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Behind the Headlines the Jews of Australia

March 19, 1981
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Zionism is thriving in Australia despite some internal squabbling. In his 71-page report last May to the Zionist Federation of Australia’s 29th biennial conference, the president, Robert Zablud, observed that the rivalry for position of authority between Sydney and Melbourne has been reduced by establishing Zionism’s “seat” in Sydney while the federation’s administration remains in Melbourne.

More importantly, Zablud noted, “during the past two years a number of federations throughout the world received special emissaries from Israel sent to reactivate and revitalize them. There was not even a suggestion that such emissaries should come here. Indeed Australia was held up as an example to others.”


Despite Zionism’s strength, the growth of religious feeling and success in the educational processes in the major Australian cities, there is uneasiness and there are concerns. Geoffrey Green, president of the State of Victoria (Melbourne) of the Australian Jewish Welfare and Relief Society, observed to this reporter that the 1976 national census showed a slight decline in the number of Australians who identified themselves as Jews.

He pointed out that in the 1971 census, 64,000 Australians said they were Jews. Australians are not obliged to report their religious affiliation. Green thought the census returns indicated that some Jews have ceased to think of themselves as Jewish or have declined such identification for other reasons. A study of the census figures is being undertaken with new statistics emerging from the 1981 count by the community’s statistician, Walter Lippmann of Melbourne (no relation to the late American journalist).

At the Foreign Ministry in Canberra, this reporter was told Australia’s estimated Jewish population is “well over 100,000.” Jewish leaders consider 70,000 as close to the number of committed Jews. They speak of future population growth as uncertain.

Sam Lipski, who is an encyclopedia of information in his capacity as head of Australian-Jewish Publications in Melbourne, believes staunch adherence to Judaism will continue strong over the next five or 10 years. “Beyond that, who knows,” he said. Observing that “we have zero population growth,” Lipski pointed out that Russian immigration and Orthodox Jews with their desire for large families have become important factors towards replacing the losses that the low birth-rate generally is causing.

“The Melbourne community is extremely vigorous,” Lipski said. “It has a strong sense of its own identity, strong sympathy for Israel. There is continuing movement of Jews between Israel and Australia and a fine youth exchange program.”

A special facet of Melbourne’s Jewish life is its Jewish Socialist Bund. The approximately 200 families, mostly of Polish origin, affiliated with the Bund speak and actively promote the use of Yiddish. They are atheistic and non-believers but are vociferously Jewish, support Israel and are intensely active in Jewish communal affairs, Lipski observed.

While Australia’s “media have deteriorated alarmingly in the last two years” in their treatment of Israel, anti-Semitism on the campuses — fed by the infamous United Nations resolution equating Zionism with racism, the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and the bracketing of Nazism with Zionism — is being countered with some success.

“Jewish students are appreciating anti-Semitism in a way my generation didn’t know,” the president of Australia’s Jewish Executive Council, Is Liebler of Melbourne, said. In general, he added, the campus situation in the past year reflected “continued erosion” of the anti-Zionist extreme left. He credited the Jewish student movement as being “largely responsible” for that success.

About a million of Australia’s 14 million inhabitants are estimated to be Moslems, mostly of Lebanese origin. The remainder is mostly Syrian or Palestinian. The anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian propaganda is spread by their purveyors whenever they believe they have someone who may be sympathetic to their views.

This was indicated by a taxi driver in Sydney. On a ride to the international airport, he almost immediately launched into a disparagement of Australia’s “pro-Israel” policy which he claimed was responsible for unstable economic conditions in the country.

Having said he was from Lebanon, although he indicated his Palestinian origin, his passenger questioned him about events in Lebanon. The driver attributed all of Lebanon’s agonies to Israel and Zionist propaganda. Near the journey’s end, be became confused on his facts and couldn’t explain why Palestinian Arabs were fighting Lebanese, why Syrian troops were in Lebanon, and why Iraq and Iran were at war. As the passenger was paying the cab fare he told the driver, “I’m a Zionist.” The driver looked crestfallen. “I should have known you’re a Zionist,” he said, as he pocketed the money.

Tomorrow: Part Five

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