love at every twist and turn in the argument.

    My key concern, as someone whose interest is primarily Israel rather than Palestine, is the development of an Israeli political and military culture (that extends into the diaspora) that is structured around institutionalized violence and hatred framed as unavoidable and mostly defensible because of an alleged ‘existential crisis’. Unfortunately, I find that Jewish groups which take the line of ‘long-standing sympathies’ as coming first and foremost are those with the least capacity for self-examination about the terrible flaws in current Israeli policy. And similarly I look at Palestinian viewpoints with a critical eye and often a high level of annoyance at their unreality and particularly, lack of capacity to express a detailed vision which will give Israelis confidence about future relationships.

    Of course, others in AJDS have come to their opinions through different life experiences and perceptions but I can let them speak for themselves.

  • philip mendes says:

    Steve: in an earlier email you made serious allegations questioning my integrity and competence as a historian.

    You now jokingly laugh this off by saying that it was really about something I allegedly said to a journalist more than 20 years ago (who probably misquoted me anyway) that you felt understated the significance of your contribution to the Jewish Forum show.

    Are you serious?

    PM

  • philip mendes says:

    Harold: The problem here is that you are trying to define my political narrative, and you have no right to do that anymore than I have the right to determine yours.

    I have written about my interpretation of my experiences, and others have the same right to do so regarding theirs.

    Regarding the facts about those events, you are presumably aware that I keep detailed files on all my political activities precisely for the purposes of historical reflection. I wrote detailed handwritten notes on the events of that night. I have also retained a number of emails sent to me in the following days by people who were amazed by the events that took place. All the empirical data in my possession confirms that I am right, and you are telling at best half-truths. It is not what I would have expected from you.

    PM

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Phillip, whether you keep handwritten notes for your memoirs or not, in politics, as in life, there is a lot of interpretation.

    You have always presented yourself as a kind of analytical, objective historican of ‘the left’, but unfortunately, and regrettably, in the experience of many people, your recounting of events is highly subjective, framed by a tight ideological framework, and often very thin skinned when it comes to criticism of your own positions by other people. You have often drawn crude long bows and made public commentary that based on what other actors have come to regard as spurious or highly contestable evidence, if there is any evidence at all.

    Thus, you recently spoke of a ‘Stillmanite faction’ or some such similar phrase (i.e. implication- Trotyskites, Stalinists etc), thus implying some tightly organized faction. I had to look under the bed to find myself in this guise, perhaps wearing red longjohns, but to no avail, nor could I find anyone else except my cat, who is orange. You might claim you were being sarcastic, but your labelling and namecalling is damaging because it appeals to enemies of progressive if highly critical viewpoints on Israel.

    But Harold or anyone else are not trying to define your political narrative (and what does that mean–is it an allegation of thought control?), but rather, there is strong disagreement with how you see your relationship to AJDS at that time, and particularly, the ‘line’ to use a term you have taken on AJDS, that you have pushed about the politics of people who take a different position to you on matters of war and peace. In the opinion of a number of people, your narrative is flawed, and increasingly, appears to be directed at deliberately causing as much damage to people you don’t agree with as a means of vicariously supporting status quo politics in Israel while claiming otherwise.

    What concerns me further now, however, is I assume that the current correspondence and all your hand written notes are going to be used by you to churn out another piece of analytical pap for a journal or newspaper in your war against the Jews (of the left), as proof of the conspiracy against you and every other ‘correct’ supporter of Israel.

  • Steve says:

    Dr. Mendes says that what I wrote about him a couple of days ago impugns his reputation and questions his integrity. It may well be that the Jewish News journalist 20-odd years ago misquoted him, but after all this time, who knows or cares? I have letters after my name, just as he does, but I have no ambition to join the hairsplitters of academia. As I said, my remark about the Jewish Forum programme on 3CR was simply intended to put the historical record straight, and should not be seen as an attack on Dr. M’s integrity today.

