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Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia


Zionist activity in Australia

The love of Israel, and the dream of a return to Zion, have been central underpinnings of the Jewish religion through two thousand years in the Diaspora. However, it was not until the late 19th century that spiritual yearning for a restoration of the Holy Land 'at the end of days' crystallised into practical schemes to repopulate and rejuvenate Palestine. Having seen hundreds of thousands of Eastern European Jews flee Czarist oppression, and appalled at the antisemitism underlying the Dreyfus affair in a supposedly enlightened France, Theodore Herzl formulated a practical proposal to create a modern Jewish nation state in the Middle East. His scheme was formally ratified at the first World Zionist Congress at Basle in 1897.

Herzl's proposal touched a responsive chord among sectors of Australian Jewry which had previously been supportive of charitable schemes set up to assist small numbers of impoverished Jews who had elected to live in Palestine. The Western Australian Zionist Society was founded in Perth, under the aegis of Rev. D I Freedman, in 1900, and pioneering Zionist Leagues emerged in Sydney and Melbourne a few years later. A more formal NSW venture, the Sydney Zionist Society was established in 1908 while a succession of competing groups evolved in Victoria in the early 1910s (among them Herzlia and Hatechiya). From the outset – the enthusiasm of Percy Marks, Nathaniel Levi, and others, notwithstanding – political Zionism in this country was dominated by Eastern European Jews, and was generally viewed with either scepticism or indifference by the Anglo-Australian Jewish establishment. The strongly pro-Zionist Rev. Freedman, for instance, was a glaring exception to the clerical rule while Rabbis Abrahams and Cohen, and Revs Danglow and Davis, were – at best – non-commital. In this regard, they took their lead from Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler who believed that the quest for a secular Jewish state was contrary to religious teachings, that it was an unworkable ideal anyway because of the harsh realities of the terrain, and that support for it might well lead to accusations of disloyalty to Britain.76

In 1917, as a result of General Allenby and the British forces taking control of Palestine from the Turks, and the Balfour Declaration, which committed Britain to the establishment of a Jewish national home in that territory, a flurry of interest in Zionism was apparent in Australia, even among members of the Jewish establishment. The movement was given further boosts by visits from international emissaries such as Israel Cohen, Bella Pevsner and Alexander Goldstein, and the news (in 1922) that the League of Nations had formally entrusted Britain with the Palestine mandate. Activity in the 1920s culminated in the formation in 1927 of the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, under the presidency of Rabbi Israel Brodie and patronage of Sir John Monash. This proved to be the 'high water mark' of Anglo-Jewish participation in the movement, however. Brodie's involvement distanced him increasingly from his peers. As Jewish aspirations came more and more into conflict with British policy and administration in Palestine, the ambivalence of Rabbis Danglow and Cohen, and of lay leaders like Sir Archie Michaelis or Sir Isaac Isaacs, became outright hostility.

In 1928 British troops removed traditional male–female partitions at the Wailing Wall in response to Arab claims that the barriers were infringing the religious status quo. World Jewry viewed the action as unwarranted interference and the Zionist Federation protested loudly to the Government. A furious Archie Michaelis (speaking for the Melbourne Jewish Advisory Board) declared that the Federation (made up primarily of non-Anglo 'newcomers') had no right to speak for the whole community, and that any attack on British policy in Palestine amounted to an attack on the British Government itself. Danglow believed it 'entirely wrong for Jews, especially British Jews, to hold public meetings of protest'. Subsequently, when Arab rioting led to the death of 133 Jews, the British administration implemented the Passfield White Paper, thereby modifying the Balfour Declaration and eliciting howls of outrage from Zionist groups around the world. The Peel Commission, set up in 1937 to examine the problem of Arab-Jewish relations, finally declared the Mandate to be unworkable. A new White Paper (in 1939) drastically curtailed Jewish immigration into Palestine and severely limited the purchase of land by Jews.

Appalled at what they saw as British treachery in the face of impending disaster in Europe, disenchanted Jewish groups declared that the MacDonald Government had reneged unashamedly on its solemn promise. 'Convinced that 'Eretz Israel' could provide a haven for persecuted Jewry they embarked on a campaign designed to force the lifting of restrictions... Their criticism of England was loud and clear...', writes Konrad Kwiet. Hardly surprisingly, therefore, 'By the time the Second World War broke out' (Hilary Rubinstein notes), 'the Zionist movement in Australia was supported almost exclusively by Jews of Eastern European birth or recent origin'.77

The chief spokesman of establishment opposition, as support for Zionism spread, was undoubtedly former Governor-General Sir Isaac Isaacs. Isaacs continued to subscribe fervently to the view that a Jewish state must render Australian Jews second-class, 'tolerated aliens' in other lands. In his view, Jews were a religious grouping rather than a nationality, and nationalist activity would lead inevitably to antisemitism. Extremist activity in Palestine, such as the bombing of the King David Hotel, as well as escalating attacks on Britain over its apparent intransigence on the issue of immigration into Palestine (including the notorious Exodus incident), seemed to confirm Isaacs' claims, most of which were made in lengthy letters to the Jewish and general press in the early 1940s. He was bitterly opposed by such staunch Zionists as Rabbi L A Falk of the Great Synagogue, Temple Beth Israel's Rabbi Sanger and Dr Aaron Patkin. Professor Julius Stone's Stand Up and Be Counted (1944), an open letter to Isaacs, excited considerable interest and debate.78 In the long run, of course, international reaction to the Holocaust and to the lot of Jews displaced by war ensured that the Zionist ideal was realised. Unsurprisingly, once Britain had withdrawn from Palestine and a Jewish state had become a fait accompli, Australian Anglo-Jewry abandoned its anti-Zionist stance.

