22 Apr Zionism Victoria denies accusations it’s ‘playing politics’
Carly Douglas – The Australian Jewish News – Thursday 22 April 2021
VICTORIAN Liberals have accused Zionism Victoria (ZV) of “playing politics” after the organisation opposed the Australian Electoral Commission’s (AEC) proposed redistribution of the Macnamara and Higgins electorate.
It comes amid confusion over which organisation represents the state’s Jewish community.
The AEC proposal, which transfers key Jewish suburbs from Macnamara to Higgins, has been condemned by ZV president Yossi Goldfarb, who fears it would reduce the “community’s ability to represent itself effectively”.
The boundary between the electorates would run through Hotham Street, dividing St Kilda East – placing one half along with Caulfield and Elsternwick in Higgins, and the other half along with Balaclava and Ripponlea in Macnamara.
The proposal “will put our synagogues in one electorate and congregants in another”, Goldfarb stated, rejecting the AEC’s assertion that the redistribution aims to “keep together or improve existing communities of interest”.
Recognising that while the “community is not uniform in its politics”, he wrote in an official objection to the proposal, “it is nevertheless unified by a collection of political interests that relate to its activities and interests as a community and as Jews.”
ZV suggested an alternative in their submission which mirrors the proposal from the ALP, to simply remove Windsor from Macnamara.
Senator for Victoria and Liberal Friends of Israel patron James Paterson told The AJN, “It is disappointing that a Zionist organisation has rewarded bad behaviour by backing a submission from the Labor Party who only weeks ago voted to formally recognise Palestine.”
He added it was “surprising that a peak body would play politics in this way”.
Speaking to The AJN, Goldfarb denied playing politics, stating that ZV’s objection was measured by the impact on the community and its geography, claiming that Windsor was just one alternative, among others, that could be proposed.
The redistribution proposal, released in March this year, was in response to Victoria’s population growth, forcing the AEC to redraw Victoria into 39 electoral divisions and, in so doing, make changes to 29 existing electorates, including Macnamara and Higgins.
Labor Member for Macnamara Josh Burns said while he acknowledged “the disappointment from many members of the Jewish community that this proposed redistribution would divide the community”, he trusted that the “AEC will give their objections due consideration”.
But, he added, “I will proudly work for all my constituents wherever the final boundaries end up.”
The ABC’s election analyst, Antony Green, however, has predicted Burns may lose his seat altogether if the proposal is implemented.
“Suburb swaps between Macnamara and Higgins open an opportunity for the Greens to pass Labor and take the seat,” he wrote.
The Greens have openly condemned Israel and supported the recognition of Palestine, while a past Victorian candidate refused to speak at a debate hosted by The AJN as it was co-sponsored by ZV.
Despite predictions of a Greens’ victory in Macnamara, Liberal Member for Higgins, Katie Allen, who will gain notable Jewish suburbs should the redistribution go ahead, said she hoped the community would welcome the chance to be represented by both herself and a Labor MP in Macnamara.
“I have worked closely with the wonderful Jewish community in Malvern on many issues important to them,” she said.
“I find it surprising that some would not be supportive of having more enthusiastic advocates for Judaism at the heart of our country’s democracy in Canberra,” she added, suggesting that “two supportive advocates for local issues in the federal Parliament are surely better than one”.
Meanwhile, confusion over who represented Victorian Jewry arose, as ZV’s submission to the AEC read, “Zionism Victoria is the elected and representative roof body of the 55 Jewish organisations in Victoria.”
However, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is traditionally held to be the community’s elected, representative roof body, particularly on political matters.
JCCV president Daniel Aghion told The AJN the ZV submission could have been worded better, but said through conversation with Goldfarb, the two came to the agreement that there are “two roof bodies, with Zionism Victoria representing the community in respect of Israeli matters, and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria representing the community in respect of Victorian matters”.
Goldfarb concurred that his submission should have stated that ZV was “a” roof body, rather than “the” roof body, and that the proposed redistribution did relate to Israel, as it would impact on how Israel would be supported in Canberra.
Regarding the AEC proposal, The JCCV said it does not have a particular preference as to the proposed redistributions but instead “expects all members of Parliament – wherever their electorate is located and regardless of their political allegiance – to represent their constituents” and “if ‘a Jewish issue’ arises … to listen to and consider the concerns” of Jewish constituents.