Speech by Rabbi Shua Solomon on Religious Freedom

Delivered on June 18 at the Sydney Jewish Museum Education Centre to the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum.

Rabbi Shua Solomon

Ladies and Gentlemen, before anything else tonight I must make mention of a person whom I think epitomizes more then anyone else what this topic is about. You see, the question of Freedom of Religion is really asking whether someone can live a full life as a contributing member of society and Australian Citizen and at the same time live a fully observant life as a Religious Person, in our case as a Jewish Person.

I must therefore make mention of my grandfather of Blessed Memory, The Hon Joseph Max Berinson QC, a Minister in both Federal and State Politics who was always held up as an example of how one could serve Australia at the highest level and at the same time live a full Jewish Life. On becoming the Western Australian Attorney General in the early 80’s my grandfather gathered his staff together and told them he would not be contactable from late Friday afternoon until Saturday night and that if he was ever at a function where food was to be served, they should arrange for him to be served a plain undressed salad and that if anyone asked they were to state unequivocally that it was not because he was vegetarian but because he was Jewish. Tonights plenum falls out just a few days from his first Yartzeit, a year since his passing and I am honoured to be speaking here tonight with Mr Ruddock who served in Federal Parliament with my grandfather.

My grandfather’s life is of course a story about a wonderful man with extraordinary talent who used everything he was given to benefit his community and society at large. But it is also a story about the amazing country that we live in. My grandfather was born in Australia to penniless immigrants from Tzfat in Northern Israel.  He grew up in a country that, despite the challenges his parents faced, gave him every opportunity to succeed and at the same time live an observant Jewish life as an Orthodox Jew. Before anything else, it is important that we take a moment to reflect, not just about the achievements of my grandfather but on what that means about the country we live in and how fortunate we are to be citizens of this great country.

I have been asked to address this topic as a Religious leader and person of faith and therefore I would like to begin by talking about a principle in Jewish Law that might not be familiar to everyone. That is the prohibition of what is called in Hebrew Ona’at Devarim, which could be loosely translated as harmful or abusive language.  In Judaism we are instructed that even or maybe especially when dealing with sensitive topics one must be very careful in the way we transmit these messages. It is always important to find the balance between giving over religious instruction as a Rabbi or teacher and doing it in a way which is not offensive or harmful to individuals or groups of people. I acknowledge that at times that balance can be difficult or even impossible to get right but we must make every effort to embrace all parts of our community as individuals. Therefore, I am not here to give an opinion about whether Israel Folau’s contract should or should not have been terminated, I will leave that to the legal professionals. But I can tell you that when looking at the prohibition of Ona’at devarim and the obligation that we have to be sensitive and caring to all members of our community and society at large, it is clear that his language was regrettable.  For me as a Rabbi this is not an issue of religious freedom.  I believe passionately that a person should be able to believe, express and teach with freedom.  But as a Rabbi I believe with equal passion that all teachings, especially religious teachings should be conveyed with empathy and sensitivity.  So my concern is not so much how to frame legislation and regulations.  My concern is to appeal to all people – to secular people to understand the critical importance of faith to the hearts, minds and souls to people of faith, but equally to people of faith to speak and teach with sensitivity and care.

Having said that I do want to say a few words on the notion of discrimination. Discrimination has become something of a dirty word in society and for the most part I believe that is largely a good thing. However, there are times when exemptions to anti discrimination laws can be a necessary and indeed positive thing, when it is used to confer benefits on a particular person, or class of persons, for the betterment of society and in my particular case to enhance Jewish Religion and continuity. I don’t think anyone here would argue that setting up a group of talented science students in a school or University is something that would not be for the betterment of society at large, despite the fact that it would mean that many students  would not be allowed entry into such a group.  This is really exclusivity for a greater good, rather than what we think of, negatively, as “discrimination”. In the case of Jewish Religion, this “exclusivity” takes place, and this is with both regards to a Synagogue and Jewish schools, in order to enhance, foster and ensure the continuity of the Jewish Religion.  In other words, there can be no sensible criticism of exemptions from anti-discrimination law when it is practiced in order to enhance and foster a good cause – and it will come as no surprise for you to hear that I regard Judaism as a pretty good cause.  And that means that Jewish Schools and shules should be able to advance the cause of Judaism by being ‘exclusive’ in favour of those who share those values.  So, membership and privileges should be reserved for those who share those values and are committed to their advancement.

