Daniel Baker’s 2009 letter to the JCCV

Feb 11, 2013

Daniel Baker sent the following letter to me in Nov 2009 in lieu of being unable to attend a meeting with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria in person on Dec 4 2009.  This was a meeting that the JCCV had invited members of Aleph Melbourne to attend, to establish issues of concern to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

The initial meeting invitation had been extended by the then Executive Director of the JCCV, Geoffrey Zygier (who is now the Executive Director of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission that is connected to the JCCV).  This meeting/consultation turned out to be a precursor to the formation of their GLBT Reference Group, and it would seem from the discussions that panned out during this meeting that the JCCV had decided to form this reference group in advance of this consultative meeting with Aleph Melbourne.

Attending this meeting at Beth Weizmann were John Searle (the then JCCV President), Anton Block (the then JCCV Immediate Past President), Andrew Rajcher (invited as an unannounced guest of the JCCV, and unwelcome from my perspective given his particularly unhelpful stance on the matters being discussed), about 10 members of Aleph Melbourne and other interested parties that I had invited to attend, and myself.

On concluding my reading of Daniel’s letter to those present at the meeting it was immediately dismissed by the two JCCV representatives present and an expression was given indicating that they were not the slightest bit interested in its contents.

All round, a particularly unfortunate and unpleasant experience, and one that showed the true colours of the JCCV.

From: Daniel Ari Baker
Date: 2009/11/17
Subject: Meeting with JCCV
To: Michael Barnett

Hi Michael,

Thanks for your facebook message re the upcoming Aleph meeting with the JCCV. Unfortunately I will be overseas until the end of January 2010, and so won’t be able to attend, but I do have a few comments which you might bring up at the meeting; but there a number of issues raised by such a meeting which I feel I must address.

The JCCV has for many years now discriminated against GLBTQ people in the Jewish community, most obviously by its exclusion of Aleph from membership, but also by its failure to censure Rabbis and other community organizations which preach hate. Further, it has done nothing to counteract the ideology put forward by even the most forward thinking mainstream Victorian Rabbis, viz. that heterosexual marriage and the bearing of children is the only way to achieve full participation in our Jewish community and the Jewish people at large. Indeed, the very fact that this meeting is being organized now, that the JCCV is only now beginning to take an interest in ‘Gay Jews’ Concerns’ (not, incidentally, in gay Jews themselves, but in their concerns – that is, the factors which will influence their next vote for the  JCCV executive) is, in my opinion, appalling. I have been studying in Philadelphia since July of this year, and can tell you that the involvement of the mainstream Jewish leadership with gay Jews puts the JCCV to shame. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, where I am studying, Hillel, the national Jewish student union, has a subsidiary body called J-Bagel, which caters to the many gay Jewish students across America. Rabbis and community leaders attend Shabbat dinners organized by this group, and gay Jews are treated as valuable assets to the community at large. One can hardly imagine any executive member of the JCCV coming out so openly and positively for the cause of GLBTQ Jews.

Honestly, I am outraged by Mr Zygier’s statement that ‘the details of what form [inclusion] might take have to be worked out; we’re still at the information-gathering stage’. Mr Zygier’s suggestion that there is some uncertainty about what form the enfranchisement of gay Jews should take undermines the earnestness of the JCCV’s ostensibly friendly approach. There are no ‘different forms’ of inclusion: either a community is enfranchised, or it is not. Either gay Jews are full and equal members of the Victorian Jewish community, or they are not. Mr Zygier suggests that the JCCV is trying to be ‘as inclusive as possible’. The remark seems, with respect, disingenious at best and mendacious at worst. Inclusion is the easiest task in the world; all that it requires is the renouncing of one’s own antihuman prejudices. Until Jews of all kinds, including queers, are welcomed, the JCCV cannot claim to be committed to tolerance. It is possible, even preferable, for  an organization which claims to represent an ethnic community to include all quarters of that community; if it does not, it can legitimately claim neither a desire for inclusiveness nor, indeed, to be a fairly representative body.

Further, Mr Zygier’s reference to the ‘information-gathering’ stage is offensive in the extreme. Gay Jews are not specimens to be examined and theorized: we are human beings, and his suggestion that some kind of study must be performed on gays before enfranchisement can be considered is degrading and disrespectful. What information could possibly be required? We are Jews. We are gay. We are unwilling to renounce our Jewishness, and are equally unwilling to renounce our queerness. That is all there is to it: the matter is extremely simple.

Kind regards,

Daniel Ari Baker


A response to the JCCV’s Victorian Community Report

Nov 25, 2010

[SOURCE]

In J-Wire, Geoffrey Zygier of the JCCV says:

Finally Searle said that ”the GLBT Reference group formed by JCCV, is continuing to work towards combatting discrimination, vilification and managing mental health issues for this community. The plan is to look at speaking with school representatives in regards to bullying issues.

and

Searle has pledged to host more politicians’ lunches, conduct more interfaith activities starting with the Croatian community and expects to welcome more new affiliates next year in keeping with the JCCV’s policy of inclusion.”

Combatting bullying in schools necessary, as we know from the It Gets Better Project, but we need to hear the JCCV say that any intolerance of homosexuality is unacceptable to know they are taking the issue seriously.  To date that is the one thing they refuse to say.