    Incidentally, it’s truly creepy to listen to those old 3CR programmes today. Apart from one or two voices which now belong to the Other World, most of them could go to air again today and lose none of their topicality. West Bank settlements, refusal to negotiate — very little has changed apart from the names of the actors. It’s a bit like listening to Grand Final reports from the 1970s.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    It is very weird I have never met a historian (well, I have met historians,and I too have so many letters after my name that I am not permitted to put them all on my academic carte de visite), who come out with statements such as ‘you made serious allegations questioning my integrity and competence’ when questioned about an interpretation of a press report over 20 years ago, a phone call, and personal diaries notes, papers, and probably a throbbing data base.

    I know of pompous historians such as Hugh Trevor Roper who thrived on such vindictiveness, but since we are dealing with community history and one person (P. Mendes) who choses to write a form of history and commentary as he wishes in a field of about 1 person, I think there is a bit of humourless preciousness going on here.

    ‘Serious allegations’? What is this, parliament? The 7.30 report? The Slovenian Academy of Sciences?

    No, it is just a shtetl with persons who wish to have one stair case just going up and another going down with an accompanying theory, but god forbid you ask why.

  • ian katz says:

    The AJDS, like to set themselves up as the alternative moral voice to the bulk of the Jewish community,and see themselves as superior in this regard, no doubt.They see themselves as the natural vanguards of those groups which loosely identify themselves as Palestinian. Trouble is thatmany of the pro Palestinians are more often than not in an ideological time warp in their desire to see the eradication of the Israel state and the status quo in the pre 1948 circumstances.Concurrently, You will never hear the AJDS seriously question the policy of Palestinian leaders who misappropriate their welfare, resources and international aid, walk away from peace negotiations, and hit Israel with suicide bombers, missiles, or soldier abductors. Even worse still, when was the last time the pro Palestinians, AJDS included, been heard to criticise petulant, misogynist, racist, homophobic and genocidal regimes in the Middle East, including Iran, Hamas, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

    One final point, and that is that the AJDS organisation have a right to their views, no matter how distorted, potentially dangerous, or mendacious. But if they bad mouth Israel at any opportunity, they should not be so precious in others criticising their caveat.Additionally, having attended the talk that Dr Mendes gave to the AJDS some years ago, and the blatant rudeness shown to him that night for daring to have an opinion, I was left with the feeling of relief of never having myself affiliated with the organisation, before hand or since.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Ian, you have obviously not read the AJDS newsletter, blogs or other sources of information on a whole range of issues you raise with regard to genocide, homophobia, intolerance etc etc in the middle east and beyond. But in any case, as I have written elsewhere, we don’t expect much more of many regimes, but we do expect a higher standard of Israel.

    Instead, you have used strongly negative language to characterize viewpoints which in fact Phillip Mendes also holds in part. Thus you are erroneous with respect to pre-1948 conditions etc.

    And as for this statement–“The AJDS, like to set themselves up as the alternative moral voice to the bulk of the Jewish community,and see themselves as superior in this regard, no doubt.” I says, says who that we set ourselves up as one, superior moral voice? This is just rubbish in particular as an attempt to discredit other opinions.

    When Phillip spoke years ago, it was hot debate over a controversial viewpoint. That is called politics. It is not scholarship. It is the same thing that happens on blogs etc. I do not keep diaries etc and it was a long time ago, but I remember a strong sense of mutual political antagonism on on the day/night.

  • Michael says:

    It appears this Blog site has been hijacked by AJDS Members Brook, Stillman, Zwier and Co only one missing is Salbe they may as well close down their own blog site.

    This is exactly what is likely to happen to Lion FM hijacked by the left and Israel bashers, who have nothing positive to say about the Jewish State , nothing positive to say about the Jewish community or their leadership or representatives .

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Ian, you have obviously not read the AJDS newsletter, blogs or other sources of information on a whole range of issues you raise with regard to genocide, homophobia, intolerance etc etc in the middle east and beyond. But in any case, as I have written elsewhere, we don’t expect much more of many regimes, but we do expect a higher standard of Israel.

    Instead, you have used strongly negative language to characterize viewpoints which in fact Philip Mendes also holds in part. Thus you are erroneous with respect to pre-1948 conditions etc.

    And as for this statement–“The AJDS, like to set themselves up as the alternative moral voice to the bulk of the Jewish community,and see themselves as superior in this regard, no doubt.” I says, says who that we set ourselves up as one, superior moral voice? This is just rubbish in particular as an attempt to discredit other opinions.