In fact this is best illustrated by what is really the only court case in Australia about discrimination in a Jewish School.  And it happened at the School at which I was a student at that very time.  And it was decided on legislation that my late grandfather had supervised as the Attorney General when the Equal Opportunity Act in WA was passed in the 1980’s.

IN that case the School’s conduct was held to be completely lawful.  That is because the statute allowed for an exemption that was practiced in good faith, in favour of adherents to advance the cause or ethos of the School.

And in my humble opinion, so it should be.  Every faith or indeed every club must be able to advance its own cause by favouring those who commit to its values.

So in broad terms may I summarise by referring to what I think are 3 important things:

  1. There should be protection to allow people to believe, teach, and express their religious faith;
  2. The price of that protection is that religious people must use it with sensitivity, care and respect;
  3. Society should permit and indeed encourage exemptions from anti-discrimination laws undertaken in good faith to advance a good cause.

I would now like to turn my attention to the Religious Freedom Review put together by an expert panel of which Mr Ruddock was chair.

First may I thank and congratulate Mr Ruddock on his team for a thoughtful and thorough consideration of the matter which reflects a deep respect for and understanding of the needs and aspirations of people of religious faith.

I noticed that among the recommendations the report seeks to balance the tensions between the various sensitivities in a comprehensive and thoughtful way.  One of those ways is to permit religious institutions to implement their religious beliefs without constraint but to have an available policy that sets out the practice so that it can clearly accessed and understood.

I think that is a fair and appropriate solution to a difficult problem.

But can I just make this observation as a religious practitioner:  Yes I am a Rabbi and Rabbis are trained to deal in rules.  But in reality most of my energy is invested in people, not in rules.  Often that requires balancing tensions and sensitivities in a way that requires common sense and almost always, compromise.  In my experience, most tensions and problems in real life are not solved by the application of hard and fast policies, but by thoughtful compromise, decency and common sense.

So while I accept that the policy-based solution is fair and appropriate, and perhaps the only sensible solution, as a practitioner I hope that such policies do not actually become a barrier to solving real life problems by appealing to people’s decency and the need to sometimes compromise on rules and policies to achieve harmony and get on with life.  At the end of the day, you can have every policy under the sun; but unless people are prepared to prioritise common sense and harmony where that is reasonably possible, policies may well not put an end to disputes.

And may I conclude with one final observation.  I am often asked if I feel discriminated against as a religious person.  The truth is that in the environment in which I operate the answer is ‘no’.  This is a great country that does not discriminate against Jews or any other religious minority.

But I am very often told that people with religious faith feel marginalised and often ridiculed in public discourse.  They are made to feel morally or intellectually inferior.  They feel embarrassed to take a position based on their religious believes or that it is simply not socially acceptable.

I think this a really tragic development in our society.  Sadly, no  report, policy or law can reverse this.  Only creating an environment and culture where religious beliefs are respected and valued can alter these sorts of attitudes.  And again, that cuts both ways.  Secular Australia must learn to respect and value that which millions of religious Australians share.  But at the same time, religious leaders and representative’s must communicate and reach out in a way that engenders respect for the values they represent.  Those beliefs and values do not need to be accepted – but they can surely be communicated in a way that fosters respect.