A number of records have been located which contain material about the Zionist movement in Australia. These records include:

CORRESPONDENCE FILES 'B' SERIES (MAINLY RELATING TO MEDICAL TREATMENT AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING SCHEMES), 1918–19
Canberra
Files in this series consist of Repatriation correspondence, including policy documents, requests for information, offers of properties for sale, etc.
Series: A2483
Quantity: 3 metres
Recorded by: 1918–1919: Repatriation Department (I) (CA 16)
Letter from Victorian Zionist Organisation, 1918 A2483, B18/5941
Dept. of Repatriation. Zionist Preparation Fund Appeal to assist Jewish refugees in Palestine, 1918 A2483, B18/7676
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1917–29
Melbourne
Series: MP367/1
Quantity: 40.14 metres
Recorded by: 1917–1921: Department of Defence (I) (CA 6)
Zionist movement. Interview with Minister, 1919 MP367/1, 534/1/356
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1929–
Canberra
Series: A432
Quantity: 1957.68 metres
Recorded by: 1929–: Attorney-General's Department (CA 5)
United Zionist Revisionist Organisation of Australia, 1948 A432, 1948/240
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, CLASS 11 (MIGRANTS A–C), 1951–52
Canberra
Series: A439
Quantity: 6.66 metres
Recorded by: 1951–1952: Department of Immigration (CA 51)
Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, 1947–50 A439, 1951/11/372
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES (SECOND SYSTEM), 1923–34
Canberra
Series: A458
Quantity: 49.77 metres
Recorded by: 1923–1934: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
The Union of Sydney Zionists, 1923–34 A458, 745/1/378
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ALPHABETICAL SERIES, 1927–42
Canberra
Series: A981
Quantity: 163.27 metres
Recorded by: 1927–1942: Department of External Affairs (II) (CA 18)
Zionism, 1917–35 A981, ZIO 1
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1953–
Canberra
The series contains correspondence on character checks and inquiries into specified persons and general security.
Series: A1533
Quantity: 160.58 metres
Recorded by: 1953–1960: Commonwealth Investigation Service, Central Office (CA 650)
Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, 1956 A1533, 1956/2834
MICROFILM OF COMMONWEALTH INVESTIGATION SERVICE AND ASIO FILES, 1968
Canberra
Series: A9108
Quantity: 11.88 metres
Recorded by: 1968–1968: Australian Security Intelligence Organization (CA 1297)
Women's International Zionist Organisation [12 pages], 1950–51 A9108, ROLL 3/49
New Zionist Organisation – United Revisionist, 1948–49 A9108, ROLL 20/52
New Zionist Organisation – United Revisionist, 1947–48 A9108, ROLL 20/53
Zionist Organisations [4cm], 1941–49 A9108, ROLL 21/23
OFFICIAL HISTORY 1914–18 WAR: RECORDS OF C E W BEAN, OFFICIAL HISTORIAN, 1914–63
Australian War Memorial (AWM)
Series: AWM38
Quantity: 28.9 metres
Recorded by: 1914–1963: Official History 1914–18 War (CA 7039)
[Official History, 1914–18 War: Records of Charles E W Bean, Official historian:] Booklet, 1956; 'The Case for Israel' issued by the Zionist Federation of Australia and New Zealand, 1956 AWM38, 3DRL 6673/960
INVESTIGATION CASE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'SA' (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) PREFIX, 1917–69
Adelaide
The series consists of sensitive case files dealing mainly with matters of national security.
Series: D1915
Quantity: 37 metres
Recorded by: 1919–1946: Investigation Branch, SA (CA 905); 1946–1960: Commonwealth Investigation Service, SA (CA 914)
Zionist movement, New Zionist movement, 1942–53 D1915, SA19621

A number of records have been identified which document official scepticism regarding the Zionist movement and the activities of Australian Zionists, some of them reflect Zionist opposition to British Government policy in Palestine.

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'V' (VICTORIA) PREFIX, 1924–62
Melbourne
Series: B741
Quantity: 29.88 metres
Recorded by: 1927–1946: Investigation Branch, Victoria (CA 907); 1946–1960: Commonwealth Investigation Service, Victoria (CA 916)
Leon Bloom – Application for naturalisation and suspected Zionist activities, 1929–47 B741, V/6029
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1941–19
Canberra
Series: A373
Quantity: 7 metres
Recorded by: 1941–1945: Security Service, Central Office, Canberra (CA 660); 1945–1946: Investigation Branch, Central Office, Melbourne and Canberra (CA 747); 1946–1949: Commonwealth Investigation Service, Central Office (CA 650)
Jewish recruiting – Implications for Australia, 1948
An investigation into the possibility that Zionist groups were recruiting ex-servicemen to fight in Palestine.
A373, 12510
CORRESPONDENCE FILES 'B' SERIES (MAINLY RELATING TO MEDICAL TREATMENT AND VOCATIONAL TRAINING SCHEMES), 1918–19
Canberra
Files in this series consist of departmental correspondence, and include policy documents, requests for information, offers of property, etc.
Series: A2483
Quantity: 3 metres
Recorded by: 1918–1919: Repatriation Department (I) (CA 16)
Paperwork re authorisation of Zionist Preparation Fund's appeal to assist Jewish citrus-growers in Palestine, 1918 A2483, B18/7676
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, CLASS 2 (RESTRICTED IMMIGRATION), 1939–50
Canberra
Series: A433
Quantity: 8 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1945: Department of the Interior (II) (CA 31)
Palestine for the Jews – Zionist propaganda, etc, 1943–46 A433, 1945/2/5153

Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

76 Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora, pp. 86–9.

77 Hilary L Rubinstein, Chosen, pp. 201–4; Kwiet p. 207.

78 Rubinstein, Chosen, p.204–7.


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Chapter 8
The Zionist Ideal in Australia