    When Philip spoke years ago, it was hot debate over a controversial viewpoint. That is called politics. It is not scholarship. It is the same thing that happens on blogs etc. I do not keep diaries etc and it was a long time ago, but I remember a strong sense of mutual political antagonism on on the day/night so it is not a one-way street. Others have a much longer political history with Philip Mendes and have commented already on his confusion between being an political actor and someone who writes about community history with a strongly held point of view that does not garner agreement on certain of his methods and judgements.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    sorry, grammar–I says, says who should be, I say, says who?

  • geoffrey says:

    Gentlemen, reading your responses to Philip’s article was very interesting… for perhaps thirty seconds. They bring to mind white noise or migraine or death metal. Do you really intend rehashing this stuff until your dotage? This narcissism is beyond belief. Enough! Life is too short….

  • Oy Vey says:

    “Anti Semitism”..it would be interesting if not fascinating to hear some of your learned contritubitors’ assessments about the “other” Semites, namely Israel’s neighbours as victims.

  • frosh says:

    Oy Vey,

    It is a common error that you have made to understand the term anti-Semitism to mean against Semites.

    The fact is, the term has never meant this.

    The term was coined in Europe circa 1860 by those who hated Jews. They wanted to make it clear that they were against all Jews, regardless of whether they practiced Judaism, or even had converted to Christianisty. That is, they chose the term to convey that they hated Jews in the racial sense.

  • philip mendes says:

    LS: Firstly, you and the other Stillmanites have an unhealthy obsession with what I say and do. I am really not that important. You need to focus on your own activities if you want anyone to take you seriously.

    Secondly, you were very happy to applaud all my public statements when I adhered to your preferred political line on Israel. It is only since I have started to apply a critical analysis to Palestinian as well as Israeli actions that you have disgraced yourself with your constant ad hominem attacks. In contrast, true intellectuals try and find common ground even with people they don’t agree with. For example, I publicly praised the neo-liberal Centre for Independent Studies – my pet hate on welfare issues – when they took a progressive stand on drug reform. Look and learn.

    Thirdly, you have conveniently omitted your own embarrassing contribution to the notorious St Kilda Library meeting in 2003. Most people reading your shoddy attacks on GA and the AJDS website would have no idea that we had been at least friendly acquiantances for over a decade from 1989 onwards. After copping what someone else has called “a lynch mob atmosphere” that night, I saw you coming over at the end, and assumed you were going to contribute some sane, constructive comments. Instead, you rudely mouthed to me in front of a number of astonished people “You’ve joined the establishment” and walked off. What I actually joined was the rest of the Jewish community. Maybe you and the other Stillmanites could try that one day.

    PM

  • Oy Vey says:

    frosh,

    so, surely when in fact the term was “coined” whoever coined it clearly targeted Jews “as a Semitic race”.

    Accordingly the term in reality also refers to “other” people of the Semite race as well, namely Israel’s neighbours, regardless of whether they are “Jews” or practise Judaism.

    So, an anti Semite may not ONLY be anti Jew but may be anti Arab.

    Interestingly, an Arab who hates Jews could be said to be an anti Semite and a Jew who hates Arabs could also be said to be an anti Semite. Both victims of each other?

    I guess in both those cases such persons could be said to be “self
    hating” Jew or Arab.

    Salaam or Shalom, “Semitic?” greetings to both.

    Go figure.

    Salaam or Shalom, both Sematic terms?

  • Oy Vey says:

    …to all those aforesaid crossing swords…geoffery says it all.

    However, one interesting point in question:
    Is it not a fact that Israel gave birth to itself as a sovereign
    nation accepting and defining its own boundaries as at 1948?

    At that time Israel was welcomed as a UN member with precisely that defined boundary status, and continued to present itself as a State
    with those boundaries, no more, no less.

    It is quite natural that the world at large accordingly views Jewish
    building outside it’s own bounderies as “settlements” in the sense
    of “occupation” of land they do not own.

    It’s not a question of the “left” being right or the “right” being
    wrong. In my view it’s about Israel being right or wrong over the
    issue of settlements and ocupation “outside” Israel.