Ladies and Gentleman, I began this speech by talking about my grandfather and therefore think that it is appropriate to conclude with a sentence that has been used by everyone from the then Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition down, to sum up his life.  It is from the Bible from the Book of Micha the Prophet where we are told

“What is good and what does the Lrd require of you except to be just and to love and to diligently practice kindness and walk humbly with your g-d.” Legislation is required and is critical in ensuring that we continue to be able to practice our religion freely in this great country. But what is equally as critical is the ability of all Australians to be a little bit more humble, kind and tolerant in their dealings with others. As a person of faith, I have an obligation to be sensitive and embracing of all parts of our society and in return I am confident that those who do not share my beliefs will be equally so.

June plenum – Religious Freedom

Walt Secord MLC talks warmly about the Jewish community in parliament

Hansard Transcript
June 18, 2019 (18:49)
The Hon. Walt Secord MLC


Members who know me will be aware that my entire life has been interconnected with the Jewish community both here and in Canada. They will also be aware that I grew up on the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation reserve and my early childhood as a bi-cultural Indigenous child was changed by the influence of an Orthodox Jewish man who had survived Auschwitz. He was frum, or observant, and he taught me about kashrut—Jewish dietary practices—the State of Israel, the horrors of racism and the Shoah, or the Holocaust. The world he opened my eyes to, therefore, was not necessarily brighter but it was broader and I wanted to understand it. My father’s reserve was a tiny community of 660 people, so I am well aware of living as a minority in a larger community. Today it now numbers 2,330 enrolled members. Similarly, Jews constitute about half a per cent—0.5 per cent—of the world’s population.

It was the start of a nexus in my mind and in my life between the expansion of my own horizons and a connection to people of the Jewish faith. Shortly after migrating to Australia in1988, I worked atThe Australian Jewish News, where I chronicled New South Wales Jewish life for four years. It was there that I met Jewish communal leader and interfaith activist Mrs Josie Lacey.

Since then, I have attended scores of Shabbat meals and Seders with her family. She has adopted me and welcomed me into her family. Since 2012, I have visited Israel twice, Yad Vashem three times and the Palestinian territories twice, and have made pilgrimages to sites around the world commemorating the Shoah, the Armenian Genocide and the Iraqi Kurdish genocide. In Sydney I have spoken at Bosnian and Rwandan genocide commemorations as well as at events marking the Appin and Myall Creek Aboriginal massacres.

These travels and experiences have been quite extensive and emotional. As the Deputy Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel, I often find myself at many Jewish and Israeli functions. A typical month will see me attending a wide range of communal events. To highlight just one of many in the past month, on 22 May I attended a fundraiser for Project Rozana, which funds the transport of sick Palestinian children to Israel for treatment. In addition, it helps train Palestinian doctors at Israeli hospitals. Project Rozana was thrust into the international spotlight after a board member, Dr Jamal Rifi, was threatened by extremists for his support of the charity. When I attended the event there was so much goodwill in the room. Both the Israeli embassy and the Palestinian Authority’s Canberra representatives attended the event. For a single night, hundreds of people were united in a common cause: reducing the suffering of tiny children.

On Monday 17 June I attended a stimulating discussion at Emanuel Synagogue, where its chief minister, Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, hosted Nablus-born Izzat Abdulhadi, the head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia. I still hold out hope for and dream of a two-state solution: a Palestinian state and a safe and secure Israel—two states for two peoples. I hope that we have the privilege of seeing this occur in our time.

With all that background, the most significant development in my parallel life with Judaism occurred last month. My spouse, Julia—who is Jewish and was born in Moscow, having migrated here 28 years ago—and I attended our first religious service together as a couple at Temple Emanuel in Woollahra. It was conducted by Rabbi Jacqueline Ninio and Cantor George Mordecai and followed by dinner with Rabbi Kamins, whom I have known for more than 29 years. Since then, we have attended our second service at the Emanuel Synagogue.

