jew on this

critical, progressive ideas from pondering jews

Category: diaspora

NAA: Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism

by R.S.

The National Archives of Australia have published (and have for some time) files on the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism. The folder is marked ‘Secret’, the ‘Department of Immigration’ and ‘To be passed on by hand’ which (obviously) is pretty tantalizing. This is an important part of Australian left wing diaspora history.

From the files I have looked at it looks like the Council was interested in speaking to Immigration about their concerns for former Nazis, war criminals, and other assorted fascists entering the country and already living in the community. Time and again they bring up examples of fascists and other involved in violence entering the country, and time and again Immigration brushes  off the concerns. At the same time the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and others were keen on ensuring that everyone knew (believed) that the JCCFAS were a communist front that wasn’t really interested in antisemitism.

The Secretary Ernest Platz – reffo, journo, commo – is a central figure in these communications.

The files include claims that the JCCFAS were supportive of the Soviets persecution of Jews (with my superficial understanding this seems ridiculous given the context of the rest of the files, but it might need further scrutiny given the blind eye segments of the left turned to Stalinism).

Click here to access the files (then click ‘view digital copy’). The Normal Rothfield Papers, held by the University of Melbourne, may also be of some interest to those interested in this history.



weekend music breakout

by tobybee

“Filmed June 9, 2013, Egg Rolls & Egg Creams Festival. Michael Winograd and the Klezmer Orchestra International entertain the crowd outside the Museum at Eldridge Street. Steve Weintraub facilitates dancing.

In it’s thirteenth year, the Egg Rolls and Egg Creams Festival celebrates the Chinese and Jewish communities who’ve called the neighborhood home. It’s one big block party both inside and out combining history, culture, music, performances, and folk arts demonstrations.”

spare cash?

by tobybee

if you have any, there are some good places that you could kick it to… and if you don’t (like me. curse the vagaries of employment in the tertiary education sector!), then maybe you could pass on this info to others you know who do.

in no particular order:

firstly, RISE in Melbourne has written that

Last Wednesday we had 54 families and 84 adults came to RISE to access our foodbank total of 138 asylum seekers and we ran out two weeks worth of food in one day. Now we are complete out of stock and need your urgent support for our foodbank.

The RISE FoodBank aims to address the initial critical needs of the
most vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers within our community by providing access to free dry food and fruits and vegetables. In order to reach our goal to provide our community with access to food, we are calling for donations of food items to be donated to the RISE food bank.

Food items that we urgently need include:

• Rice
• Oil
• Sugar
• Pasta
• Pasta Sauce/Tomato Sauce
• Milk
• Tea and Coffee
• Bread
• Fruits and Vegetables
• Tuna
• Lentils
• Plain Flour
• Instant Noodles/Vermicelli Noodles
• Canned Tomatoes

In order to donate, please drop off items at our office: Level 1, 247
Flinders Lane, Melbourne or you can do you order before Wednesday via online shopping.

PS:- Many of the RISE members have been released to the community through the based detention scheme and do not have the right to work or access to government support services. RISE also supports a large number of families in community detention, many who are ill-equipped to meet their daily food requirements, therefore they are at risk of falling through the cracks of the system to the point that they cannot afford basic food and are left in a perilous state.

so if you can drop off some food, that would be rad.

secondly, AJDS is currently running a fundraising campaign for Grassroots Jerusalem, and a generous anonymous donor has offered to match donations dollar for dollar, up to $5000. pretty great!

The AJDS – Grassroots Jerusalem fundraising project:

The AJDS is supporting Grassroots Jerusalem (GJ) to raise awareness about the human rights violations committed in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) and to further the local development of community-based advocacy.

Our project is designed to apply your financial contribution directly to each stage of the community development process and to include you in developing the Grassroots Jerusalem global network.

Our project is specifically aimed at supporting two communities in Jerusalem: Al-Walajeh and Al- Jahalin.

and thirdly, you can support The Helix Project:

What is Helix?

The Helix Project tells the story of the life, not the death, of the Jews of Eastern Europe. For too long, mainstream Jewish institutions have distilled the fascinating history of Jewish life to a handful of talking points: religion, Israel, Holocaust, and a vague emphasis on “maintaining Jewish identity.” Helix wants to transform the way Jewish history is taught and perceived.

We bring a group of 12 university students to the historical heartland of Jewish life in Central and Eastern Europe for an expenses-paid three-week long immersion in cultural history to see how European Jewish life, contrary to the dominant story, was not a successive chain of miseries — but a millennium filled with creativity, joy, and vitality.

