Victorian Jewish community and Internet hate: the victim becomes the perpetrator

The cover of the April 29 2010 edition of the Australian Jewish News (Melbourne) features a story on the spread of anti-Semitic hate on the Internet.  This leads into the main story on page 3, another story by the Washington Post on page 20, an editorial on page 22 and finally a pictorial comment by cartoonist Kron on page 23.  That makes 5 pages of coverage on the topic.  One would think the paper has taken the topic of Internet hate fairly seriously.  But has it?

Wind back to August 7 2009 when the AJN Watch blog posted a choice piece entitled “Australian Jewish News, Australian Goyish News or Australian Gayish News?”  You can read it here.

For the unenlightened, AJN Watch describes itself:

About Me

Melbourne, Australia

AJN WATCH observes & comments (mainly) on prejudice, misrepresentation and monopolistic abuse of power in the pages of the Australian Jewish News – especially regarding the observant community. The AJN is the main source of information to and about Australian Jewry and aims to set the agenda and influence attitudes. It is this blog’s mission to spotlight errors, expose misrepresentations and vigorously respond to items that malign or defame the Orthodox community. AJN WATCH also posts and comments on a variety of topics of interest to its readership. We invite Guest Posts as well as topic suggestions.

It’s clear from reading this that the blog is based in Melbourne, it represents a segment of the Jewish community and it’s on the Internet.

In this particular AJN Watch blog on August 7, 2009 you can find the following comments:

there are no less than 9 items(!) about the AJN’s current sweethearts – the homosexuals (or to use the full label – “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transvestites”).

…a couple of repeat letters from the usual Torah-hating, gay-loving, single-issue-obsessed letter-writers (see top right) and of course a Kron cartoon.

Just like Browne and Bersten, we too have no idea who the TA gays killer is. But there is as much a chance – in fact far greater – that it was another homosexual (jealous lover’s tiff, maybe) as it being the work of an ‘ultra-orthodox’.

The last thing their readers are interested in is what is happening in Tel Aviv snakepits of dreck and perversion.

Your comment that “Israel is one of the more gay-friendly countries in the world and you don’t have to spend too much time in the more vibrant sections of Tel Aviv to become aware of a strong and tolerant gay culture” indeed nauseates, depresses and disgusts not only Hamodia readers, but all decent, civilized and moral people – of all religious beliefs. Your pride and delight that Israel has become a world-leader in depravity and debasement says much about you and your publication.

The last two paragraphs quoted above are especially offensive and adequately qualify as hate language.

I raised this issue at length with both the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) and the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (BB ADC) at the time.  In doing so I found out that the BB ADC is in fact an arm of the JCCV.  Further, it has since been clarified to me by B’nai B’rith Australia that the BB ADC no longer has an official connection to B’nai B’rith Australia and that the only connection is a legacy use of the name.

I phoned John Searle, President of the JCCV, and arranged to meet with him to discuss a number of issues including the August 1 2009 Tel Aviv massacre and the subsequent hate language in the August 7 2009 AJN Watch blog.  John Searle suggested we meet at his house and so I went and visited him on the evening of Wednesday August 19 2009.  At the meeting I handed John Searle a copy of this letter.

I expressed my concern to John Searle about the hate language used in the AJN Watch blog and that it was necessary for the JCCV to speak out against this vile hate and intolerance.  As the JCCV had a history of speaking out against terrible acts perpetrated within the Jewish community, such as when it commented on the sexual abuse case at a Jewish school, it was my firm belief that the JCCV must also speak out against this terrible situation unfolding within the Jewish community.

The single response from John Searle to my request of the JCCV was “Ignore it and it will go away.  Don’t give it oxygen”.  I was stunned at this callous and insensitive response.  They don’t ignore anti-semitic hate.  They don’t ignore sexual abuse.  Yet they want to ignore homophobic hate.

After this meeting I contacted the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission.  I felt they would be able to help, as their web site states:

B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission Inc. (ADC) is the human rights arm of B’nai B’rith Australia/New Zealand. The ADC is dedicated to the elimination of antisemitism; to combating racism, intolerance and prejudice; and to seeking to secure justice and fair treatment for all.

Not aware then that the BB ADC was a part of the JCCV I asked them to respond to the AJN Watch blog.  I explained that it was unacceptable that a member of Melbourne’s Jewish community was able to post hate material about gay Jews on the Internet and get away with it.  The response from the BB ADC staggered me.

From: Deborah Stone <>
Date: 31 August 2009 09:54
Subject: Homophobia in the Jewish community
To: Michael Barnett <>

Dear Michael,

Thanks for the material regarding your campaign to fight homophobia in the Jewish community. Unfortunately my board is not prepared for our organisation to engage with discrimination issues beyond our specific remit of antisemitism and racism.