Emanuel Synagogue was founded in 1938 as The Congregation of the Temple Emanuel and is today the largest Australian Jewish congregation, offering services across progressive, conservative and renewal streams of Judaism. Julia returned to the synagogue after years away from the shule. This was in large part because the Emanuel Synagogue amended its constitution to permit non-Jewish spouses to become associate members. Admittedly, this is a new development in Australian Judaism and is a tad controversial in some circles but it is not unusual in North America. I should add that I have not converted to Judaism but this is a new step. I can now attend my partner’s chosen place of worship and share this connection. This is a deeply significant moment in my life, which I reflect on here. It has not escaped my attention that it preceded Shavuot, a Jewish festival that coincides with the Book of Ruth. Ruth, one of my favourite figures from the Hebrew Bible, was a religious convert.

As Shavuot affirms, the Hebrew Bible and Jewish people are not closed systems but, rather, are potentially universal systems that welcome all who, in sincerity and faith, pledge their faith with that of the Jewish people. As Ruth declared to Naomi in her memorable words, “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God shall be my God.”

I am struck by the great poignancy of these words as I reflect on my journey from a bi-cultural Indigenous child in rural Canada hearing about the Shoah—the Holocaust—to more than 40 years later attending synagogue with my spouse in Sydney’s east.

Perhaps these are great coincidences. Perhaps the journey was inevitable. I thank the House for its consideration.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that this House do now adjourn.

Motion agreed to.

The House adjourned at 18:54 until Wednesday 19 June 2019 at 11:00


Youth in Politics Shabbat Dinner

The Great Synagogue opened its doors to young leaders in politics, community advocacy, interfaith relations and non-government organisations for the inaugural Youth in Politics Shabbat dinner hosted by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.

By Heath Sloane

As a major feature of the Board of Deputies outreach work, the organisation regularly invites key sectors of civil society to experience a traditional Shabbat service, followed by a dinner in with members of the local Jewish community.

Attended by 120 people, the dinner was held at the Great Synagogue with Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton officiating at the Shabbat service. Representatives from the four major political parties delivered keynote addresses, including Harry Stutchbury (President of the NSW Young Liberals), Paul Mills (Senior Vice President of NSW Young Labor), Jock Sowter (President of the NSW Young Nationals) and Damiya Hayden (Convenor of the Greens NSW Standing Campaign Committee).

NSW Young Liberals President Harry Stutchbury
NSW Young Labor Senior Vice President Paul Mills

The guests comprised a sizeable contingent of young emerging political leaders, including Hornsby Shire Greens Councillor Joe Nicita, NSW Young Liberals Branch Presidents Haris Strangas (Miranda/Cook), Lachlan Finch (Mosman), Hugo Robinson (Ryde), and NSW Young Labor Western Sydney Executive Joshua Robertson and Secretary of Greek Friends of Labor George Psihoyios.

NSW Young Nationals President Jock Sowter
Australian Young Greens Campaign Coordinator Damiya Hayden

The Young Greens were represented by Co-Convenors Everett O’Donnell and Alysha Hardy, while the Young Nationals were represented by Michael Hansen (Vice Chairman), Nat Openshaw (Secretary), Angus Webber (Treasurer) and Olivia Kerr (NSW Nationals Compliance Manager). Representatives from the NSW libertarian movement also attended the dinner, including Brian Marlow (Campaign Director) and Satya Marar (Director of Policy) from the Australian Taxpayer’s Alliance. In total, over 70 general members from the across the respective political parties were also welcomed on the night.

Diverse ethnic and religious communities represented at the event included: Ramneek Singh (Chair of the NSW Young Sikh Professionals Network), Silipa Burgess (National Convention Leader for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints), Daniel Gobena (Mount Druitt Ethnic Communities Agency), Miguel Vera-Cruz (Organiser of the NSW Youth Parliament of the World’s Religions) and Sydney Alliance Community Organisers Eve Altman and Sukhi Kaur.

University of Sydney campus leaders in attendance on the evening included Liliana Tai (President of the University of Sydney Union), Dane Luo (Vice President), Janine Joseph (Campus President of AUJS), Julia Kokic (Interfaith Officer), Gabi Stricker-Phelps (Women’s Officer) and Nicholas Comino (Treasurer, SRC Inter-College Collective), while the University of NSW was represented by Humaira Nasrin (SRC General Secretary).

