Loyalty to our land


ON what day is Australia’s national flower, the Golden Wattle, celebrated? Where can the heart (as opposed to the hide or skeleton) of Phar Lap, the champion racehorse, be found today? (Answers below)

It was the responses to questions such as these that I was desperately trying to learn a few weeks ago as I prepared for the citizenship test, to be taken by all prospective Australians.

In the end the exam was not too arduous, and I am now on my way to becoming a fully fledged Aussie. But curiously, the most obvious question was omitted: “Which team do you support for the Ashes?”

That was fortunate, because I would have had to answer “England”. Despite my affection for my newly embraced home, and my increasing sense of connection to all things antipodean, I have to confess that during the recent series, it was for Flintoff and his colleagues that I barracked.

As the entire series came down to the last innings, I cheered when my native land finally triumphed over my adopted one.

Of course, the question of Ashes loyalty was not on the citizenship test because, simply, it didn’t matter. Friends and colleagues understood and even assumed that I would celebrate the final result, without any suggestion that this undermined my welcome as a resident and potential citizen of Australia.

Back in the ‘80s, the then UK home secretary claimed that Indian and Pakistani immigrants to Britain could not be considered fully integrated into their new country until they stopped supporting their native cricket teams in their matches against England.

This new concept of patriotism, dubbed the “cricket test”, received the ridicule that it deserved and was quickly forgotten. Immigrants continued to cheer loudly for teams from the subcontinent, without their Britishness being questioned.

Across the developed world, it is acceptable for loyal citizens of one country to have latent links to another. This may be expressed in support for another’s sports teams, interest in their events and wishes for their wellbeing.

This sense of affection for more than one country will be shared by many readers of this newspaper. It is unlikely that Israel would play Australia at cricket (and if that were to happen, the result would not be in doubt), but when Israeli tennis players compete in the Australian Open, their local supporters unfurl Israeli flags and show their support even against Australian opposition. If Israel were to play soccer at the MCG, the Israelis would be sure of strong support from their local fan base.

This “sporting test” is more relevant and realistic than the tired youth group discussion point of “if Australia and Israel were at war, for whom would you fight?”.

Such a scenario is (thankfully) impossible to imagine, and even if it were to occur, there is no question that Australian Jews (at least those who were not interned) would fulfil their responsibilities as citizens of this country.

Cheering for Israeli teams, by contrast, is common occurrence and an innocuous and inoffensive way of showing affection for Israel.

But there are numerous other ways in which we demonstrate our Zionism; we sing Hatikvah at our functions; we honour the Israeli flag; and we pray for Israel in our synagogues.

An ancient anti-Semitic canard was that Jews have divided loyalties and cannot be trusted as citizens or subjects of their host countries. These formal manifestations of our connection to Israel are occasionally used by our detractors as supposed evidence of the same tendency today.

In fact, they show nothing of the sort. Our community demonstrates that it is possible to have dual affections and even dual associations, but without any diminution of our loyalty to Australia.

Indeed, we always take care to make clear that we are citizens of Australia first and friends of Israel second. We sing Advance Australia Fair before the Israeli anthem. The flag of the Southern Cross is always given prominence over that of the Star of David.

Our prayers for Israel are always preceded by prayers for Australia (though whether that is personified by the Queen, the Governor-General, the Prime Minister or the population itself seems to vary according to the age of the congregation).

Indeed, Jewish law dictates that we should do so, ever since Jeremiah told captives sent into exile that they should “seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray … on its behalf” (29:7) ‚Äî even originally praying for the very nation that had dragged them into slavery.

The Jewish commitment to our host country is based on loyalty, pride and gratitude to a nation that provided a safe haven in times when others closed their doors. Our association with Israel is based on history, love and religion. And we demonstrate each day that dual affections do not lead to divided loyalties.

(Answers: 1. September 1 2. National Museum in Canberra)

Rabbi James Kennard is principal of Mount Scopus Memorial College, Melbourne.