Jews, Nazis and communists down under: The Jewish council's controversial campaign against German immigration

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Eindhoven Technical University]On: 21 November 2014, At: 16:27Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

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    Jews, Nazis and communists down under: The Jewishcouncil's controversial campaign against GermanimmigrationPhilip Mendes aa Monash UniversityPublished online: 30 Sep 2008.

    To cite this article: Philip Mendes (2002) Jews, Nazis and communists down under: The Jewish council's controversial campaignagainst German immigration, Australian Historical Studies, 33:119, 73-92, DOI: 10.1080/10314610208596202

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  • Jews, Nazis and Communists Down UnderThe Jewish Council's Controversial Campaign Against

    German Immigration

    PHILIP MENDES*

    This article examines the controversial campaign by the Jewish Council to CombatFascism and Anti-Semitism to stop large-scale German immigration to Australia in the

    early 1950s. The campaign was historically significant in that this was the first timeAustralian Jewry had initiated politically divisive public protests linked to nationalpolitical and electoral considerations. Attention is also drawn to some of the factorswhich ultimately hindered the efficacy of the campaign, including the strength ofmainstream monocultural policies and attitudes, political divisions in the Jewish

    community, and the Federal Coalition government's aggressive and uncompromisingresponse to Jewish concerns.

    IN MID-1950, the Menzies Liberal government announced plans to introduceupwards of 100,000 German migrants to Australia. The Jewish communityenergised by the controversial left-wing Jewish Council to Combat Fascism andAnti-Semitismimmediately announced a public campaign of opposition. Moti-vated by continuing anguish over the still recent Nazi Holocaust and fears ofallegedly ingrained German anti-Semitism, the campaign sought to convince theLiberal government and the general public that German immigrants wouldintroduce racial prejudice into Australia.

    The existing literature on the Anti-German Migration Campaign (AGMC)has suggested that it largely failed to achieve its objectives. This failure has beenattributed primarily to the involvement and strategies of the Jewish Council.In particular, it has been argued that the Council pursued broader left-wingpolitical objectives beyond specific Jewish concerns about Nazi immigration; thatthe Council wilfully rejected government offers to include Jewish communalrepresentatives in the development of more adequate screening procedures; andthat the Council's left-wing links allowed the government to convenientlydismiss the AGMC as communist-inspired.1

    * My thanks to Marianne Dacy from the Archive of Australian Judaica, Lois from the State LibraryManuscripts Section, and Bev Davis from the Australian Jewish Historical Society for theirvaluable assistance. Thanks also to Professor Bill Rubinstein for his insightful comments on anearlier draft, and to Norman Rothfield for kindly providing access to his personal archives.

    1 Allan Leibler, 'The Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Anti-Semitism: A Study in the Struc-ture and Function of a Communist Front Organisation' (BA Honours Thesis, University ofMelbourne, 1968), 73-82; Hilary Rubinstein, The Jews in Victoria 1835-1985 (Sydney: Allen &Unwin, 1986), 199; W.D. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: Volume 11, 1945 to the Present(Melbourne: William Heinemann, 1991), 410-14; Angelika Sauer, 'Model Workers or HardenedNazis? The Australian Debate about Admitting German Migrants, 1950-1952', Australian Journalof Politics and History, 45, no. 3 (1999): 432.

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  • 74 Australian Historical Studies, 119, 2002

    In contrast, this article argues that the AGMC was an effectively directedoperation, and that it did procure some gains for the Jewish community. To besure, the AGMC did not succeed in reversing the Liberal government's policies,nor did it convince key interest groups such as the trade unions and the RSL towithdraw their support for German migration. However, the campaign employeda wide range of potent strategies, attracted support from a number of key organ-isations and individuals including the Deputy Leader of the opposition LaborParty, and placed considerable pressure on the Liberal government to defendor revise its policies. It also arguably provided the first sign of the emergence ofthe Australian Jewish community as a significant and robust lobby group onethnic/immigrant issues and politics. Although the government refused to res-cind its broad commitment to German migration, it does appear in practice tohave introduced a much smaller number of German migrants than originallyintended.

    It is also true that the campaign was prematurely halted in mid-1951, andthat this termination was associated with the decline of the Council's influenceand standing in the Jewish community. However, the failure of the campaign tocontinue and to achieve its ultimate objective of stopping all German migrationcannot be narrowly attributed to the Council's specific strategies. Rather, wemust consider the broader local and international political dynamics of theperiod. Given the dominance of monocultural policies and assumptions inAustralia, the campaign was always going to be politically risky for a smallminority group.2 Arguably the campaign could only fully succeed with thesupport of one of the two major political parties. Given the Labor Party's earliersupport for mass immigration, it is questionable how far they would havereversed existing government policies even if they had been returned to govern-ment in the 1951 federal election. And in the end the campaign's emphasis onGerman Nazis, rather than communism, as the continued principal threat toJews conflicted with the direction of international Jewish opinion. Althoughmost Australian Jews greatly feared the prospect of mass German migration,they were also influenced from about the middle of 1951 by increasing evidenceof anti-Semitism in the Soviet Bloc countries, and the moves towards Israeli/West German rapprochement. The campaign against German migration, there-fore, increasingly threatened to leave Australian Jewry out of step with inter-national Jewish views and agendas.

    Labor and Liberal immigration policies

    Following the Second World War successive Immigration Ministers ArthurCalwell (ALP) and Harold Holt (Liberal) instigated plans for the large-scale

    2 On Australian monoculturalism, see Jason Yat-Se Li and James Cockayne, 'Evolutionary Multi-culturalism and Cultural Diversity', in New Voices for Social Democracy, eds Glen Patmore and DennisGlover (Annandale: Pluto Press, 1999), 233-40.

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  • Mendes: The Jewish Council's Controversial Campaign Against German Immigration 75

    migration of displaced persons (DPs) from Europe to Australia. The Laborgovernment coined the phrase 'Populate or perish' to capture Australia's desper-ate need for large-scale immigration. Particular factors cited included Australia'sdeclining birth rate, its continued vulnerability to regional aggression, and labourshortages in heavy industry, home building, and public works. The government'sinitial preference was for British migrants followed by settlers from WesternEurope and Scandinavia. However, these plans were frustrated by circumstancesbeyond the control of the government such as the non-availability of shipping.3

    The Chifley Labor government initially introduced refugees from the Balticstates such as Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. They were followed by new arrivalsfrom Southern and Northern Europe. Under the Displaced Pers