AUJS University of Sydney President Janine Joseph

Reflecting on the meaning of Shavuot taking place the following day, Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton reminded the guests that “as the Jewish nation was forged in the desert, so too are leaders forged in adversity”, imploring the audience, regardless of their political affiliation, to “use their time in their ‘desert’ to listen, learn and grow”.

Opening the dinner, Chief Executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Vic Alhadeff revealed that the guest list featured “one quarter from the Liberals or Nationals, one quarter from Labor or the Greens, one quarter for interfaith, NGO and campus leaders, while the remaining quarter of the room did not hold party affiliation”. Mr Alhadeff concluded his address by encouraging all in attendance to take advantage of “the diversity of opinions and experiences represented here tonight, offering us all a rare occasion to meet, exchange ideas and build relationships with others across the entire breadth of the political spectrum”.

Each of the four keynote speakers shared their personal stories and insights, touching on current affairs and their own experiences. NSW Young Liberals President Harry Stutchbury recapped on the Young Liberals’ role in the recent election, calling on the guests to be active in the political process for issues that affect them. Senior Vice President of NSW Young Labor Paul Mills shared the story of his mother’s migration journey to Australia and commitment to the shared values of Tikkun Olam. Young Nationals President Jock Sowter explained the mandate of his party, and delivered an unequivocal apology for an alt-right incident in October 2018, reaffirmed his commitment to “rejecting bigotry within and outside of the party”. Convenor of the Greens NSW Standing Campaign Committee Damiya Hayden concluded the speeches by discussing her own journey to Judaism, explaining that the values that brought her to Judaism are the same values which compel her to be in the Greens.

Bringing the evening to a close, Board of Deputies Public Affairs Committee Chair David Ossip reflected on the “long history of persecution, hostility and distain directed towards the Jewish people”, remarking that “it is truly exceptional that we can sit together, having come from every side of the political spectrum, and quite literally break bread together.”

Heath Sloane is the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Public Affairs Officer

Farhud adjournment contribution in parliament by Walt Secord MLC

NSW Legislative Council

FARHUD COMMEMORATION – Adjournment debate contribution

The Hon. WALT SECORD (June 4, 2019 19:06:28):

As the Deputy Chair of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Israel I speak on the Sydney Sephardi Jewish community’s commemoration of the Farhud on 2 June.

It is part of a welcome development in recent years to mark significant events involving the Sephardi and Mizrachi community and their history. In 2015 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Sephardi community marked Farhud jointly for the first time and in 2020 the Sydney Jewish Museum is planning an exhibition on Jews from Arab lands.

While I have some knowledge of the Sephardi community, which stretches back to the 1980s when I was a journalist at The Australian Jewish News and my visits to Israel, I concede that I am more familiar with the Shoah and the destruction of European Jewry. However, I have become increasingly aware of the horrific events of 1941 and the expulsion of the Jewish community from Arab lands after the establishment of the State of Israel.

The Farhud was a pogrom in Iraq in 1 and 2 June 1941 and the phrase was coined by the Iraqi Kurdish population. It means “violent dispossession”, referring to the attacks on the Jewish community in Baghdad. Conservative estimates put the number of those murdered around 178, including 142 in Baghdad alone in the pogrom. Looting of Jewish property took place; 900 Jewish homes were destroyed and there were also rapes. A synagogue was invaded and its Torahs burned. Afraid to give the dead a proper burial, the corpses were buried in a mass grave.

The Farhud was an extraordinary development in the history of Iraq as there has been a Jewish presence there for more than 2,600 years, dating back to the destruction of the first temple in 586 BCE. At the beginning of the twentieth century the Jewish population of Iraq was estimated to be around 250,000, although it had decreased to 150,000 by the middle of the century.