We start in LA with an intensive crash course in the languages, history, and culture of Eastern European Jewish life. The trip then moves to Europe, where students follow in the footsteps of Yiddish poets in Belarus, visit centers of Jewish political activism in Poland, and make a literary pilgrimage to Vilnius, the “Jerusalem of Lithuania.”

Helix students take the lead in sharing their skills and knowledge—academic, artistic, and social—with the group, learn to facilitate discussion and to navigate exploration of new sites. Helix takes students out of the classroom and into the streets of the places that were recently home to the majority of the world’s Jewish population.

Helix is organized by Yiddishkayt, the trend-setting non-profit which has promoted Yiddish language and culture, and especially the values of cultural openness and compassion embodied in that culture, for the past two decades.

“interstices we would normally eschew”

by tobybee

there’s a lot going on that’s kicking my ass at the moment, but here’s six and a half minutes of excellence that reminded me why i do what i do

(i thought it was better to share this tonight than an essay on why the liberal party’s announcement today that they are going to cut funding to anyone (with a particular focus on academics) who supports bds is utterly atrocious and terrifying (for it is an exemplary disciplinary measure to ensure that those of us who are political radicals, or simply stand for movements for justice, as well as academics are forced to compromise ourselves in some way). better that we should have some hope, a vision for a better world, than engaging with that tripe)

(hattip to C.F.)

nakba poem

by jewonthisguest

a guestpost (or, more precisely, the sharing of a poem) by friend of the blog, and Melbourne-based writer, Micaela Sahhar

On the day of our Nakba, a reflection on an article published in The New York Times during Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. Describing a scene of chaotic abjection at Shifa Hospital, a journalist wrote ‘all hope flickered out’. In response I wrote a poem, angered by the ease of a suggestion that the Palestinians might just fold if things got bad enough. They have, and we haven’t. So in acknowledgment, love and solidarity with all Palestinian people today, but particularly to the ones in my life: you, the life blood, our hope has not flickered out.

(for shoe throwers everywhere)

Hope flickered out, the journalist purpled describing
the body of a young man who two hours frozen
returned: the shudder of a wrist, fresh blood at his
mouth (no one on hand to explain how air waits
in the lungs for hours) – instead, his brother yelled
‘How could you keep him in the refrigerator?’ The journalist

(again) described the family member – Male, Angry.
Later that day, in an event seemingly unrelated, Two
males (angry) scaled the barrier at Qalqilya. Ignoring
the warning shots, apparently (so logically what followed
were shots to kill). In the event, One survived, however,
while others kept throwing rocks. Analysis some years

hence evinces a picture of how the journalist’s
prose has perished, exposing the planar nucleus of
transmission again. Hope has not flickered out.

indefinite detention

by tobybee

About thirty minutes drive north from my house, in Broadmeadows, sits MITA, the Melbourne Immigrant Transit Accommodation facility. You hear that name and it’s possible to imagine that the people who are detained inside are merely on their way through, temporarily being held there until they are released in some way. Tragically though, at the moment that’s not the case.

Approximately 50 refugees – people, most of whom are Tamil, who have been through the disastrously long and unwieldy processes that our government hurls at them and have proven their refugee status – being imprisoned there have been given a negative assessment by ASIO. They are “ASIO rejected refugees”. This means, quite simply, that ASIO has said that there is a problem with them – that they are a danger in some way – but they have not explained how, or in what way. As others have pointed out, this can mean that there has been a determination not that a refugee has done anything wrong before, but that they have the potential to do something wrong in the future. Moreover, ASIO assessments are kept secret: the refugees are not told of the allegations against them, nor are their lawyers. nobody. there is no possibility of appeal. The effect of this is to create a situation of indefinite detention: they are refugees, but are not allowed out of prison. Think about that. (it seems to me just one more reason why systems of detention are never ok, why we need to be working so hard to take that right to imprison away from governments)hungerstriker2

And so some of these men – 27 at the moment – sitting in Broadmeadows, have begun a hunger strike. Today is day 6. They are spending their time sitting outside, and have painted banners (one of which you can see here) to try to communicate with the Australian population, and with the Government who holds the key to their futures. On Day one they released this statement to explain what they are doing:


We are 30 people here at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation (25 Tamils, 2 Burmese and 2 Iranian) and 56 people all over the Australian detention. We have been here for four years and more. We cannot tolerate it any longer. We need to be released to save our

At 2 a.m. today (Monday, April 8, 2013) we began a hunger strike together. All 30 of us plan to keep doing this until there is solution, one way or the other.

