Australian elections scheduled for Yom Kippur

Liberal MP protests decision saying, “disenfranchises many Jewish Australians.”
Jewish leader responds: “not a problem…”

By SAM SOKOL

 

Australia’s upcoming national elections will be held on September 14 -which is the date on which Yom Kippur falls this year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced on Monday, arousing heated debate among politicians and Jewish community leaders.

Australia's new Prime Minister Julia Gillard - Photo by APAfter her announcement at the National Press Club in the capital Canberra, MPs from both Labor and the Liberal party were quick to attack the decision, both due to the long campaigning season that it has inaugurated and because some believe it to be insensitive to Australia’s Jewish community.

There are between 107,000 and 120,000 Jews in Australia, depending on the estimate, and several Federal Electorates have large enough Jewish populations to be politically significant.

Jewish MP Michael Danby (Labor) issued a statement after the decision, saying that “As a matter of personal conscience I will be unable to participate on election day. It is my practice, with my wife Amanda, to observe Yom Kippur.”

Elections in Australia are always held on Saturdays, the sabbath, which has long made casting a ballot in the normal manner impossible for orthodox Jews. Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement or the “sabbath or sabbaths,” is observed by most Jews, even those who are not normally religiously observant.

However, local Jews have long been granted the accommodation of being able to cast their ballots by mail. Voting is compulsory in Australia.

“After hearing from the Prime Minister,” Danby said, “I am negotiating with the Special Minister of State Gary Gray to ensure arrangements for the fullest participation of the Australian Jewish Community in our Australian democratic process. This will mean extra attention to postal voting and particularly pre-polling in Melbourne Ports and other Victorian seats like Goldstein, Higgins and Kooyong as well as Wentworth and Kingsford Smith in New South Wales and Perth in Western Australia.”

“Many of these electorates already have high levels of postal voting and pre-polling due to shift and emergency workers, travelers and Orthodox Jews being unable to vote during the day on Saturday,” he said.

Liberal MPs also blasted Gillard’s decision.

Former opposition leader MP Malcolm Turnbull turned to Twitter, posting that he is “deeply disappointed that Julia Gillard chose to hold the election on Yom Kippur — the most solemn and sacred day of the Jewish year.”

Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg, who like Danby is Jewish, also Tweeted about the chosen election date, saying that it “disenfranchises many Jewish Australians and is incredibly sloppy work.”

Leaders of the local Jewish community have been divided in their response.

Dr. Danny Lamm, the President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, was quoted by Jewish Australian news website J-Wire as saying that the Yom Kippur date is problematic for “Jewish supporters of parties and candidates who would have wished to be active at polling booths on election day.”

The decision “may affect Jewish candidates who will be unable to campaign on election day [such] as Michael Danby. However for voters, pre-voting and postal vote alternatives are available ensuring that no one will be denied their vote.”

Other communal leaders seem to believe that the issue has been blown up out of proportion.

According to Vic Alhadeff, the CEO of New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, the election date is “not a problem at all.”

Philip Chester, the President of the Zionist Federation of Australia, agreed, telling the Jerusalem Post that the Yom Kippur election date is not as bad as some are claiming.

“Whilst the holding of this year’s Australian federal election on Yom Kippur is unprecedented and may disturb or inconvenience members of the Jewish community, including Jewish members of parliament who would ordinarily be campaigning on the day, there are opportunities for voters to exercise postal or early votes prior to Yom Kippur.”

 

View original Jerusalem Post publication at: http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=301542

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