From 1950 to 1952 up to 130,000 Jews were airlifted out of Iraq to Israel. They faced much discrimination, persecution and anti-Semitism after the establishment of the State of Israel and most were forced to flee from Iraq. The Sydney commemoration was a solemn and dignified affair.

I congratulate the Sephardi community and its president, Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel, on organising the event. The Sydney Sephardi community spiritual leader, Rabbi Michael Chriqui, read a psalm. One of the other highlights was chatting and meeting the award-winning British-Bukharan Jewish poet, translator and barrister, Yvonne Green, who read from her work,The Farhud. The poem was commissioned for the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Farhud and was recited in the Israeli Knesset when it commemorated it.

Finally, I look forward to accepting the invitation from Mr Shaul Meir Ezekiel to visit the Sephardi Synagogue at Bondi Junction in the near future. I thank the House for its consideration.

The PRESIDENT: The question is that this House do now adjourn. Motion agreed to.

Now hiring – Full-time Public Affairs Officer

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies is the voice of the Jewish community in NSW and represents the community to government, media, educational institutions and other opinion-makers.

We seek to recruit a professional who will assist in our public affairs work, including running events, engaging with government and political parties and providing research and advice.

The successful candidate will have experience in interacting with government and non-government organisations, extensive knowledge of Australian politics and the NSW Jewish community, thorough understanding of Middle East issues and a commitment to representing the interests of the NSW Jewish community.

The candidate should have:

  • Exceptional writing and analysis skills
  • Excellent  research skills
  • Strong written and verbal communication
  • Ability to work in a team and under pressure
  • Some experience in running events
  • The ability to produce quality presentations
  • Tertiary qualifications in a relevant field (such as Law, Communications, Political Science, Public Policy, International Relations or Journalism)
  • Basic database proficiency
  • The ability to work to tight deadlines
  • A high degree of initiative

The position is suited to a highly motivated self-starter who is willing to work outside office hours.

Apply to Byron Danby, byron@nswjbd.com with a resume and cover letter by Friday June 28.

Australia accepted as full member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA)

By the Expert Members of the Australian Delegation to IHRA

From left to right: Dr Steven Cooke, Professor Emerita Suzanne Rutland OAM, Dr Avril Alba, Dr Donna-Lee Frieze, Amb. Lynette Wood, Lord Eric Pickles, Pauline Rockman OAM, Ciaran Chestnutt (DFAT), Sue Hampel OAM, Dr Andre Oboler.

Late on Tuesday night, 4 June 2019, Australia was admitted to full membership of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) following a unanimous vote of the plenary in Luxembourg. Australia is the 33rd country to achieve full membership.  This has been a four-year process supported by the United Kingdom, as Australia’s mentor, led by Lord Eric Pickles.

IHRA is the international and intergovernmental body promoting Holocaust education, remembrance and research and countering antisemitism, racism and anti-Roma and Sinti prejudice.  IHRA grew out of the Stockholm Declaration, an initiative of the Swedish government to ensure that countries remember and educate their citizens about the Holocaust and its universal messages.

Over the period of Australia’s involvement, we have seen the adoption of the working definition of antisemitism by IHRA, the European Union, and a range of national governments and organisations around the world, including the National Union of Students in Australia.

Now that Australia is a full member, with a seat at the table, we are able to fully participate in IHRA’s efforts to formulate policies, plans and programs advancing Holocaust education, commemoration and research. This is particularly important given the large number of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in Australia. Membership also provides a mandate to further enhance Australia’s efforts in Holocaust education and commemoration with the support through IHRA of leading experts from around the world.

The Australian government’s commitment to IHRA enjoys bi-partisan support and is facilitated through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The Head of the Australian delegation is Lynette Wood, Ambassador to Germany.  After the acceptance at the plenary, she read a statement from Foreign Minister, Senator Marise Payne, and conveyed the Australian government’s appreciation of the support of the UK delegation, led by Lord Pickles, and the passion and dedication of the Australian expert delegation. She also noted that Australia was the first Indo-Pacific nation to join IHRA.