Good luck with your work.


Peace 和平 Paco سلام שלום

Deborah Stone
Research Director
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission
03 95725770
0414 946489

This response confused me because their web site clearly claimed they were dedicated to combatting intolerance and prejudice.  I sent another email:

From: Michael Barnett <>
Date: 31 August 2009 12:46
Subject: Re: Homophobia in the Jewish community
To: Deborah Stone <>

Hi Deborah,

This is clearly an attack on Jews by Jews.  If anyone knows how to handle any sort of attack on Jews it would have to be your organisation.

Is your organisation not prepared to stand up against this extreme level of hatred against members of the Jewish community?


to which I received this final response:

From: Deborah Stone <>
Date: 31 August 2009 12:48
Subject: RE: Homophobia in the Jewish community
To: Michael Barnett <>

Hi Michael,

The truth is no it isn’t. You have my personal support but the ADC as an organisation is not prepared to get involved.

Kind regards


So that was it.  The BB ADC was only prepared to fight certain types of intolerance and prejudice against the Jewish community.  Clearly homophobic attacks on gay Jews were not the right sort of hate and intolerance.

Now this is where it gets interesting.  The JCCV has since formed a reference group to investigate what sort of mental health issues gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in the Jewish community are facing.  There are proven links between intolerance of homosexuality and alarmingly high rates of mental health issues, self harm and suicide.  The JCCV knows this because they put out a media release claiming so.  The JCCV also controls the BB ADC, an organisation that selectively speaks out against hate.  If the hate is on the Internet and it is targeting Jews then they’ll take an interest.  If the hate is on the Internet and it’s just targeting gay Jews, they don’t want to know.

So here we have it.  The JCCV says it is trying to combat mental health issues in gay Jews on the one hand, and on the other hand it silently stands by and allows people within the Jewish community to spew virulent anti-gay hate in all directions.

The Jewish community needs to sit up and ask a few questions of the JCCV.  For starters, the question needs to be asked why the JCCV (and under it the BB ADC) allows harmful homophobic hate within the Jewish community to go unchallenged, whilst simultaneously it has a zero tolerance policy on anti-semitic hate.

If the Jewish community is to be taken at all seriously when it cries victim about anti-semitic hate on the Internet, it must first deal with being a perpetrator of anti-gay hate on the Internet.  Only then should anyone care.

Why is John Searle fearful of Michael Barnett?

On April 22 2010 Southern Star published a correction to a previous story on Aleph Melbourne from the week prior:

Southern Star reported (15/04) Jewish gay group Aleph was “excluded” from the Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s GLBT reference group. There are currently three members of Aleph on the reference group. Aleph convenor Michael Barnett was excluded.

What lead to this correction was correspondence between Southern Star and the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) Geoffrey Zygier.  Some of this correspondence was electronic:

Dear Scott

The JCCV has had the following article brought to its attention.

FYI I think it is a fair summary of the situation, but it is important to note for the record that Aleph was not excluded from the Jewish GLBT reference group which includes a number of members of Aleph.  Also FYI, there is an article on progress on this matter in today’s Australian Jewish News (Melbourne, though it may be in the Sydney edition as well).


Geoffrey Zygier I Executive Director I Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)
306 Hawthorn Road South
Caulfield VIC AUST 3162
03 9272 5579 I 0413 731545

Some of this correspondence was by phone.  The upshot of the communications between the JCCV and Southern Star was an admission that I, Michael Barnett, was excluded by the JCCV from participating in the JCCV GLBT Reference Group.

That doesn’t come as a surprise to me, given I was told in writing by the President of the JCCV, John Searle, that he was unable to work with me:

You have shown by your conduct since the meeting that you do not wish to work in this manner; rather you continue to criticise, undermine and discredit the JCCV and me to a wide distribution list.

I have now formed the view that I cannot work in partnership with you.

People need to start asking questions.  This situation is ludicrous.  The people at the helm of the JCCV engage with government officials, politicians, leaders of cultural communities, heads of state etc.  They are used to dealing with some pretty high powered people.  Yet they have stated officially that they are unable to work with me.  Why?  What threat do I pose them?  What is it about me that they are scared of?  Why does John Searle push me away and try to make me invisible, rather than engage me in a transparent fashion.   He’s a big boy.  Barrister.  President of the JCCV.  He’s got the credentials to take on pretty much anyone one might think.

But John Searle is hiding something big.  He’s really scared and he doesn’t have the courage to take a stance against homophobic intolerance in the orthodox Jewish world.  He is fearful of the damage to his political career in the Jewish community if he speaks out against the intolerance of homosexuality by orthodox Judaism.