We will gather together in the grounds of the detention centre and stay there until we get a solution. If the Australian Government does not release us, we ask that they kill us mercifully.

We have painted banners as part of our protest. There is one that shows many people hanging. That is what we want to happen to us if we are not released. for life here.

People in here are jumping off rooves, they are going on hunger strikes, they are taking tablets, they are trying to hang themselves……It is a cruel and inhumane environment for everyone.

We plead with you, the Australian people, to help us. We are on the edge of life and don’t know how much longer we can stand it.

We ask Prime Minister Gillard, Immigration Minister O’Connor, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus Opposition leader Abbott and ASIO director David Irvine to stop this torture of all of us……. of
men, women and children, who have done nothing to warrant this cruel treatment that is destroying our minds.

We ask the authorities : You say we are a threat to this nation. So if we are such people why have they now put women and children and families in here with us? We are willing to be released into
the community under strict orders if they think we are threats, which we aren’t. But whatever they want we will do.

But we can’t keep living like this. We are not in detention. We are in a cemetery.

We don’t want to die. We left Sri Lanka, Burmese and Iran because we fear to die. We came to Australia to live, not die. But death would be better than the life we have.


This is happening 30 minutes down the road from my house. That fact hits me over the head; my friends have kept remarking on it in the last couple of days (despite the fact that we try to care about, mourn, and grieve lives that are damaged all around the world, that we fight against injustice in all sorts of places). There is something particularly awful about this happening at the edge of an industrial park, just down the road.

Some people have set up a 24 hour solidarity vigil at MITA, people are going inside to visit the refugees, and others are visiting the vigil briefly. I went yesterday for a couple of hours. It was one of the more distressing moments of a life. We went around the side, and stood with a warehouse, long driveway and fences between us and the men. We waved to each other, clapped so we could all hear each other, and those of us on the outside shouted words of support. And it seemed quite simple: this situation should not exist. And quite horrifying: but it does.

So what can you do? what should you do?
Firstly, you should care. You should care that this is being done by your government, that this is happening just down the road.

Secondly, you should take action. There’s so many levels to what needs to be done. The Minister – Brendan O’Connor – is the man who can make the decision to free them. What power he holds. You can contact him and tell him to release these refugees. Send him an email, call his office, visit his electorate office (which happens to be in Caroline Springs, also not far down the road).

Keep up to date with what is happening by looking at this blog, visiting this facebook event or visiting the RISE facebook page.

You can go join the vigil. It doesn’t matter how long you go for, anytime offers something. I’ve been told that the vigil brings some comfort and support to those on hunger strike. There is no doubt that being able to see each other, and interact in that small way, brings some comfort. By visiting you can also support those who are camping there, and maintaining the vigil.

And, it seems to me, everyone should see what is being done, what is happening. Everyone should understand the processes put in place to determine the lives of people. Everyone should understand the structures of control and discrimination operated by the government. This should not be happening. Neither ASIO nor the government should have this power over life and death. The people must be freed.

the four…

by jewonthisguest

as said at a second night seder in melbourne by z.
hebrew via the interwebs.

בָּרוּךְ הַמָּקוֹם, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. בָּרוּךְ שֶׁנָּתַן תּוֹרָה לְעַמּוֹ יִשְׂרָאֵל, בָּרוּךְ הוּא. כְּנֶגֶד אַרְבָּעָה בָנִים דִּבְּרָה תּוֹרָה . אֶחָד חָכָם, וְאֶחָד רָשָׁע, וְאֶחָד תָּם, וְאֶחָד שֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל

חָכָם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה הָעֵדוֹת וְהַחֻקִּים וְהַמִשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יי אֱלֹהֵינוּ אֶתְכֶם? וְאַף אַתָּה אֱמָר לוֹ כְּהִלְכוֹת הַפֶּסַח: אֵין מַפְטִירִין אַחַר הַפֶּסַח אֲפִיקוֹמָן

רָשָׁע מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מָה הָעֲבֹדָה הַזֹּאת לָכֶם? לָכֶם – וְלֹא לוֹ. וּלְפִי שֶׁהוֹצִיא אֶת עַצְמוֹ מִן הַכְּלָל כָּפַר בְּעִקָּר. וְאַף אַתָּה הַקְהֵה אֶת שִנָּיו וֶאֱמֹר לוֹ: בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יי לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם. לִי – וְלֹא לוֹ. אִילּוּ הָיָה שָׁם, לֹא הָיָה נִגְאָל