The IHRA chair, Georges Santer, welcomed Australia bringing the fifth continent into the organisation and commended Australia on its participation.

Attorney-General addresses May plenum


Cocktail reception: celebrating Israel’s 71st anniversary

Iran’s grip on Gaza is Israel’s nightmare

By Jonathan Spyer
The Weekend Australian
May 11, 2019

The latest short, intense flare-up of violence between Israel and Hamas-controlled Gaza appears to have concluded. Four Israelis and 29 Palestinians were killed.

The four Israelis were civilians; at least 11 of the Palestinians killed were members of the organisations engaged in combat against Israel (Hamas and Islamic Jihad). Two Palestinians were killed by a stray rocket fired by Islamic Jihad.

The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that took hold in the early hours of Monday in all essence reimposes the “status quo ante bellum” (if such a ringing phrase may be applied to a round of conflict that lasted 41 hours).

Few if any on either side believe this episode will be the last of its kind. The swiftness with which normal life returns after intermittent eruptions of violence is a notable feature of life here. The clashes came during the approach to Israel’s Remembrance Day commemoration, and to the Independence Day celebrations that follow it, and on the eve of the month-long Muslim festival of Ramadan. This created an odd and undeclared common interest between the government of Israel and the rulers of Gaza for an early conclusion to the hostilities.

So should the latest confrontation simply be filed away as a passing episode in a seemingly endless if mostly contained conflict? Not quite. Israel’s central dilemma regarding Hamas-controlled Gaza can be discerned behind Israeli decision-making in recent days.

Observe: the latest events mark the clear arrival of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad organisation to a primary role in the ongoing conflict. The fighting was triggered by the targeting by Islamic Jihad snipers of Israel Defence Forces personnel on the border area on May 3. Two IDF soldiers — a man and a woman — were wounded. The attack took place against the background of a Hamas-organised border demonstration. Israel’s response then led to further Hamas missile and rocket attacks.

The ability of Islamic Jihad to heat up the situation on the border is the subject of concern in Israel. Islamic Jihad, unlike Hamas, is not a largely independent actor with deep roots in Palestinian society. Rather, it is a military organisation closely aligned with Iran. Its leader, Ziad Nahleh, is based in Syria and is a frequent visitor to Tehran. The movement takes its direction from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

Israeli officials consider the recent uptick in PIJ activity out of Gaza to be part of an Iranian desire to draw Israel into a prolonged operation in Gaza. This would be intended to divert attention from the more crucial front to Israel’s north, in Syria and Lebanon. In that arena, an undeclared conflict between Israel and Iran is under way.

Iran is seeking to build an infrastructure for future attacks on Israel. Israel is trying to prevent this. Gaza is a mere irritant by comparison. For Tehran, however, it is a useful irritant.

Control and direction of Islamic Jihad is intended to enable Iran to turn the flames in Gaza up or down according to its immediate needs. Israel’s reluctance to be drawn into a long and open-ended campaign in the area should be seen against this larger regional backdrop.

But herein lies the dilemma. The desire to avoid allowing Iran to precipitate a conflagration in Gaza cannot extend to allowing all acts of provocation to pass unanswered. To do so would be to cast away deterrence. If PIJ or Hamas get the impression attacks on Israel are cost-free, it may be assumed with certainty they will become routine. Hence, Israeli planners are faced with the difficult task of responding with sufficient ferocity to deter further acts of aggression while avoiding a descent into all-out war between Israel and Gaza.

The increasing tempo of attacks in recent months indicates this difficult balance has not yet been achieved.

A second reality underlined by the events of recent days is the absence of support in any part of mainstream Israeli opinion for a major ground operation to destroy the Hamas-led authority there and reoccupy the area.

Criticism of the ceasefire that concluded this latest round of fighting from within Israel — from within the ruling Likud and the main opposition Blue and White list — focused on what was seen by critics as the failure to extract a sufficient price from the rulers of Gaza before agreeing to a cessation of fire.

