Guest Post written by Professor William (Bill) Rubinstein.
This may now be old news, but there are still a number of useful points to be made about the JCCV, Feiglin, and related subjects.
First many, not all, but many- of the eleven groups calling for the banning of Moishe Feiglin are associated with the Union from Progressive Judaism (UPJ). The others are mainly a medley of old and new leftist organisations. (In its original press release, the eleven groups stated that they were “representative” of the Australian Jewish community, which is blatantly untrue.) The point worth highlighting here is that there has been a significant shift in the public stance of the UPJ during the past twenty years or so in the direction of outspoken public support for “social justice” issues, which has clearly impacted on the stance of the JCCV and other bodies, where its members appear to be quite important.
This change is quite new and was not to be found in the Australian Progressive Judaism movement in years gone by. Rabbi Herman Sanger, effectively the founding father of Progressive Judaism here was – although a refugee from Nazi Germany – a political conservative who, in the 1950s, supported the ostracizing of the so-called Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and antisemitism as a Communist front group. His esteemed successor in Melbourne, Rabbi John S. Levi, is certainly not a left-wing activist. The change has come about largely, not wholly, but largely, because of the migration here of American Reform rabbis who are strongly associated with the explicitly left-liberal agenda of much of the American Jewish community.
In an interesting article in the Australian Jewish News (November 6, 2015), Rabbi Fred Morgan, formerly of Temple Beth Israel in Melbourne, examined “The Contributions of Progressive Judaism,” noting the role of “Reform Judaism in America” in securing an equal role for women and, in his words,
“active involvement in interfaith dialogue, ecology and climate change, refugees and asylum seekers, the rights of indigenous peoples, and the status of Israel within our messianic ideals.”
This strikes me as quite accurate, and it is precisely this agenda which now apparently has undue influence with the roof bodies of the Jewish community like the JCCV. Of course, like every communal organisation, the UPJ can support anything it likes; it is the change in the public aims of the JCCV and other communal bodies that concerns me.
The list outlined by Rabbi Morgan is highly consistent with the agenda of the Australian Green Party. At the 2013 Federal Election, the Greens received less than 9% of all first preference votes. Given its strong association with the BDS movement, it seems likely that Jewish voting support for the Greens was even lower. No really good survey research exists about Jewish voting behaviour in Australia, but almost all observers believe that a majority of Australian Jews voted for the Coalition at the last election- around 60% is probably a reasonable estimate. This is in complete contrast with the United States, where 75- 80% of American Jews vote for the Democratic party at Presidential elections.
It is, however, similar the situation in Britain, where at the May 2015 general election 68% of Jews voted Tory, 28% Labour, despite Ed Miliband’s Jewish background. (with the odious and dangerous Jeremy Corbyn as its Leader, Jewish support for the Labour party is hardly likely to increase.)
In all likelihood, then, a solid majority of Australian Jews voted for Tony Abbott and the Coalition, which was elected on a platform of “stopping the boats,” no carbon tax, and all-out support for the war on terrorism,” a very different agenda from that suggested by Rabbi Morgan and, it seems, the activists of the JCCV.
(The late Chaim Bermant once astutely observed that most Orthodox Jews were to the social and political left of their rabbis, while most Reform Jews were to the social and political right of their rabbis.)
The “social justice” agenda outlined above thus in no way reflects the views of the Australian Jewish majority.
There is also the fact that Australia is very different from the United States, with much less for the left to complain about. America notoriously lacks universal medical insurance or gun control, but does have an endemic race problem, stemming from slavery. Many of its inner cities- indeed, virtually every black neighborhood, without exception, are so dangerous that no one in their right minds would venture there after dark. Except in New York and a number of other older cities, its public transport system is skeletal if not almost nonexistent. Australia has none of these problems.
However dysfunctional much of Aboriginal society may be, they comprise only 2% of the population. To be sure, Australia does have its share of problems, especially the current outrageously expensive cost of housing, a problem which no party in Australia is addressing, but the application of American liberalism and its programmes to Australia is simply inappropriate.
It might also be noted that liberal Protestant churches in America and elsewhere (and the Uniting Church here) which have adopted high profile leftist “social justice” agendas have, without exception, seen catastrophic declines in their membership numbers, often clearly linked by most observers to their strongly positive stance on same sex marriage and other gay issues, but also clearly associated their left wing stances generally.
To take one example, the Presbyterian Church USA, one of the most extreme left-wing activist denominations in America, and like all of these, bitterly hostile to Israel, to the extent that it might be termed antisemitic, has lost an incredible 17% of its total membership in only four years, 2010- 2014, following on previous sharp declines as it moved to the left (see its entry on Wikipedia).
Many observers of this church, and of other liberal Protestant denominations, have predicted its total disappearance within a generation: middle class families with children will simply not remain in a “church” which is simply a smokescreen for a left-wing activist group, while most leftists are secularists who will not join any religious group or church.
Obviously the UPJ here exists in a vastly different context and with an entirely different membership base, but the same factors may well come to operate here, especially if any mainstream group here turns to left-wing criticism of Israel. The more a religious group jumps on any loony left bandwagon that comes along, the emptier its pews become.