'My mother always used to say that her mother’s family was Jewish'

Australia’s new PM may be Jewish, but hasn’t given it much thought

Malcolm Turnbull said his mother claimed Jewish ancestry, but is more interested ‘on the here and now’ than researching his roots

Australian Prime minister-elect Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the press after his victory in a Liberal Party vote. (screen capture: BCC)
Australian Prime minister-elect Malcolm Turnbull speaks to the press after his victory in a Liberal Party vote. (screen capture: BCC)

Australia’s next prime minister could well be Jewish, but he says he hasn’t researched the matter.

Malcolm Turnbull ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott in a party leadership election on Monday to become Australia’s fourth prime minister since 2013.

“My mother always used to say that her mother’s family was Jewish,” he told the Australian Jewish News two years ago. Judaism is passed from generation to generation on the mother’s side, so if his mother was in fact Jewish, so is Turnbull.

Turnbull had told another paper in 2008 that his mother told him when he was a child that “some of her ancestors, which were a mixture of people from the UK and Europe, were Jewish or of Jewish background.”

“Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. She wasn’t always the most reliable source of information, I’m afraid. And she may not have been sure herself,” he told the Wentworth Courier at the time. If it were true, “then that’s great,” he said.

“Maybe (I’ll look into it) at a later time of my life, but I’m very focused on the here and now, and I’m more interested on what the current generation of Turnbulls are doing, not what the ancestors did,” he said.

In his 2013 interview with the Australian Jewish News, he again said he hadn’t investigated his possible Jewish heritage.

“I honestly don’t know where or how I would do that,” he went on.

He told the Australian Jewish News that he grew up among a large Jewish community in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. “There is no doubt that the strong traditions of family and the whole heimishe atmosphere of the Jewish community, which I’m sure some people don’t like, for me – as someone who is a good friend, but not part of it – I find very admirable.”

Turnbull was expected to take office as Australia’s prime minister Tuesday, once Abbott tenders his resignation with the country’s governor general. He called the Liberal Party contest a “very important and sobering experience,” according to the BBC.

“I’m filled with optimism and we will be setting out in the weeks ahead… more of those foundations that will ensure our prosperity in the years ahead,” Turnbull told reporters.

After the swearing in by governor-general Peter Cosgrove, the former communications minister was to attend a Liberal Party meeting and then hold his first cabinet session after pledging to run a collaborative and consultative government, in contrast to Abbott’s divisive rule.

He worked as a journalist, lawyer, investment banker and venture capitalist before he was elected to Parliament in 2004 to represent the Sydney electoral division of Wentworth, the wealthiest in Australia. He was always assumed to have his eye on the top political prize, which he has achieved in a relatively quick 11 years.

The 60-year-old is probably the second wealthiest member of Federal Parliament after mining magnate Clive Palmer. His nickname is “The Silvertail,” a pejorative Australian term for the wealthy and privileged elite. Cartoonists tend to depict him wearing a top hat.

His father Bruce Turnbull was a Sydney hotel broker who became a single father when his wife Coral Lansbury, a radio actress, academic, cousin of the British actress Angela Lansbury, abandoned the family when Turnbull was 9 years old.

Turnbull’s wife Lucy Turnbull is a former Lord Mayor of Sydney and her father Tom Hughes is a prominent Sydney lawyer and a former Attorney-General in a conservative federal government.

Turnbull was educated at Sydney Grammar School and the University of Sydney before attending Brasenose College, Oxford, as a Rhodes scholar.

AFP contributed to this report.

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