But no major call was heard for an all-out assault on Gaza. This may be explained partly by the great sensitivity in Israel towards military losses. But more important, the question of what would replace Hamas as the ruler of Gaza remains without an answer.

Israelis do not want to reoccupy the area. Meanwhile, under no circumstances would the Ramallah Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas agree to receive the keys to the area from a victorious IDF, which would have just completed a bloody victory over Palestinian forces. On the contrary; the PA without doubt would support any Palestinian resistance to such an IDF campaign.

In recent days voices from the Left in Israel have argued that only the resumption of a negotiating process between Israel and the PA can prevent further rounds of violence between Israel and Gaza.

But the desirability of negotiations notwithstanding, it is difficult to see how this logic would apply given Hamas’s open opposition to any peace process with Israel, the 12-year inability of Palestinian factions to unite and the PA’s opposition to any IDF armed campaign into Gaza.

Indeed, given the apparent irreconcilability of the positions of Israel and even the Ramallah PA on core issues of the conflict — the Palestinian “right of return”, the future of Jerusalem, the borders of a future Palestinian state — from a certain point of view, the current fragmentation of the Palestinian national movement could be seen as a tacit advantage for Israel. That is, if the conflict is insolvable anyway and is a zero-sum game, then a fractured, disunited opposing camp is preferable to a unified one.

This logic, however, holds only if the hostile Hamas entity in Gaza can be deterred, and prevented from carrying out its stated desire to do harm to Israelis.

The notion that Hamas could be incentivised by the injection of funds from Qatar has proven erroneous or deeply problematic. It was a temporary delay in the transfer of a tranche of these funds that caused the Gaza rulers to stand alongside Islamic Jihad in the recent escalation.

In this regard, the only partial success of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system in this round of fighting also should be noted. Hamas fired 690 projectiles at Israel from Gaza between Saturday and Monday. Of these, 35 struck populated areas in Israel. While in strictly military terms this is an indication of relative effectiveness, the deaths of three Israeli civilians as a result of the missiles, and the widespread disruption of life, means that it falls far short of what Israelis expect of their defence structures. On a tactical level, one way Israel conceivably could seek to raise the price for engaging in violence would be a return to a policy of targeted killings of Islamic Jihad and Hamas fighters.

The killing by the IDF of Hamas operative Hamed al-Hudri during the last round of hostilities is thus significant. Hudri was responsible for the distribution of Iranian funds in Gaza to organisations receiving support from Tehran. In killing Hudri, Israel clearly sought to demonstrate to the rulers of Gaza that it was not willing to continue to act within the tacit rules that had held in recent years.

It will be important now to see if Israel continues with this practice regarding the Hamas rulers of Gaza — precisely as a means of raising the price for violence against Israel, while avoiding a descent into a wider conflict.

So the ongoing contest with Iran, the absence of a coherent replacement for the existing authority in Gaza, the lack of a desire to reoccupy the area, and the absence of a Palestinian partner make an Israeli campaign to remove the Hamas regime in Gaza unlikely in the immediate future.

At the same time, the events of recent days demonstrate the difficulty of deterring an Islamist movement that, while weak, is engaged in what it regards as a long, unending war of attrition intended to eventually wear down and destroy its enemy (as far-fetched as this may sound).

Israel looks set to continue for now to manoeuvre between the twin undesired outcomes of being drawn into a large, costly and open-ended campaign in Gaza, and absorbing an ongoing campaign of violence emanating from the Strip. Tactical responses — increased targeting of Hamas and Jihad leaders and infrastructure, more Iron Dome batteries — are likely to be the order of the day. It’s a far from perfect answer for the frustrated population of Israel’s south, and for the people of Gaza suffering under the yoke of their Islamist rulers. Some dilemmas have no easy solution.

Jonathan Spyer is a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies and at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars.