“Our existing communal bodies have moved more and more to the left and they have moved more and more away from Torah values” – Dr David Adler
THE PAST YEAR HAS WITNESSED the rise of a conservative Jewish movement, centred around Melbourne, which has become a focal point of debate within the Australian Jewish community. So far, the push has had two standard-bearers: outspoken far-right Melbourne figure Avi Yemini and the Australian Jewish Association, led by Dr David Adler, whose agendas have much in common but now follow separate paths in pursuit of their views.
Last month, the AJA was created in controversial circumstances, when its launch discussion event, titled The Threat of Islam to Jews and later renamed Islam and the Jews – Lessons for Australia, was cancelled by two Melbourne Jewish venues. The Beth Weizmann Community Centre said it did not want to be “associated with an event that on its face, seeks to foment fear and hatred” and Leibler Yavneh College cancelled on the grounds of a perceived security risk. The AJA eventually secured the South Hebrew Congregation as a venue, triggering protests within the community.
Before the advent of the AJA, the conservative torch was carried by Yemini, who burst on to the public radar last year when he invited One Nation Senators Malcolm Roberts and Pauline Hanson to address a Jewish community forum, only to cancel the event in the face of public protests and an unsubstantiated security threat.
Yemini is an aggressive opponent of liberalised immigration and has attacked prominent Muslim media figure Waleed Aly, posting on his Facebook page: “If we’d got our immigration policy right all those years ago, we wouldn’t be stuck with this POS on our TV screens every night. Time to send Waleed home. #sickofhisshit.”
Yemini recently attracted about 50 people, including some Neo-Nazis, to a ‘Make Victoria Safe’ rally that he organised outside Victoria’s Parliament. and an even larger group of anti-racism protesters, who clashed with his supporters.
Yemini was also involved in the early days of the AJA, claiming he was a founder, but resigning after his name and picture were pulled from its website. He has accused the AJA board of cowardice but still supports it.
The AJA and Yemini are two very different faces of the conservative movement. Yemini admits he is a “shock jock” whereas the AJA tries to adopt a more academic approach and denies it is promoting hate speech. That said, both Yemini and the AJA share similar views about Muslims, immigration and free speech.
Yemini denies that he has links with neo-Nazis. If they choose to come to his rallies, that’s their business. The greater concern, he said, were the leftist activists who protested against them.
“I’m not associating with any neo-Nazis,” he said. “I’ll call out Nazis to their face.”
“I have no sympathy in my heart at all for neo-Nazis. I hate the alt-Right, I hate the alt-Left. “I think the alt-Left is a far more dangerous concern to the Jewish community but the alt-Right is also a concern. There is never an excuse for violence. I consistently condemn any form of violence.
“These guys, the Jewish Left, are defending Antifa (an anti-fascist group described in the Fairfax press last year as “an umbrella term covering a loose collection of socialists, anarchists, anti-racists and small-l liberals.”) Antifa justifies violence because they think they have some sort of moral high ground. These people hate Israel and underneath it all, they are anti-Semites. They will walk alongside the anti-Semites and they will proudly wear Antifa badges, these Jews.
“That is the real concern here, not some shmuck who attaches himself to my cause.”
“I just find it hypocritical that our leadership has such an issue with Pauline Hanson. I think freedom of speech is the best friend to the Jewish community.
Yemini is critical of Jewish community leadership. “It’s generally left-wing unless you’re talking about Israel,” he said. “The Jewish community is generally conservative when it comes to Israel but on every other issue they lean towards the left. They are not very consistent. The only consistency they have is they will follow a conservative view when it comes to Israel and generally a left-wing view with every other subject.”
As an example, he refers to the outrage created when he invited Pauline Hanson to address the Jewish community. “I don’t agree with Pauline Hanson on every single subject. I certainly agree with her right to put her case to the community. Just like I agree with Greens being able to do the same,” he says.
“I just find it hypocritical that our leadership has such an issue with Pauline Hanson. I think freedom of speech is the best friend to the Jewish community. Look back in history, and any time there was any sort of suppression of freedom of speech imposed was when Jews suffered.”
