The Age Has Contacted Michael Fagenblat re: The Sensible Jew

Michael Fagenblat said

May 21, 2009 at 4:09 pm e

I was approached today by a journalist from The Sunday Age, Tom Hyland, who is writing an article on “the debate within the Jewish community about how the community is represented in the wider public debate on contentious public issues, particularly the Palestine-Israel conflict.” His editor asked him to write the piece in light of the Lateline episode, but the angle is not restricted to Seven Jewish Children.

Tom rang me, having seen my piece on The Sensible Jew, and having been particularly fascinated and pleased to discover the conversation that is going on here. He wanted to ask me some questions, but I suggested posting them on the blog so that those with views might have a chance to speak for themselves. I realise this opens a whole set of issues and many may think it a perfectly unsensible thing to do. I’ll let those Sensible Jews decide on how to handle that.

Here are some of the questions that interest Tom (all are his questions in his words).

1. Is there a monolithic ”Jewish community view”?
2. Is the community itself unified and coherent?
3. Can the the usually-quoted leaders of institutional groups be said to be representing the wider community?
4. What’s the significance of the discussion taking place on The Sensible Jew?
5. Is there a significant section of the community that feels it is not represented by the official statements of ”community leaders”?
6. Is the apparent political success of the ”Jewish lobby” in any way self-defeating, as some correspondents on the Sensible Jew suggest, in that the oft-quoted community representatives reinforce stereotypes?
7. Is there an irony in Sensible Jew correspondents lamenting that the pro-Palestine view is winning the Australian PR battle?
8. Can you elaborate on the idea that there’s a link between the growing community debate here and political change in Australia, the US and Israel? (Based on a comment I made to Tom.)

Tom adds: I’d appreciate your comments on any or all of those questions – and any other comment you’d want to make, if you think my questions are too prescriptive or they miss the point.

Tom’s email is: (he gave me permission to post it). But if you’re willing to share your responses they might interest other.

Let me only add one comment, inspired by Pascal who, I believe, wrote to his friend, “My apologies this letter is so long, I didn’t have the time to write a shorter one.”

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Related posts:

  1. Michael Fagenblat’s Presentation at the Seven Jewish Children Reading
  2. Who are the Sensible Jews? A Partial Coming Out
  3. Reader Response 5: Israel, Kangaroo Courts, Unity, Speaking Out, and Subheadings
  4. Reader Response 6: Sha Shtil – Correcting a Misconception
  5. Dvir Abramovich in The Age: No Laughing!

21 Responses to “The Age Has Contacted Michael Fagenblat re: The Sensible Jew”

  1. Yoram says:

    An Open Invitation to the readers of The Sensible Jew

    Hey there readers of the Sensible Jew.

    After following and contributing to the discussions on this blog it seems as though our good friend SJ (ie Sensible Jew) has really struck a chord with people in the community. It really seems as though people are, at the very least, interested in the discussion on the current leadership of the community, and what a different model of leadership might look like.

    The other thing that is really great about this blog is the ability for readers to interact and generate discussion.

    Among the many odds and ends that I do to fill in my time, one of the more enjoyable is being part of the Auburn Road Centre ( The Auburn Road Centre is a shule but one with a slight difference.

    Instead of a rabbi getting up in front of the congregation and simply sermonising, what we do at Auburn Road is actually facilitate interactive group discussions. These take the form of micro-sermons delivered between each part of the Torah reading that serve as jumping off points for a wider group discussion. So far everyone that has come along has found the atmosphere warm, friendly and conducive to learning and growing.

    To date we have looked at the relationship of the Torah to economics, the global financial crisis, the conflicts and contradictions of Jewish history, mythology and how it governs the patterns of our lives, the metaphysical nature of time and the deeper meanings of Star Wars.

    In light of the discussion generated on this blog, this week I am going to direct our discussion around the issues raised here at the Sensible Jew. This will include:

    • the nature of communal leadership,
    • whether or not the current model is representative,
    • what would constitute “legitimate” leadership of the Jewish Community
    • how we as a community should present ourselves to the media

    So, I am sending an open invitation to all readers of this blog to come along this Shabbat to Auburn Road. We hold our services in the Drama Centre at Bialik College, entry via Kippen Drive or see the map here:

    We start at 9:30AM but to be honest, none of the fun stuff really gets going until about 10:15, and we provide a reasonably decent Kiddush at the end.

    Looking forward to seeing as many of you as possible, and if you think you might know someone who would be interested, email, Facebook or twitter this post to your friends.

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  2. sensiblejew says:

    Yoram, your plan is really exciting. For various reasons, we at The SJ cannot attend your shul on Saturday, but we would love to be kept abreast of what happens during your discussions. Thank you for all of your support!

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  3. blistering says:

    Yoram. I recently attended your shule and found the service to be particularly interesting and uplifting. Pity I live too far away to attend regularly.

