Jewish influence a mystery
THERE HAS been one rare flash of unanimity in the heat of the Australian election campaign: applause from both sides for the decision to ban a visit by the controversial British historian, Mr David Irving.
Mr Irving was refused a visa for his determined defence of Adolf Hitler and his claims that the Holocaust never happened.
But beyond the decision lay a continuing phenomenon of Australian politics -- the influence of the Jewish community, which extends far beyond its size of power to decide even marginal seats. The community's ability to sway the most powerful politicians in the land confounds political observers such as Dr Clive Bean, of the Australian National University Research School of Social Sciences, and Mr Malcolm Mackerras, one of Australia's most prominent political electoral analysts.
"I must admit, I'm very puzzled by it," said Mr Mackerras.
is no doubt the influence is real, despite the fact that the
Jewish community numbers less than 100,000, concentrated in
Sydney and Melbourne, and with no deciding balance in any
NEW ZEALAND HERALD: "... money is influential. Also the Jews' influence is a worldwide phenomenon and to some extent its international presence may make Australian parties feel that it is a group that cannot be ignored..."
To put this into perspective, Australia has a migrant population of more than three million, but ethnic communities extend into generations of Australian-born descendants of original settlers.
For example, according to the Bureau of Statistics, there were about 260,000 Italian-born migrants living in Australia in 1986, but more than 580,000 people who considered themselves part of the Italian community.
And while politicians and lobbyists talk glibly of the ethnic vote, the creature remains largely mythical.
Said Dr Bean: "The ethnic vote probably does exist, but beyond that we don't know a lot about it, or how it operates. Statistically, it's too small."
At best, analysts suggest that where ethnic groups appear to vote as something of a bloc the vote is more likely to be determined by problems common to migrant groups -- such as unemployment and access to social services -- rather than membership of any community.
For these reasons Mr Mackerras suspects that, such as it is, the ethnic vote will favour Labour.
Yet a relatively small group, with no direct electoral clout, can command attention about which other communities can only dream.
The Jewish lobby, spearheaded by the Zionist Federation of Australia, is constantly courted by Prime Ministers and Opposition leaders, is able to sway both domestic and foreign policy where it touches its interests, and last year even forced a senior minister to recant publicly.
Labour lost Jewish support in the 1970s when the former Prime Minister, Mr Gough Whitlam, implied that Australia had not condemned the Arabs' Yom Kippur attack on Israel for fear of alienating Australian-Arab voters.
It returned with Mr Hawke's rise to power, and his unwavering advocacy of Israel.
Zionist federation conferences are routinely addressed by the leaders of both major parties, both of whom equally routinely pledge Australian loyalty to the Jewish and Israeli cause.
The leader of the Opposition, Dr Hawson, is "proud to be a friend of Israel," and promises "unshakeable support." The Prime Minister, Mr Keating, lauds the Jews' "civilising influence" on Australia, Israel as a "great cause," and Jews as "great settlers, great Australians."
And when the Foreign Minister, Senator Evans, last year criticised Israel's Palestinian policies and human rights record, he was hauled over the coals.
Speaking to the students, Senator Evans at least gave an answer as to why the Jewish community enjoyed such extraordinary rapport with the Government. There was, he said, a "bonding experience" of shared democratic ideals nurtured by schoolday friendships with the children of Holocaust survivors.
Dr Bean is not so sure.
"My speculation would be that it has money," he said, "and money is influential. Also the Jews' influence is a worldwide phenomenon and to some extent its international presence may make Australian parties feel that it is a group that cannot be ignored."
© Focal Point 1998 write to David Irving