Over the past month and a bit we’ve heard a number of messages from John Searle, President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.
One of the most emphatic of these messages it that we must never turn a blind eye to prejudice, and that prejudice will not be tolerated.1
Another of these messages is that he was the victim of racial taunts when he was at school.2a
Then there’s the message that because of “threats” against the Jewish community it’s unfortunate that there have to be security guards outside Jewish schools and synagogues yet these people are making us all very proud and safe.2b
And lastly there’s the message that the Amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act are going to be good for the Jewish community, to make sure the right people get employed for the job (or as I like to say, to make sure the wrong people aren’t employed for the job).3
In summary, the self-proclaimed “leader” of Victoria’s Jewish community, a person who is familiar with being taunted for his difference, is telling us that we must never allow prejudice, and that we need to protect ourselves against threats of violence, but that it’s ok to prevent certain people from being employed because of their difference, despite the fact that they may be the best person for the job.
In case it’s not yet clear what I’m talking about, we’ve got a heterosexual male Jew telling the Jewish community that they mustn’t discriminate against homosexuals, yet it’s more than acceptable to discriminate against homosexuals, to make sure that religious organisations aren’t burdened with homosexual employees whose personal characteristics conflict with the anti-homosexual teachings of these religious organisations.
As Sue Pennicuik from the Victorian Greens says: “There is no place for discrimination in employment on the basis of personal characteristics”.4
In Victoria there are few places where Jews can’t be openly Jewish. In Elsternwick and Caulfield you’ll find Jews wearing highly visible garments that identify themselves as Jewish. In Melbourne CBD and on public transport you’ll find Jews wearing kippot, a religious head cover that immediately identifies them as Jewish. For the most part these people can get about without being taunted, harrassed, being the victims of bullying or being brutalised. Most of the time, although not always, as Menachem Vorchheimer will remind us.
By contrast, gay and bisexual men cannot walk down most streets in Melbourne holding hands, hugging or kissing each other or showing other respectable forms of affection or intimacy without abuse being hurled at them, taunted, intimidated or bashed within an inch of their lives. I recently observed a heterosexual couple kiss passionately on the promenade at Southgate and not a single person looked twice or intruded on their personal space. Yet if that couple were two men, or perhaps two women, I suspect most would do a double-take, or at best, if they were feeling vocal, tell them to get a room.
In the extreme, I’ve read news (here and here) of gay men in Melbourne being actively hunted as if it were a sport, simply to poofter bash, with death or permanent incapacity sometimes resulting. This is not uncommon. It will pay to check out the Anti-Violence Project map of violence reports, showing the location of incidents of violence against GLBT people and a description of what occurred.
In the Jewish community we have a “leader” of a community endorsing media releases quoting rabbis who state that accepting homosexuals to the community council will cause a division in the community. The same “leader” states that it’s acceptable for orthodox Judaism to discriminate against homosexuals. And the same “leader” endorses an act of parliament that allows religious organisations to discriminate against homosexuals.
Yet this “leader” tells us that we must never allow prejudice against homosexuals. But this “leader” offers no protections for homosexual members of his community. He offers no safe place for homosexual Jews in Victoria. He offers no message that homosexuals are people like everyone else, to be treated with unconditional respect and with dignity. He offers no gesture of welcome to homosexual Jews, to be who they are without fear of being taunted, or fear of being discriminated against, or fear of being excluded, or fear of being marginalised.
In fact he offers nothing of benefit for the homosexual Jews in Victoria, nor for the bisexual Jews or the transgender Jews.
Instead what John Searle does offer is further discrimination, further prejudice, further intolerance, further marginalisation and further invisibility. His words unequivocally don’t match his actions, and that is unacceptable. It is not the first time I have said this, and at this rate, it certainly won’t be the last.
We must educate our children; help them to understand that we cannot turn a blind eye, not to racism, not to stereotyping, not to suffering, not to prejudice of any form, not ever. We must send the message, that racism and prejudice in all its evil forms will not be tolerated.
JCCV Welcomes Amendments to Equal Opportunity Act [May 6 2011]
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is delighted to see that the Victorian Government is proposing amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act as recently announced by the Attorney General, Robert Clark. In particular, the JCCV sees the amendments as rectifying anomalies in Victorian Equal Opportunity legislation as it relates to religious based schools and organisations.
JCCV president John Searle said that “the provisions that remove the inherent requirement test as it applies to faith based schools is a vast improvement for all Victorians and will ensure that all faith based schools will be able to hire staff who uphold the values and beliefs of the school and the school population. This is a very positive step for all those schools and organisations.”
Searle noted that “the amendments will ensure we have a fair balance between preventing discrimination and ensuring that schools and other organisations are able to employ people who conform with the value system and beliefs of the organisation. In this way, we will limit the possibilities for clashes, offence and tension in the workplace.”
Speech by J Searle at 2011 Yom Ha’atzmaut Cocktail Reception (and here) [June 1 2011]
Of course, there are times when I am aware of being Jewish. I don’t remember when I first became aware of the fact that I was Jewish, but I do recall there were certain racial taunts at primary school and there were times I had to stand up for who I was or rather what I was; Jewish.
My kids have also had moments of discovery. I can recall the first time my they asked me with some bewilderment why there were no security guards at a non-Jewish school we were visiting. You see they had never seen a school without security guards. Unfortunately, as many in this room will realise, because of the threats against the Jewish community all our schools have guards.
All of our synagogues also have guards.
Imagine if every time you dropped your kids off at school, went to Church, Temple or your House of Worship you saw guards out the front. Often those guards or protectors come from the dedicated band of volunteers comprising the CSG and as I said earlier, in that way they are making us all very proud, and safe.
“This bill will allow faith-based organisations and schools to discriminate in employment matters on the basis of a person’s religious beliefs or activities, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity, without the current qualifier that the attribute must be an inherent requirement of the job (introduced by the previous government in 2010 in attempt to balance religious freedom with freedom from discrimination).
“However, neither the current act, nor the proposed changes balance religious freedom with the fundamental human rights of everyone to equality and protection against discrimination,” Ms Pennicuik said.
“There is no place for discrimination in employment on the basis of personal characteristics”, she said. “Employers should not be asking employees or job applicants about their personal lives. The only questions should be about qualifications and experience that are genuine requirements of the job”.