John Searle’s GLBT Reference Group to look into mental health issues of GLBT people in the Jewish community is a smoke-screen that is aimed to appease the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC) so they believe the JCCV are being good citizens and not excluding GLBT people in the Jewish community.  Why?  Simply to secure government grants.  It’s a smoke-screen because it’s designed to deflect the interest away from the real issue of intolerance of homosexuality in the orthodox Jewish community.

While John Searle is president of the JCCV he won’t say a bad word about the devastating harm caused by orthodox Jewish intolerance of homosexuality.  He knows how bad it is because many people have told him, including myself.  He won’t acknowledge that Progressive Judaism is a legitimate expression of Jewish identity and that the Progressive community’s overwhelming acceptance of homosexuality is a positive situation in the Jewish community.  He won’t do this because he is partisan to the orthodox and their intolerant, out-dated attitudes.

John Searle won’t talk to me because he doesn’t like what I stand for.  He is not acting as a leader and he is not looking after the best interests of the people in the community he claims to represent.

Maybe you’ll get further than me if you ask him directly.  Send an email to or call him directly on (03) 92257753 or 0412251344 and ask him why he is so troubled by me.  I’d like to know.

Some inside goss into why the JCCV set up the GLBT reference group

To help you get some clarity into why the JCCV suddenly and mysteriously decided to start talking to the GLBT Jews, it might help to understand some background.

This email arrived out of the blue:

From: Geoffrey Zygier <geoffrey.zygier @>
Date: 9 November 2009 13:06
Subject: proposed meeting
To: Michael Barnett <>


John Searle would like to meet with you and the members of Aleph as soon as feasible.  When could this be arranged please?


Geoffrey Zygier I  Executive Director  I  Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)
306 Hawthorn Road Caulfield South 3162 Australia
03 9272 5579  I  0413 731 545

Coincidentally this email arrived shortly after I’d been corresponding with people in the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC) about the JCCV’s lack of response to the intolerance of homosexuality in the Victorian Jewish community, especially in light of the Tel Aviv gay massacre and the vile AJN Watch‘s assault on homosexual people.  I had heard first hand from a VMC Commissioner that the VMC had cautioned the JCCV they would stop future funding to the JCCV if they were not seen to be inclusive of GLBT Jews.

The VMC threaten to pull future JCCV funding one day and the next day the JCCV sets up a GLBT Reference Group.  How cosy.

The JCCV’s motto is “The Voice of Victorian Jewry”.  At the head of this “voice” is a very loud mouth.  Don’t believe for a moment you are getting the full story when you read what the loud mouth has to say.  He needs to keep good with the orthodox bloc that represents the power base of his organisation.  If he says one teensy weensy widdle bad word about their (and his) intolerant fundamental dogmatic beliefs, he loses any remaining shred of credibility he may have and would be as welcome as roast pork at a barmitzvah.

So there you have it.  The JCCV are using homosexuals to secure future government funding.  They have done this by setting up a reference group as a token gesture to look into why we are so suicidal and miserable, but aren’t prepared to shake the tree and take on the real issue of orthodox Jewish hate and intolerance.

You will know the JCCV and it’s president are being genuine when they admit publicly there is a problem with the orthodox Jewish attitude to homosexuality.  Until such time, they will remain the laughing stock of the Jewish community and a deep embarrassment to humanity.

JCCV – Melbourne International Comedy Festival’s premier act

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) has proven itself to be the premier act in the 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival.  JCCV President John Searle, the funny-man heading up the three-ring circus of hilarity, has some very funny things to say that will have you in hysterics.

In what might seem to be a well-intentioned initiative, funny-man Searle has established a reference group to see just how badly the lives of Jewish gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are in the Victorian Jewish community.  How caring.  How sweet.  How nice.  How disingenuous.

The JCCV has a track-record of being the most vocal anti-gay organisation in the Victorian Jewish community.  At the May 10 1999 plenum meeting it rejected a membership application from Aleph Melbourne, a social and support group for (at the time just) gay and bisexual men.  Not only did it reject the application, but the hate and intolerance expressed at this infamous meeting by “respected” members of the Jewish community such as the late Rabbi Emeritus Ronald Lubosfsky and Rabbi Chaim Gutnik (the then President of the Rabbinic Council of Victoria) toward the Aleph Melbourne and gay people generally paralleled the animosity aimed at Jews in a Nuremberg Rally in WWII.  Read the minutes of this meeting.  They are captivating and deeply embarrasing to the JCCV.  A sorry would be a start.

John Searle states (AJN 16/04/10, p5):

Research suggests that issues of depression, mental health disease and suicide are higher among people in the GLBT community.