  • frosh says:

    Oy Vey,

    Despite my best explanations, you continue to misunderstand the term.

    The whole is not always equal to the sum of its parts. The term anti-Semite could be seen as a partial misnomer.

    I say partial because it applies to Jews, who are indeed a Semitic people, but it does not apply to whole family of Semitic peoples.

    Another example of a partial misnomer is “Organic food.” In chemistry, the term organic primarily means that a chemical compound contains carbon.

    However, according to how people use it in relation to agricultural produce as well as food labelling regulations, it means that the produce was farmed using only naturally produced fertilizers and non-chemical means of pest control.

    In case this is all too complicated, here are a few more simple (albeit non-partial) misnomers:

    Guinea pigs are neither pigs nor do they come from Guinea.

    Arabic numerals in fact originated in India.

    Jellyfish are not fish (but they do have a gelatinous structure similar to jelly)

  • Steve Brook says:

    I have always been under the impression that the word “Semitic” referred only to a group of languages, which includes Hebrew, Arabic and Aramaic. So to be antisemitic makes as much sense as opposing the so-called Romance languages, descendants of Latin, or being a devoted enemy of the Bantu languages of Africa. However this is nit-picking. The word has come to mean anti-Jewish, one of the varieties of racism.

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Philip.

    There are no such things as Stillmanites. One again, using an immature ad hominem label, you are trying to coin a term that sounds like Stalinite or Trotskyite. It is crap and you know it.

    It particularly shows your crude understanding of the highly individual and frequently disputationious nature of discussions within AJDS which is a forum, not a party, but you parted from the trend in political understanding which its active members have come.

    You do, however, appear to have an elephant like memory for details of interactions and these are used to create a political analysis of novel-like proportions.

    I do believe I was very angry at that meeting because I believe, though I did not take notes, that you presented a crude and misrepresentative opinion about the nature of dissent towards Israeli politics, and the effects of dissenting opinion.

    Of course, I did not tape what I said do you, but I don’t think anyone would have been particularly ‘astonished’ if I had said you had joined the establishment, which I think everyone involved on the left thinks you have. And so what if people were ‘astonished’ with what I said? This is a rather victorian term to describe such a situation. But I could say back that a lot of people would not have been surprised if they overheard me say such a thing.

    Is is another example of you trying to personalize and present those who don’t agree with your very middle of the road opinions as socially or politically deviant. You aslo appear to ‘ freeze’ people in time around what they said to you, rather than understanding, as I have argued elsewhere, that in fact, we are free agents, and change and progress in our opinions.

    Lastly, please don’t play the modesty card. This is one of your political problems. By publishing so many articles, some polemical, particularly in forums associated with rather conservative viewpoints, you are not a mild player, but in fact, a key agent of a particular line, and you do not hesitate to proclaim both the width and depth of your publication record near and far.

    So what is this–

    “[MY] constant ad hominem attacks. In contrast, true intellectuals try and find common ground even with people they don’t agree with’

    Eh, I don’t think I am politically ad hominem. I don’t question people’s identity as Jews which you have done quite openly in the past.

    And in any case, I have said, I have agreed with you on particular occasions, particularly on welfare-related issues EVEN CITING YOU so please don’t play the ‘real intellectuals’ game.

    The problem with so much Israel-Palestinian opinion is that there is so little on the Israeli conservative or ‘moderate’ side to support because I see much of it as disenguous and self-serving–but mind you, I have suggested that organizations like the American Taskforce on Palestine which is very mainstream politically, offers important critiques of the lack of taking Jewish concerns seriously by other Palestinian organizations.

    Thus, what I think what you suggest of me just now is a pretty thin argument. So what if I had known you since 1989? Many people have known you, but our political disagreements are so strong, and sly and arrogant attacks over the year so consistent, that there is really nothing to talk about on a social level.

    What is fascinating about the position you take and the way you respond to it, is that you take every slight and argument so seriously and remember for ever. Most of us are extradordinarily forgetful, or can put disagreements in perspective, because there are much more important things to focus on rather than meetings in St Kilda Library many years ago.

