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Op-Ed by Dr Danny Lamm – 24 October 2008

Questions for the next 70 years of Zionism in Victoria

First published in the Australian Jewish News

On October 28, the State Zionist Council of Victoria will celebrate its 70th Annual Assembly, a gathering of 51 affiliate organisations and more than 250 delegates spanning the spectrum of religious, political, ideological and cultural expression of Zionist thought in this state.

Since its establishment in 1938, the State Zionist Council of Victoria has earned a prominent place in our community history. Our Zionist leaders, both past and present, deserve a well-earned pat on the back on the occasion of this important milestone, for their hard work and achievements.

What started as a roof body of 13 organisations by 1948 grew to 28 organisations by 1998 and has almost doubled since, with 51 Victorian Zionist organisations today subscribing to The Jerusalem Program 2004, the World Zionist Organization’s platform reinvigorated for the 100th anniversary of Theodore Herzl’s death.

Researching history reveals interesting treasures. Between 1958 and 1979, guests of the SZC signed a visitors’ book at the Beth Weizmann Community Centre on St Kilda Road, Melbourne. Small, modest signatures of huge personalities are nestled within the pages of this now historic book.

Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second prime minister (1953 – 55) wrote in an undated entry circa 1958 “With all my vivid memories and feelings of gratitude and admiration for the wonderful work done by a most gallant band of true Zionists”.

A signature dated July 12, 1967 is from “Ariel Sharon – Aluf – Israel army” – then General Ariel Sharon, in Melbourne just a month after the Six Day War.

These windows to the past are an impressive example of the relationship between Victoria and Israel. Decades later Israeli politicians, journalists, historians and writers continue to be regular visitors to Australian shores.

Relationships with Israeli officials go hand in hand with the broad communal and political bi-partisan relationships that the State Council continues to develop on a state and federal level. The annual Yom Ha’atzmaut cocktail reception brings together the Victorian Premier, Leader of the Opposition and 400 politicians, diplomats, law enforcement officials, community leaders of all ages and members of the media. The Annual Assembly which traditionally features a top speaker is another enduring example of the important relationships we have developed.

Lately, however, there has been a lot of talk about repackaging and rebranding the image of Israel, particularly as we move forward from Israel’s 60th anniversary. We face imminent unprecedented challenges to Zionism, and our responses to these will be the true indicators of our success in the future.

Our world has become more individualised and focused, yet our choices for information are endless. Zionism should be “sexier”, more modern, less serious, more palatable, less structured say community commentators, analysts and stakeholders of all ages. All very true and valid observations. Clearly, Zionist activity in 2008 is no longer a “one size fits all proposition”; it’s about finding multiple paradigms for engagement. We need to be open to change and evolution. For example, the SZCV is well aware that organized events no longer necessarily attract our community. Once, the regularly-scheduled informational forum “This Month Tonight” functioned as a mass update on Israel for the hundreds of people that attended. Today people can attend one of the many community forums or lectures on offer, but they can also listen to it on podcast at a time of their choosing or read about it online.

It’s up to us to come up with ways to connect, discuss, question and experience Israel and Zionism. It’s is not just about what Israel needs from us; Zionism right now requires partnering with Israel for a meaningful, authentic and dynamic relationship.

Challenges extend further: an expanding Jewish population means many Jews do not have a natural affiliation to Israel nor do they see Israel as their cause of choice. Israel at 60 is a robust nation with a strong economy and a GDP that exceeds New South Wales.

But let’s also be realistic. We need to support Israel in times of crisis; we are living in a time of intense and menacing confrontation to Israel and Judaism where the lines of bias are murky and unrestrained. Yet we are the ones who are most familiar with the situation in our own back yard, we know our target audience. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Our strength is that we have a very strong base from which to develop.

Our Zionist passion, activity and Israel advocacy are thriving and we should continue to support one another in all these endeavours.

As we continually explore our changing relationship with Israel and Zionism; seeking to connect individually and experientially, the SZC will be working hard with our partners to come up with a menu for the future. Please join us for the next 70 years.
Dr Danny Lamm has been the President of the State Zionist Council of Victoria since 2002.
The SZCV’s 70th Annual Assembly on Tuesday October 28 with keynote speaker Federal Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, is open to the community.
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