The Jewish community is a funny animal. Two weeks ago, on February 10, I brought to the attention of senior community leadership news of a story that was going to break that would put a spotlight on the Jewish community. After some resistance, a statement was issued by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry distancing the Jewish community from the distasteful views of a certain ‘respected’ rabbi.
The following week saw the story get the front-cover on both the Melbourne commuter newspaper mX and gay community newspaper Star Observer. Sydney’s Gay News Network also comprehensively covered the story as it unfolded. GLBT community radio JOY 94.9FM and veteran journalist and broadcaster Doug Pollard was also swift on covering and helping to break the story both on air and online. Even bloggers Mike Stuchbery and Torrents of Scorn took a stance on the issue. The take-up and interest by these outlets was impressive.
This week’s edition of the Australian Jewish News sees a highly reactive cover-story response to the news that I brought to the attention of the Jewish community two weeks ago. I am of the firm belief that if I had not responded to a tip-off from Doug Pollard on this story and set into place a chain of events, including bringing the developing stories to the attention of the Jewish News, that the paper would not have given this story the high-profile status that it has received this week. Kudos to the AJN for the coverage of an important issue nevertheless.
The actual issue at play here is a deeply odious statement by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen that challenges the ethics of an anti-bullying program that affirms homosexuality. So offensive is the stance of this academic that both the ECAJ, the Monash University Faculty of Education staff and the Monash University media office have distanced themselves from his views.
Adding an extra dimension to this story, Monash University has been found to have an adjunct/honorary association with Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, ongoing to 2015. Monash University have advised that the academic is not an employee of the university and that they believe the association with him is meritorious.
I have petitioned the university to hold Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen to account for his homophobic views, such that he compares homosexuality to incest and bestiality, and put it to the university that they would not be so welcoming of an academic who’s speciality was Holocaust denial.
The issue of homophobia and bullying is firmly on the radar of the Australian Jewish community now. It will be interesting to see the response from the community to an issue that makes so much of it deeply uncomfortable. It will also be interesting to see how Monash University handles the uncomfortable situation they find themselves in.