תָּם מָה הוּא אוֹמֵר? מַה זֹּאת? וְאָמַרְתָּ אֵלָיו: בְּחֹזֶק יָד הוֹצִיאָנוּ יי מִמִּצְרָיִם, מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים

וְשֶׁאֵינוֹ יוֹדֵעַ לִשְׁאוֹל – אַתְּ פְּתַח לוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: וְהִגַּדְתָּ לְבִנְךָ בַּיוֹם הַהוּא לֵאמֹר, בַּעֲבוּר זֶה עָשָׂה יי לִי בְּצֵאתִי מִמִּצְרָיִם

Blessed is the blessing. Blessed that we can sit as friends, as family and as fucked-up individuals lashed together by empty ritual, tradition and blood and fill this with meaning. That we can build and destroy together.

The Torah speaks of Four Sons – not really, it doesn’t exist in that form – but the Rabbis, as men, thought that there were four sons worthy of inclusion and many invisible daughters who weren’t worth mentioning at all. They also didn’t mention animals, non-Jews and people who didn’t resemble themselves. Fuck that!

The Symbol of Wisdom – this symbol is the all-knowing, all powerful patriachal dictator that we internalise as we are socialised in our houses, our families and communities. he confuses the narrative with historical factoids and presents a slick retelling of the story as a totally reasonable history. and we internalise and adopt these stories as our own. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of Wicked – this symbol is the land developer who talks about property prices and never about Indigenous people and their land, and the minor functionaries of capitalism who grease the wheels while complaining ironically about being functionaries of capitalism, and the csg volunteers who perpetuate and construct the siege mentality that zionism so loves in melbourne. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of the Simple – this symbol is of the status quo, of those parts of us that think that rape culture isn’t a problem because it’s everywhere and that episode 9 of Girls was fine because it didn’t confront, call-out and reject the rape scene at the end between Adam and that random character. to this, we must say, fuck us!

The Symbol of the Blank – this symbol is of the uninformed, of those parts of us who think the Jewish News is a source of information, that Australian history begins in 1788, that Prisoner X and Zionism is totally fine, and that refugees who risk their lives on boats are queue jumping scum. to this, we must say, fuck us!


by tobybee

in an article addressing the ‘Ben Zygier affair’ (for want of a better label) entitled “Loyalty of Australian-Israelis shouldn’t be doubted” on the drum the other day, philip chester (the president of the zionist federation of australia) wrote, in part, that

Being loyal to Australia and to Israel is an easy fit. Australians and Israelis share common values.

Both nations pride themselves on their robust democracies, free speech and media, and independent legislature and judiciary. Both peoples share common interests – education and culture, sport and a love of each country’s natural geographic beauty.


Australia and Israel are strong allies, and relationships built on the battlegrounds of the two World Wars underscore the enduring nature of the friendship and shared values. In a geopolitical sense, despite the vast distances, Israel and Australia are close. Our abhorrence of terror and commitment to Western democracy make the alliance firm and natural.

Bilateral trade, partnerships in medical, scientific and environmental research among other examples underscore this historically strong relationship between the two nations.


We do not know the facts or details around Ben Zygier’s death or the circumstances leading to it. To suggest that this tragedy was brought on by inherent conflicts of loyalty and identity casts dangerous and unwarranted aspersions on the entire Jewish community.

There should be absolutely no doubt that the fundamental loyalties of Australian Jews and dual nationality Australian-Israelis to both homeland and birthplace remain solid, balanced and totally compatible.

there are many threads that one could pick up here, and by not discussing some, i don’t mean to suggest that they’re not important (for instance, i think a serious and informed conversation about the histories attached to the notion that jews are a people apart, or not loyal citizens, could be useful), but rather i want to pick up on one particular thread.

chester presents in his piece an interesting, and important, conception of what loyalty entails, and what a discourse of loyalty can do. what particularly grabbed my eye was this idea that one can be loyal to both australia and israel because they are, essentially, of the same quality: both are western democracies and abhor terror; they trade together, and believe in progress brought about through scientific venture.

the discourse of loyalty here functions as a tool of nation-building. remember people – australia and israel are the good countries! they are western! they are democratic! they treat people well! they are great places to live! if it’s said often enough, does that make it true? this is, after all, how it becomes possible to imagine nation-states as something that exists which one could be loyal to (as benedict anderson has shown us).

