ZFA furore erupts over J Street critique

A ZIONIST Federation Australia (ZFA) email criticising American Zionist advocacy group J Street has sparked controversy with some younger members of the Jewish community saying they felt alienated by the organisation’s actions.

The ZFA’s bulletin, released earlier this month questioned the legitimacy of the group’s pro-Israel bona fides, citing an address by Fatah member Husam Zomlot, in which she proffered the Palestinian law return as an option for “some” Palestinian refugees, before calling for “full recognition of the Nakba” which was well received.

The bulletin contrasted this with the audience’s muted applause following speeches from Israel’s Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Labor leader Shelli Yachimovitch, who both called for support for the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

The bulletin is authored by the ZFA’s media and advocacy director Gabrielle Debinski, 22, who encouraged future J Street conventions to promote a “diversity of views”, but denounced the body for its lack of support for Israel: “J Street crowd’s distinct support for progressive social issues, and seeming disregard for Israel’s right to peace with security leaves an uncomfortable taste in the mouth.”

The critique triggered a scathing response from a former youth movement member and university student who accused the ZFA in an anonymous article of espousing “parochial” and “naive” views” on website Galus Australis.

The author said the ZFA’s views proved incompatible with “a large proportion” of Australian Zionists, particularly younger people with an affinity with the J Street position.

A long thread of comments on the ZFA Facebook page echoed this sentiment, with some posters rejecting claims that audience applause was an appropriate measure of J Street policy and others claiming the applause was not in fact in support of the Palestinian right of return, but an acknowledgement of Palestinian suffering.

J Street participant and executive director of the New Israel Fund Australia, Liam Getreu, said the ZFA’s claim to be representative is “questionable” if it chooses to oppose J Street, “which supports a two-state solution and opposes BDS and the full repatriation of Palestinian refugees”.

In response, the ZFA published a piece on their website, in which Debinski denied that the affiliation speaks “for each and every member of the community” adding the ZFA received feedback from its affiliates and the broader community that supported her evaluation.

President of the ZFA, Philip Chester, cited its engagement with Zionist youth movements and the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) in addition to its “Hagshama” events that focus on Israeli culture and serve up to 700 young adults, as examples of ZFA’s connection to the younger sector of the community.

“These are not driven by any particular ideological or religious agenda but by a shared love of Israel of Zionism,” he said.

President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) Dr Danny Lamm said opposition to the ZFA’s bulletin constitutes a “minority voice and often those minority voices are noisy voices, but are not truly representative based on the Gen08 report conclusions”.

“The Zionist Federation of Australia, I think, covers a broad tent from left to right to young to old, Orthodox to reform and I think it well represents the Jewish Zionist community in Australia.”


J Street fifth annual conference in Washington, D.C.