Robin Rothfield wrote the letter below letter to Nina Bassat of the JCCV concerning attempts to expel it from the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) and it is shared with his permission. For the attached ‘note‘ alluded to in the letter, see the attachment.
Readers may need help to understand the remark “you may go down the path of Maurice Ashkenasy QC” as this alludes to a significant episode in the history of the Melbourne and Australian Jewish community. Robin, now in his 70s, sees the current politics of the JCCV as dominated by intolerant tendencies similar to that displayed during the Cold War when there was a major split in the Jewish community. Robin’s father Norman Rothfield who died at the age of 98 in 2010, was active in the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism, which was founded in 1942. The council was active in alerting the general community and government of the dangers of anti-Semitism and post-war infiltration by former Nazis. Despite this work, in the anti-communist atmosphere of the Menzies period Maurice Ashkenasy QC led a campaign to expel the Jewish Council from the (then) Victorian Jewish Board of Deputies in 1952, even though Norman also had a senior role in the latter organisation. However, Norman and his wife Evelyn continued to be supporters of various causes including progressive Zionism. To quote Norman’s obituary in the Age, “He understood early that Israel could not live in peace if the Palestinians did not have their own state, and in 1974 established the journal Paths to Peace, which campaigned vigorously for a negotiated settlement to the Middle East conflict. In 1984, in response to a feeling that the Jewish community was not satisfactorily dealing with the Palestinian issue and in keeping with his progressive views, he became a founding member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, and was active in it almost to his last day.” Robin’s brother David was also active in Peace Now when serving in the Israeli Army. For Norman’s obituary see The Age [LS]
Jewish Community Council of Victoria
Following your move to have the issue of disaffiliation of the AJDS from the JCCV considered at the JCCV June plenum, I have compiled the attached note on the Jewish Left and the Jewish Community’s tendency to intolerance. I hope that the note will contribute to a better understanding of the relevant issues.
This is my own personal note and does not necessarily reflect the views of AJDS.
My concluding remarks to this note are as follows. Nina, you have a choice. You may accept that the AJDS has well founded concerns about the settlements and is attempting to put in place a strategy in response to these concerns. You may not agree with this strategy but you may still accept that, from the standpoint of an organization deeply concerned with the settlements and the occupation, the campaign to persuade people not to buy settlement products is totally legitimate. If you accept that the settlements are a thorn in Israel’s side as I have stated earlier, then I repeat my suggestion for you to come up with an alternative strategy.
Or you may go down the path of Maurice Ashkenasy QC and have the AJDS expelled from the JCCV. But may I suggest you first ask yourself what this strategy would achieve? If you decide on the expulsion strategy it would not surprise me because the Jewish Community has a long history of intolerance as I have attempted to document, and you would have a proud predecessor in Maurice Ashkenasy QC. But I would be deeply disappointed. The matter is in your hands.
I should be grateful if you would forward this to members of the JCCV executive.