but of course merely saying it does not make it materially true. of course we know that the ways in which both of these countries are functional democracies is partial (in some similar ways, and some different ways to each other), etc etc. but chester makes these claims as a way of assisting both australian and israeli nation-building, but also, it would seem, as a way of demonstrating his personal loyalty to both nation-states. he belongs to both (or has the potential capacity to belong to both) because he knows these good things to be true about them.

in writing this piece chester furthers an argument that i’ve discussed and critiqued in conversations with a couple of friends over the last couple of weeks. chester assumes, and thereby helps to determine, that it is optimal that one be loyal to (at least one) nation-state. he assumes – like most others who have written on this topic since the news broke about Ben Zygier – that we all want to feel love for, or a connection with, or loyalty towards, a nation-state.

but this i reject. i want to make an argument here, then, that instead of embracing loyalty in its various possible permutations and affiliations, we should look to disloyalty.

instead of trying to evade the restrictions of nationalism by arguing for dual, or multiple, loyalties, we should open up the possibilities offered by declaring our disloyalty (to nations, to states, to communities). in this way we can potentially denaturalise the connection between nation and state, or the assumption that because one is born into a particular political community there is an automatic affiliation.

of course, this is something that the right does: hence we have terms such as ‘unaustralian’, or ‘jewish by birth’, or we can be called kapos for offering a divergence of opinion. but i’m not suggesting that there is anything politically useful in this formulation, which involves the denial of affiliation. instead, i am wondering about the possibility of a rejection of affiliation. the potential of making a demand that the state, the nation, or the community, be more precise with its language around what constitutes a member of a bounded community. in this way it would potentially become more difficult for people to say that there is an attachment between all jews and israel. we could choose – in a politicised, historically-informed, emotional decision – who we become attached to.

this is, i think, an idea that diasporism (jewish or otherwise) can offer to the discussion. a way of moving beyond the question of singular or dual loyalties. a way to cut through the idea that loyalty is inherently what is desired and good. it can remind us that one may never feel a loyalty to a state, but instead that a passport can be carried as merely a means of moving around the world (one which is, of course, a privilege to have).

one can feel connections though, i think, without feeling loyalty as such. and it’s in this gap between connection and loyalty that, maybe, the productive potential exists.

queering the doykeit

by tobybee

the internet has indeed (in my experience) been rad for building transnational communities of jewish diasporists. despite physical distance, we can connect over the lines, sharing ideas and building fledgling friendships. one such connection i’ve made has been to jenna brager, whose zine, doykeit, i discovered thanks to vlada. and so i’m loving the jewish ladies across the globe.

jenna’s just put out a new call out for submissions for a second edition of doykeit (doykeit, she writes in the first, “in a contemporary context implies a radical investment in the local communities that sustain us and an understanding that in a globalized society, solidarity politics must cross borders real and imagined), so, friends, get to it and submit something!:

Doykeit #2—“Diaspora”

The concept of ‘doykeit,’ Yiddish for ‘hereness,’ is taken from the pre-World War II Polish-Jewish group The Bund, which believed that Jews have both a right to live and a political commitment to work for change ‘here and now.’

Doykeit seeks to speak to the cross-sections of Jewish and queer/feminist identification and how these might inform an anti-Zionist or Palestinian solidarity politic.

For this issue of Doykeit, we ask for writing and art that considers one or more of the following topics: diaspora, home and “homeland,” galut, displacement, dispersal, remembrance, intergenerational relationships, borders, nationalism, and violence.

“The word ‘diaspora’ means dispersion. It originated in the Septuagint, one of the original Greek translations of the Bible: Deuteronomy 28:25: ‘thou shalt be a diaspora in all kingdoms of the earth.’…”

Some questions to consider:

–site(s) of diaspora and site(s) of “home”

–diaspora in a globalized society

–What does it mean to be a diaspora Jew (politically, spiritually etc.)?

–How is diaspora complicated/ take on different meaning in different Jewish communities (ethnic, geographic, denominational, etc.)?

–How do we build solidarity between/ within diasporic/ exilic communities?

Due May 1st

did you know…

by tobybee

… that Alec Baldwin has a radio show? I recently discovered it, and it’s rather delightful. And, did you know that originally it was planned that West Side Story would be a battle between Jewish and Irish gangs, but a decision was made to change it during the writing process? How rad would it have been if it there had been Jewish gangs in there! I learned that fun fact listening to Baldwin talk to two of Leonard Bernstein’s kids, Alex and Jamie Bernstein. I highly recommend taking a listen, and then going through the archives and listening to them all.

Also, having been called a race traitor in the last week, I offer this thought from Leonard Cohen:
not a jew

(via vladislava)