  • Steve Brook says:

    I really can’t be bothered analysing what PM had to say. But if Stillmanites exist, so do Rosenblatters, Brooklings and Mendesists.

  • Michael says:

    It appears Mr Mendes hit a raw nerve with Stillman , Brooke and Co.

  • ian katz says:

    i would like to know wheteher the terrorists who attacked a synagogue and killed the rabbi and his wife in india 2 years ago, or those yemenites that sent a bomb to the chicago synagogue, checked to see whether there were jews critical of israel there, prior to them sending the bombs or attacking the centre

  • Larry Stillman says:

    Raw nerve, no, raw prawn yes.

    And Ian, I don’t know what form of causation you can attribute to my or any other views and those of various terrorists. To assume such a connection is fallacious and idiotic.

  • Steve Brook says:

    Mr Katz — the terrorists were as concerned about innocent victims as were those American policy-makers who arranged the invasion of Iraq. Nobody asked the tens of thousands of dead Iraqis if they supported Saddam Hussein or not.

  • Michael says:

    I wonder if MR Brook is referring to all the dead Iraqis that were overwheling murdred by fellow Iraqis and other Islamists.

    I,m sure Mr Brook read the article in The age a few weeks back about the Wilileaks story that revelaed most Iraiqis have been killed by fellow Iraqis.

  • Steve Brook says:

    Michael: Yes, I read that article. Most enlightening. But I was referring to those Iraqis who died (and are still dying) as a result of the civil war made possible by the invasion. For all that Saddam was a murderer in his own right, at least his regime helped keep the Sunnis and the Shiites away from each others throats.

  • Oy Vey says:

    frosh,

    …despite your”explainatons” clearly if an Arab is a Semite, then
    a Jew hating an Arab is an anti-Semite.

    Seems that all that “partial” “yes and no” “if, yes and maybe” mumbo
    jumbo suggests that you believe that theres such a thing as being a “little bit” pregnant.

  • frosh says:

    Oy Vey,

    No, it suggests that you have severe problems with reading and comprehension, and are unable to process some rather basic concepts.

    It also suggests, albeit less concerning, that you are unable to spell the word “explanations”, even when purely quoting another commenter who has spelt it correctly.

  • Oy Vey says:

    frosh,

    come on, calm down, is that the best response you can come up with? Are you really THAT PETTY relying on spelling errors to hide your frustration and failure to either refuse or fail to answer the simple proporsition posed to you?

    As to “suggestions”…a more fitting suggestion, albeit MORE concerning is that the boast and attitude in your last paragraph suggests you to be a classic pompus “legend in your own mind”.

    How about a yes or no to (a) is an Arab a Semite (b) is a Jew a
    Semite (c) when a Jew hates an Arab is he an anti Semite (d) when
    an Arab hates a Jew is he an anti-Semite.

    Please, no red herrings, try to resist nit picking when you respond.

    So you can think you an spell correctly? well frosh, old chap. its
    “commentator” NOT “c o m m e n t o r”. No such word as “commentor” exists in the Oxford Dictionary.. well frosh, it seems you have some “severe problems” of your own.

  • frosh says:

    Oy Vey,

    Firstly, I am calm – you are clearly the one who is borderline psychotic.

    Secondly, nowhere on this thread have I used the word “commentor”

    This means that for the second time on this thread, you have quoted me and inserted your own spelling mistakes into your quotation. Quite an achievement! Or are you just a liar?

    Arabs, like Jews, are a Semitic people. Anyone who is against Arabs as a group should be described as anti-Arab and racist. For reasons already explained with much clarity, using the word anti-Semitic in this case would be a misappropriation of the term.

  • Galus Australis says:

    Oy Vey,

    You’ve been warned several times about your off-topic comments.

    You should lower your expectations of having another such off-topic comment approved for publication.

  • Oy Vey says:

    [Eds: Comment removed. It is inappropriate and disrespectful to the article’s author to turn this thread into a protest concerning the moderation policy. If you wish to have a discussion about the moderation policy, we suggest you do this via emailing us in a polite fashion].

  • Oy Vey says:

    [Eds: Comment removed and placed in General Feedback. Next time, we may not do you this courtesy]

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