This is why he cannot understand why the Jewish community leadership has opposed changes to Section 18C of the Constitution. “Give me examples where our leadership has taken Islamic preachers who preach hate against our community to court over 18C. It’s never been used to benefit us,” he said. “It’s not actually used for the Jewish community.”
He also questions why Jews have been so opposed to the Government’s hard line on asylum-seekers. As far as he’s concerned, there’s not enough of it. “The Jewish community has this guilt mentality because we come from a Holocaust survivor background and we were taken in that somehow we need to compare ourselves to today’s Islamic or tribal African immigrants.
“Every time these left-wing Jews want to justify their position, they compare us and our history to whoever we are discussing. It’s an unfair comparison.”
YEMINI BRINGS a complex personal history to his political campaigning. He is one of 17 children born into the Waks family, with whom his relationship is strained. His brother, child sexual abuse victim and advocate Manny Waks, sued him for defamation last year after he posted on his Facebook page that Manny and his parents hosted a known paedophile in their home for financial gain.
Is Yemini in contact with his family? “Some of them.”
He says he has no connection with Chabad now. “I get along with some of the rabbis but am I religious? No. I will always be proud of being Jewish but like any religion, I think it’s backward. But I defend everyone’s right to practice and pray to whoever they want to believe.”
Except for those he says incite violence, a clear reference to Muslim terrorism. “You don’t see Jews going around killing or blowing themselves up in the name of Judaism; often when there is a terror attack around the world, they strike the Jews at the same time. It’s not bigotry, it’s not made-up hate, it’s from their own scripture.”
How much did his family shape his point of view? “If you look at the Waks family, it’s like any community. There is a large range of political beliefs. I have far left-wing brothers and I would be on the conservative side. I don’t think it’s necessarily defined my political beliefs. think it’s my adult life that pushed me towards conservative views.”
The change in his life, he says, came when he was thrown out of home at the age of 14. Living out on the streets, he associated with Muslims and Aussies and eventually went to Israel, where he served in the army.
Upon returning to Australia, he changed his surname to Yemini, his mother’s maiden name. He laughs when I point out to him that it’s also the Hebrew word for “right”.
Although Yemini has left the AJA, he fiercely defends it. “At the end of the day, I totally support their mission statement but there was some concern about me being on it and I don’t want that to distract from the objective of the organisation. I don’t think the conversation about the AJA has to be about Avi Yemini. I think it needs to be about finally having a new voice in the community. We’re certainly not alone.”
AJA president David Adler said Yemini had attended one meeting and the leaders asked him to help spread their message on social media but then decided it was better not to be associated with him. “We thought he had something to contribute in assisting with social media. Most of the people involved in setting up AJA are rather older.
“Avi has never been a director, he’s never been office-bearer and he’s never been a spokesman. We were obviously aware that he was a bit out there. Initially, I thought what a person does individually in their own time can that be separated from what they could contribute to an organisation.
“It became clear very quickly in Avi’s case that because he had such a high profile and because he was controversial, that this separation couldn’t be made.”
Adler says that although they share certain core views, the AJA has a very different approach to Yemini. It published a mission statement with core policy principles to be as transparent as possible. He concedes that some of their positions on issues like Israel and 18C might risk alienating sections of the community. That is why they aim to address them in a non-confrontational way.
“Rather than use David Adler’s words, we draw on sources and rather than interpret those sources ourselves, we show the interpretations of imams and sheiks and other Islamic clerics.”
Our existing communal bodies have moved more and more to the left and they have moved more and more away from Torah values.
Adler, 60, was born in Melbourne and attended Bialik College but moved to Sydney with his family and graduated from the University of NSW with a medical degree. He is a director of Prime Health Management and a former Deputy Medical Secretary of the Australian Medical Association.
He lives in Sydney and according to the AJA website, is an active member of Sydney’s Orthodox Jewish community and “participates in Torah-related learning regularly”. The AJA operates in Sydney and Melbourne.