Oh really Johnny boy?  And why might this be the case?  Are homosexuals defective?  Are we unique?  Perhaps we just don’t cope so well?  No.  Sit up and listen, Searle.  Orthodox Judaism is the problem, Searle.  People who promote intolerance of homosexuality are the problem, Searle.  People who reject the notion that homosexuality is acceptable are the problem, Searle.  People who hide this intolerance are the problem, Searle.  You are the problem, Searle.

The JCCV may be well-intentioned (or at least want to seem to be so) in setting up a reference group to research the problems affecting GLBT Jews, but while there are people like John Searle buffooning and big-noting themselves around the place and not addressing the real problem of religious intolerance of homosexuality, they may as well just sit back and do nothing.  No, nothing probably would be better than what they are currently doing, because by deflecting the issue and not pointing the blame at Orthodox Judaism, they are actually exacerbating the problem.

John Searle owes it to every person in the Victorian Jewish community to stand up and say that any intolerance of homosexuality is unacceptable, that GLBT Jews are normal, worthy members of the Jewish (and wider) community and that same-sex relationships are healthy, valid and will benefit the community.

If the clown at the head of the three-ring circus calling itself the JCCV cannot do this, he must stand down from his sad performance and let a person with genuine concern for the lives of the most vulnerable, marginalised and disenfranchised people in the community do the job he claims to be doing.


The following story appears in the Australian Jewish News, April 16 2010 edition, p5.

JCCV group focuses on mental health

Peter Kohn

Jewish Care and the Australian Jewish Psychologists Group have become partners with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) in promoting the wellbeing of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) members of the community.

In addition, Jewish GLBT advocates in Sydney are now calling for a similar subcommittee to be established across the border.

The JCCV GLBT reference group, which was formed late last year in response to community concerns about discrimination, met last week to forge strategies and plan partnerships with medical and social service providers.

JCCV President John Searle said Dr Nicky Jacobs, president of the psychologists’ group, will have direct input to the reference group.

“Research suggests that issues of depression, mental health disease and suicide are higher among people in the GLBT community,” he said.

“We need to come to grips with these matters, and ascertain the extent to which these are experienced within the Jewish GLBT community.  The critical work of the reference group will them address there issues as they exist in our community.”

The JCCV president also highlighted the importance of getting Jewish schools involved.

“Young people at school who are facing issues concerning their sexual orientation may be faced with issues of bullying or discrimination.  We need to better understand that and educate our community so that doesn’t occur.”

Sally Goldner, a member of the JCCV reference group and a spokesperson for TransGender Victoria, told The AJN the initiative “can reach across to people who, on the surface, might not understand these issues”.

“We’re able to put both the GLBT perspective and the Jewish perspective together and work out the best solution,” she said.

Roy Freeman of Sydney-based Jewish GLBT group Dayenu hailed the reference group’s work and said he hoped a similar group could be established within the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD).

“It’s good to see that finally the JCCV is acknowledging that there are issues,” he said.  “There’s been a lot of animosity between the JCCV and the [GLBT] community.

“It would be good to see [the JCCV] working with some other GLBT organisations as well, such as LGBT Health, which is an Australia-wide organisation,” he said.

Dayenu is currently in the process of applying for JBD membership and Freeman is urging the NSW roof body to formulate a policy on Sydney’s Jewish GLBT community.

He quoted statistics on suicide prevention that show that GLBT Australians are 12-14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts.

“Unfortunately, there hasn’t been any similar research within the Jewish community specifically, but there’s no reason to believe those statistics would be any better.   I believe those mental health issues are connected to the attitude toward homosexuality from certain parts of the Jewish community,” Freeman said.

JCCV’s John Searle – a man with questionable leadership ability


Dear John,

Why are you not prepared to accept that the orthodox Jewish intolerance of homosexuality is the prime contributing factor to the ongoing misery, mental health issues and suicide of same-sex attracted youth in the Jewish community?

You have set up a GLBT reference group to investigate issues that affect Jewish GLBT people yet you are not prepared to accept that the problem originates from religious intolerance and bigotry.

I suggest you are doing this for kudos, media coverage and to keep the issue under your control because if you were genuinely concerned, you would not ignore me and you would engage people with expertise from outside the Jewish community. Yet you continue to ignore me because I have asked questions that you are scared to answer. You will not admit publicly that there are diverging Jewish views on homosexuality and that there are significant sections of the Jewish community (eg Progressive) that actually acknowledge homosexuality as normal and acceptable. You state that the orthodox Jewish view on homosexuality is the only legitimate perspective. That is offensive, supremacist, and shameful.

Your arrogance is supreme and I am ashamed that you are the head of the organisation that claims to represent the Victorian Jewish community.

Personally I am disgusted by the JCCV’s wanton and reckless approach to the lives of the most vulnerable people in the Jewish community. Let’s just hope your children don’t end up dead as victims of this pathetic situation. Do you really care about their welfare?

Prove that you are a leader for a change.