    On the subject of the Age, I wonder if the reporter would also consider taking an honest look at where the local Arab and Palestinian communities stand on the question of an open discourse on the same issues he’s looking at with reference to the Jewish community. Perhaps he might also consider why the Age hasn’t covered the phenomenon I witnessed in January when a large number in the crowd involved themselves in a serious case of mass vilification of Jews or why it produced such a one sided report on the activities of those outside the State Library including the omission of the reference in chanting “From the river to the sea” after “Free Palestine”. It seems to me that the Arab lobby is getting a hell of a free ride from this newspaper.

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  4. Yoram says:

    Hey Blistering,

    Thanks for the feedback. Glad you liked :)

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  5. sensiblejew says:

    Hi, Blistering. While we sympathise with your frustration, again, we must point out that complaining about fairness and the media is pointless. We need our own competent PR practitioners to serve our community.

    As for showing the extremist elements in the Muslim/Arab sector, we believe this would help us a lot less than you might think. For one, it does nothing to advance good relations between us and their community – something very necessary for the continued peace, safety, and security of both communities in Australia.

    Secondly, such coverage would give these extremists – who are unlikely to be representative of all Muslims/Arabs here – a forum. The publicity they would receive would be magnified as various media organisations picked up the story. This in turn would confer legitimacy on these extremists, making them far more attractive to those already sympathetic to them, and would actually introduce them to people who hadn’t yet heard of them.

    A no-win situation!

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  6. Liss says:

    Ah, the “Jewish lobby”! It’s a bit of a unicorn isn’t it – looks like something real, yet at the same time it’s a total bubbe mayseh. I’m glad to see Mr Hyland’s use of quotation marks.

    The “Jewish lobby” (or “Israel lobby” – I think they pretty much mean the same thing) is one of those insidious terms that pops up in any discussion of Jewish Diaspora politics. It’s as though the invention of the phrase itself has actually willed the concept into existence. Jews use it too, but it’s a furphy. I don’t think there’s any such thing as an Australian “Jewish lobby” – at least in terms of what I imagine the majority of non-Jewish people would imagine a “Jewish lobby” to be – and it irks me whenever I read or hear the phrase anywhere.

    That’s not to say that Jews don’t have lobby groups, or that they don’t lobby. We have, and we do. We need to. It’s perfectly legitimate for a cultural/religious/ethnic group to form a representative body to agitate for positive change in their favour. That’s what democracy is all about. But to suggest that there is ONE Jewish lobby group that somehow collectively represents the interests of all Jews in any particular country or region is absurd. It gives me the creeps a bit – echoes of the Protocols-of-Elders-of-Zion conspiracy theory. (I know that isn’t at all what Mr Hyland is suggesting, but I’m getting to a point, I hope!)

    There are many political and cultural organisations representing Jews in Melbourne and Australia, and they’re all different if you read their mission statements. As SJ and others on the blog have pointed out, they’re sometimes not aware of exactly what’s happening in other Jewish organisations, or even their own! So the idea that they’ve got the ear of KRudd et al as one lobby group and have this MAJOR influence over Australia’s Middle-East policy (as though Australia’s ME policy actually COUNTS, but that’s another post…) is just conspiratorial and silly.

    I’m not trying to portray these organisations as ineffectual – not at all. Individually, each group and particular individuals DO lobby the government at many levels on many different issues pertinent to the Jewish community, as they should. They do a lot of good work for the Jews in Australia and I’m sure that my privileged, peaceful existence here (and minimal encounters with anti-Semitism) has a lot to do the work of these organisations and people.

    But the idea of a collective, overarching “Jewish lobby” in Australia (or anywhere else really) doesn’t ring true to me at all. It’s certainly not what I’ve gleaned from my involvement in the Jewish community. There are as many opinions as there are people, both within and without these organisations. Sometimes I feel my views are represented, most of the time I don’t. I don’t have a problem with Australian Jews presenting views contrary to mine to “the media” – it’s their right, even though I usually disagree with what they say. I just hate it when said comments are presented as the views of all Jews, and then interpreted by “the media” (and media consumers, who of course reach their own conclusions) as the words of a mythical “Jewish lobby” seeking to advance a united Jewish cause nation/world-wide.

    So, a few questions:
    Is there a way for Jews to speak for other Jews, yet at the same time somehow communicate that they don’t represent ALL Jews?
    Is that totally impractical and a bit too post-modern for real life?
    Are we to blame for perpetuating the myth of a “Jewish lobby”?
    How do you represent a group of people whilst acknowledging that you don’t represent them all, and still be regarded as legitimate by the group and the wider public?

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  7. sensiblejew says:

    Hi, Liss, and welcome! Great comment. We’d like to respond to some of your questions in our next post.

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  8. [...] asks: “Is there a way for Jews to speak for other Jews, yet at the same time somehow communicate [...]

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  9. faygale says:

    Students For Palestine Website

    Antony Loewenstein at Monash Wed 1st

    Antony Loewenstein is coming… to Monash!

