Philip Mendes
Australian Jewish academic and policy commentator

The Jewish Council(s) of Australia Part 2

In a recent article, I explained how the views of the new anti-Zionist Jewish Council differed sharply from those of the former Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism (JCCFAS) which existed from 1942-70. I highlighted two particular contrasting perspectives of the JCCFAS: their active engagement with Jewish lived experiences of anti-Semitism from a range of sources, and their robust political support for Israel during the 1948, 1956 and 1967 Middle East wars. I also noted their tragic failure to name and condemn Stalinist anti-Semitism during the Cold War including their limited insight into the convergence between Soviet anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish rhetoric:

After publication, I came across an interview with representatives of the Jewish Council where they refer directly to the influence of Walter Lippmann (a grandfather of one of the Council Executive Officers) and his work in the JCCFAS on their formation:

What they conveniently omit to add is that Lippmann was politically purged from the JCCFAS at the height of the Cold War debate over his dissenting views on Soviet anti-Semitism. Most revealingly, Lippman’s political crime was that he insisted, based on all available public evidence, that the Communist assault on Jews living in the Soviet Bloc countries was anti-Semitic as well as anti-Zionist, and that there was a close convergence between the two ideologies. The political lessons for the Jewish Council today should be obvious.

Lippmann’s public life is covered in an excellent biographical text by Monash University academics Andrew Markus and Margaret Taft. He was active in a wide range of social welfare, ethnic community and multicultural organisations and Aboriginal rights groups both within and beyond the Jewish community, and also the social democratic Fabian Society and the Labor Party:; see also

Lippmann was involved in the leadership of the JCCFAS from its beginnings in 1942 until his resignation in 1953, filling a number of roles including Chairman of the Vigilance Committee and member of the Executive Committee. He was one of the leading speakers at the Interstate Conference of Jewish Councils held in Sydney in May 1952. He actively opposed attempts by conservative Jewish leaders influenced by anti-Communist populism to exclude left-wing voices from the community.

However, in the lead-up to the JCCFAS Annual General Meeting held in late May 1953, he seems to have been disturbed by the Council’s implicit defence of the anti-Semitic Slansky Trial in Prague and the Doctors Plot in Moscow, and particularly their naïve insistence that these events reflected hostility to Zionism rather than racist anti-Semitism.

In his speech to their AGM held in late May 1953, which is summarized on pp.98-100 of Allan Leibler’s 1967 University of Melbourne Honours thesis titled ‘The Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism: A study in the Structure and Function of a Communist Front Organisation’, Lippmann criticized the refusal of the JCCFAS to ‘acknowledge the undeniable fact that repeated references were made to the Jewish origins of the accused in the Prague Trials and to take cognisance of what appears to be unnecessary references to the Jewish origins of the doctors involved in the Moscow indictment which gives the statement the character of a defence of the countries involved whilst failing to come to grip with the Jewish issues involved. The Council moreover in this statement accepts without criticism, the policy of the East European governments of condemning the Zionist movement as a whole and completely fails to criticize this lack of distinction between the widely differing political views of Jews in Israel, and within the Zionist movement everywhere. It appears to me inexcusable for a Jewish organisation to avoid making these criticisms”.

Lippmann was disappointed that the JCCFAS Executive refused to allow him to present an amendment to their preferred policy. In an interview I conducted with Lippmann in January 1988, he indicated the amendment would have signalled his belief that “those Jews who want to leave the Soviet Union should be free to leave”. As a result, Lippmann chose not to renominate for the JCCFAS executive, and ceased his involvement in the Council.

In summary, Lippman was purged by the JCCFAS because he insisted that particularistic Jewish concerns and loyalties had to be given at least equal weighting to wider universalistic concerns. During the Cold War, pro-Soviet Jews opposed that perspective on the grounds that preventing war between the West and the Communist Bloc had to take precedence over the specific fate of Jews living under anti-Semitic rule in Eastern Europe. Today, the anti-Zionists organized in the Jewish Council seem to be arguing that the human and national rights of Palestinians have to take precedence over the wellbeing of Israeli Jews and Jewish communities everywhere. I suspect Lippmann might have given their position the ironic title: Jewish progressives except for Jews (JPEJs).

About the Author
Professor Philip Mendes is the author or co-author of 13 books including Jews and the Left: The rise and fall of a political alliance (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), and Boycotting Israel is Wrong (New South Press, 2015). His most recent critique of the Australian BDS movement has just appeared in Robert A. Kenedy et al (Eds.) Israel and the Diaspora: Jewish connectivity in a changing world. Springer Nature Switzerland, pp.221-238.
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