SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – As the federal election nears and this country’ major political parties vie for the Jewish vote, the prime minister and opposition leader have pledged significant support to help offset the community’s spiraling security costs.
Prime Minister John Howard’s government announced last Friday that donations related to Jewish security would be tax deductible.
The same day, Howard’s opponent, Kevin Rudd of the Labor Party, unveiled his own plan. It features a $17 million fund over four years to help at-risk schools counter terror threats that Rudd said would be largely available for Jewish schools.
The government’s tax-deductibility plan includes the launching of an organization called the Council for Jewish Security. It will be run by Australian Jewry’s main body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
Council President Grahame Leonard described the move as “a major, major breakthrough” for the Australian Jewish community. He estimated the annual cost of security for its assets – numerous schools, synagogues and community centers – at about $20 million.
During the 12 months ending Sept. 30, 2006,according to the Australian Jewish News, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported 442 incidents of anti-Jewish violence, vandalism, harassment and intimidation a 47 percent increase from the previous year.
Donations for security items had not been tax deductible, which precluded major philanthropic foundations from helping to raise much-needed funds, Leonard said.
In a statement announcing the government’s plan, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, “There are elements in our society who preach hatred against Jews and against Israel, and as a consequence the Jewish community faces a security threat far greater than that confronted by most Australians.”
Turnbull is the Liberal candidate for Parliament in the Sydney suburb of Wentworth, which has Australia’s largest Jewish electorate.
Federal elections are expected to be held in November, though Howard could call for an October vote.
Rudd, who continues to lead in the major polls, announced his security fund for schools at Moriah College, Australia’s largest Jewish school, with more than 1,600 students.
Flanked by Michael Danby, the only Jewish federal member of Parliament, and George Newhouse, a Jewish mayor who is the Labor candidate in Wentworth, Rudd said: “This will be funding which will be available immediately. We are very conscious of the particular needs of the Jewish community in regard to security.”
He said Labor’s proposal is “fundamentally different” than the Liberals’ plan.
“Here is a cash fund now to assist schools with security, as opposed to a tax-deductibility arrangement later for private contributions to security,” Rudd said.
He added later, “Security is a fundamental right of every Australian kid. That is, a right to study in a secure and safe environment.”
The two plans were the “culmination of many years of explaining to both political parties the unique situation which the Jewish community faces,” Leonard told JTA.
The last major attack against the Australian Jewish community was in December 1982, when a bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Hakoah Club, a community center on Bondi Beach, just hours after the Israeli Consulate was bombed. No one was killed in either attack, nor was anyone ever charged.
In 2004, an Australian convert to Islam was jailed for conspiring to blow up the Israeli Embassy in Canberra. Jack Roche also claimed in court that Rabbi Joseph Gutnick, a high-profile Melbourne-based Lubavitcher, was a target for assassination by al-Qaida.
Leonard said the Jewish community of about 110,000 will benefit from both security plans, adding that he expected the Labor Party to honor the government’s tax-deductibility scheme if it wins the election.
“Both are of great value to the Australian Jewish community irrespective of who wins the election,” he said. “But we have to recognize the impending election influenced the timing of these decisions.”
Howard, whose Liberal Party has been in power for 11 years, has been trailing Rudd for most of the eight months since he was elected opposition leader.
Labor needs to pick up 16 seats in the 150-member House of Representatives to assume power.