    Just a reminder that Antony Loewenstein will be speaking at Monash University TOMORROW! (Wed 1st April)

    He will be speaking at 2:30pm in room S10 in building 25, be there early so the Zionists don’t get a seat. :)

    Leave A Comment »

    Is this what SensibleJew stand for attack the Jews and let the palestinian/Arab/Muslim lobby and their advocates get a free Ride .. when you refer to Jews getting along with the Muslim community this is how their students behave’…’be there early so the Zionists don’t get a seat.”this is how they think, meanwhile Jewish Study departments invite Palestinians to spin their propaganda to Jewish students .. how does that work?

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  10. TheSadducee says:


    I would suggest that those who invite their opponents to engage with them hold the higher ground in every respect than those who seek to censor their opponent’s views.

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  11. faygale says:

    It appears this web site has been set up for specifically for Jews to attack Jews I have not read one post from your comrades criticizing the Palestinians for their intransigence, addiction to violence, antisemitism,unable to get along with them selves , corruption discrimination of Christians etc .

    Along with all the criticism of LOcal Jewish Zionist leadership and advocates this leads me to believe this web site is a Jewish anti Zionist web site.

    If only the Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims had such a blog site ..

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  12. TheSadducee says:


    I’m not going to respond to the “comrade” shtick/label however I don’t mean to be combative with you but to me at least, this site is aiming at discussions concerning the Jewish community and/or issues of interest to Jews.

    This explains why I at least haven’t commented about the Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims etc as they haven’t really been a part of the issues raised to date.

    I also think that there are plenty of resources which already exist which highlight the criticisms that you raise of the Palestinian position.

    I do think that it is a good point that your raise ie. if only others had similar sites – I think the fact that we, as Jews, can discuss these issues freely again reinforces my belief that we hold the higher ground.

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  13. faygale says:

    ”I also think that there are plenty of resources which already exist which highlight the criticisms that you raise of the Palestinian position.’

    Sadducee , I would be most interested in these sites you mention run by Palestinians/Arabs/ Muslims that criticize the Palestinian position ..

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  14. TheSadducee says:


    Perhaps I haven’t made my point clear here?

    There are plenty of websites and other resources which exist which criticise Palestinian positions concerning the conflict. Very few of these, to my knowledge, are run by Palestinians/Arabs/Muslims etc.

    I still think that sites where people can discuss Israel, Palestine and the conflict critically and intelligently are in the better position than sites or with people where this cannot be done. If the case with those who support the Palestinian or Israeli position is such that they cannot discuss the issues critically and/or intelligently then that is their tragedy.

    Anyway, I do not want this to derail the issues being raised by this website which is addressing matters related to the Jewish communities in Australia not specifically aspects of the conflict itself.

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  15. faygale says:

    This is a left wing Blog site run by left wing academics and supported by left wingers I suggested the blog site is run by academics/students from Monash Jewish studies Dept you deny it unfortunately we will never know ,I can’t prove it is and you obviously wont prove it isn’t so the speculation will continue .
    You may argue you are not as far left as Loewenstein, Slezak , Richter, Adler and Co. from IAJV however from what is posted on this Blog site there are many similarities .

    It sure seems like Fagenblat and Langsam have found a home for their anti Zionist left wing claptrap.

    What you have done by constantly attacking every single ‘mainstream’ Jewish Org and leadership is alienate middle of the road non left non right readers.

    The content and rhetoric that can be seen on this web site is very similar to reading the Green left weekly, socialist alternative , IAJV and Australians for Palestine web sites.

    SenstiveJew is just Another left wing Jewish web site out of the hundreds available on the internet and a vehicle for left wing Jews to spew their hatred at the majority of mainstream Zionist Jews .

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  16. faygale says:

    So are implying that the Monash academics may sue anyone that insinuates that they have anything to do with this Blog Site ? Please explain?

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  17. Yoram Symons says:


    I’d like to pose a question to you and perhaps I don’t completely understand your position, but; are you saying that there is no room for criticism of the State of Israel and the actions of its government vis-a-vis the Palestinians within the Jewish discourse? Are you implying that any open criticism is essentially a betrayal of the nation?

    If you believe that criticism of Israel is unacceptable, then how do you define the “mainstream” and “middle of the road”?

    (OK, that’s like three questions, you dont have to answer them all)

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  18. Lisa North says:

    I was so pleased to see the article in yesterday’s Sunday Age. Voices of reason like those SJ promotes are very welcome. Keep going and stay strong.

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  19. sensiblejew says:

    Faygale, your comment is deeply puzzling. Have you actually read any of the publications to which you refer?

    As for your assertions that Monash Jewish Studies department or Monash University students are behind this blog – we urge you to pause before making such assertions. From what we know of the folk at Monash, they don’t seem particularly litigious types, so they probably won’t be suing you for defamation any time soon. We suppose you’ll just have to take our word for it: we are independent ladies who are simply trying to create a forum in which Jewish Australian matters may be discussed freely.

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  20. sensiblejew says:

    Faygale, firstly, our tongue was planted firmly in our cheek. Secondly, we cannot speak on behalf of anybody at Monash.

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  21. sensiblejew says:

    Thank you, Lisa. It really is great to read supportive comments. There are many angry people from both the left and the right, from Zionist absolutists, to anti-Zionist One-Statists who are very angry right now. We hope to hear more from you.

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