Adler won’t nominate how many members AJA has because it has only just started. “In 12 months’ time, it might be a more pertinent question,” he says. “But we are getting numbers and support.” Its membership base is people in the community who are conservative and Orthodox Jews. “We have two sources of funds. One is by a membership subscription fee and other is by donations.” Adler says it has recruited some rabbis as members.
He says the AJA arose because people were dissatisfied with the way Jewish community leaders were addressing key issues. “It’s something that’s been under discussion for at least three years, involving people in our community who you would describe as more conservative in their political outlook, as well as people who observe Orthodox Judaism. There has been a groundswell that hasn’t been directed.
“It’s occurred because of a whole range of political issues. Our existing communal bodies have moved more and more to the left and they have moved more and more away from Torah values.
He said the AJA had focussed on three key issues. The first was freedom of speech and Section 18C. “During the debate late last year, it was very obvious that every one of our secular communal bodies was advocating retention of 18C,” he said.
“None of their submissions had any reference to Jewish values or Torah values. Pressed to provide more detail about ‘Torah values’, he replies: “Israel is a great example. The Torah has guidance as to what territory constitutes Eretz Yisroel. It has guidance about the role of Jerusalem.”
The second issue was on the failure of advocacy for Israel. “If you’re advocating a two-state solution, all the models include dividing Jerusalem some way and providing much of Judaea and Samaria for much of another Arab state,” he says.
“We think that sort of advocacy is incorrect. It doesn’t adequately take account of Jewish values. There are other models which are now being discussed,” These include those put forward by Moshe Feiglin from Zehut, Yishai Fleisher, the international spokesman for the Jewish community in Hebron and Mudar Zahran, Secretary-General of the Jordanian opposition.
We have said in our policy principles that Jerusalem should be the undivided eternal capital, and we have said Judaea and Samaria should be part of Sovereign Israel, which is essentially to the Jordan River
“We’re talking principle at this stage, we have said in our policy principles that Jerusalem should be the undivided eternal capital, and we have said Judaea and Samaria should be part of Sovereign Israel, which is essentially to the Jordan River.” Adler says AJA has not yet settled on which model it will endorse.
What is their position on the settlements or civic society being attacked in Israel? “Jews should generally be able to establish homes in those areas. Jews are allowed establish homes in most places in the world, including Australia including most countries of Europe.
“It’s ridiculous to say Jews should be banned from Judaea and Samaria regardless of what one’s views are of sovereignty. We would not argue for a second that Arabs should be banned from living in Israel. We say they should have sovereignty over those areas. At the moment it hasn’t been declared.”
Finally, there is the rise of Islam and the threat to the Jewish community. He agrees that not every Muslim is an anti-Semite but says the rise of anti-Semitism corresponds with the growth of Islamic communities in Europe. “When I am talking about the subject, we always draw a distinction between Islam as an ideology and Muslims. The majority of Muslims are not a problem. It is the minority, and that is said in the introduction of every presentation.”.
He agrees that not every Muslim is an anti-Semite but he says the rise of anti-Semitism corresponds with the growth of Islamic communities in Europe. When I am talking about the subject, we always draw a distinction between Islam as an ideology and Muslims
He denies that the AJA was propagating hate speech when it held its event in Melbourne. We have been unfairly labelled with talks to incite hatred,” he says. “It’s absolutely not true. This is an academic approach to a real, current political issue that is affecting Jewish communities and we do not incite at all. We expose those who do.”
Adler says he still has connections with Jewish community leaders. “I get on with some of them,” he says. “I don’t want to name names at this stage but there are some I would regard as friends. We are not out to attack the Jewish board of deputies in NSW or the JCCV in Victoria or the ECAJ. In fact, on most issues, we would probably agree.
However, if there is an area of substantial disagreement, Adler says the AJA would be prepared to act as a formal voice in the community. “If we think there is a view that is not represented by the existing bodies we would be prepared to make direct representation.”
HEAR LEON GETTLER ON THE RELIGION AND ETHICS REPORT