For a secular organisation, with no official religious position, it is evident they are biased toward the interests of their Orthodox membership, and this is not the role of the organisation that is supposed to represent the entire Jewish community.

As for the “JCCV’s policy of inclusion”.  That is deceitful.  The JCCV has a strong history of excluding various organisations in the Jewish community, including the gay group Aleph Melbourne, and it certainly has excluded me from any discussions.

The JCCV needs a major overhaul, which I would suggest should start with the removal of the president.  Only then might the organisation start to become representative.


Malki Rose on John Searle’s patronising response to a bogus issue

Nov 6, 2010

[SOURCE]

On Galus Australis Malki Rose talks about the Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Reference Group.  I have written about this ‘reference group’ a number of times.

I refer to a section of Malki’s article on Galus, followed here by some correspondence between Geoffrey Zygier of the JCCV and myself, and finally ask a question of Malki.

Mr Searle said that the GLBT reference group, comprising of a mix of individuals who had approached him with their concerns, also seeks to gauge the mental health concerns and risks, which young GLBT Jews may be facing.

Thus far, the reference group, which includes a qualified psychologist, has noted that there are relatively few instances of discrimination or vilification being perpetrated against GLBT Jews by ‘straight’ Jews.

Perhaps it is possible that smaller numbers of openly gay Jews equates to less instances of vilification or discrimination?

In speaking with Mr Searle, I suggested that some of the discrimination and exclusionary behaviour may also be too subtle to measure and also far more prevalent in the Orthodox community where the Halachic concerns play a stronger role in the community’s treatment or subtle exclusion of GLBT Jews.

Many GLBT Jews, having been excluded by the Jewish community as deviant or ‘people best avoided’, become disenfranchised and abandon the Jewish Community, seeking solace in the potentially more accepting embrace of the non-Jewish GLBT community, whose inclusiveness seems much more all encompassing.

On the surface this sounds really good, but there’s a very big trick being played by John Searle.  The JCCV released a statement for Mental Health Week on October 4 2010.   As I did in 2009, I asked the JCCV to make mention in this statement of the mental health issues that same-sex attracted Jews face.  Of course, the JCCV obliged in making some mention of the issue, but also as in 2009, this year they again deflected the problem from the real issue affecting closeted same-sex attracted people in the Jewish community to the diversionary issue of Jews in the GLBT community.

I wrote to Geoffrey Zygier about this, as he was the contact for the media release, expressing my concern over the language used:

From: Michael Barnett
Sent: Tuesday, 5 October 2010 1:37 PM
To: Geoffrey Zygier
Subject: In response to the JCCV Media Release: Assistance for those in Need

Hi Geoffrey,

I refer to the JCCV media release “Assistance for those in Need” issued yesterday.

You state “There are also particular concerns about mental health issues faced by members of the GLBT communities.”

As I have previously advised the JCCV, and as Professor Anne Mitchell would have advised the JCCV GLBT Reference Group earlier this year, the problems that same-sex attracted people experience that lead or contribute to mental health issues, self harm and suicide are frequently happening to people who do not identify with the GLBT community. To state otherwise is misleading.

Urgent attention needs to be paid to people in the Jewish community who are struggling with their sexuality or who are in the closet. It is the intolerance of homosexuality that is the problem, not because people are same-sex attracted.

I strongly urge the JCCV to acknowledge this situation, and stop inferring the problem is only or mainly with people in the GLBT community.

I would appreciate a response on this matter and would be happy to have a discussion with you if you require further clarification.

Regards,
Michael.

I received this response:

From: Geoffrey Zygier
Date: 8 October 2010 14:53
Subject: RE: In response to the JCCV Media Release: Assistance for those in Need
To: Michael Barnett

Hello Michael

I accept what you say and the statement was not meant to infer otherwise. On reflection it could have been phrased more clearly.

Good Shabbos

Geoffrey

Geoffrey Zygier I Executive Director I Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)
The Voice of Victorian Jewry
306 Hawthorn Road South Caulfield VIC AUST 3162
03 9272 5579 I 0413 731545
http://www.jccv.org.au

I then sent the following email, which currently remains unanswered:

From: Michael Barnett
Date: 8 October 2010 15:24
Subject: Re: In response to the JCCV Media Release: Assistance for those in Need
To: Geoffrey Zygier

Thank you for this Geoffrey. Would you consider issuing an amended media release, with an appropriate revision of this statement?

Perhaps: “There are also particular concerns about mental health issues faced by members of the Jewish community who are same-sex attracted or who have a gender identity disorder.”

I believe it would be a really positive way to move forward, especially considering the serious nature of the issue.

Regards,
Michael.

Yet as Malki writes above, John Searle is talking about GLBT people being excluded or ill-treated by others in the Jewish community.  This is not the real problem, if it is even a problem.  If the truth be known, it is actually a diversion, set up to show the JCCV’s funding source that it is doing something to include GLBT people in the community.

Searle refuses to engage on the topic that is the most serious, the one where people who are same-sex attracted, who do not identify as GLBT, are not even able to talk about their situation and live in fear of expressing their true sexual orientation.

I ask Malki to explain why she is supporting this action to address a ‘bogus’ issue and is not challenging the JCCV on why they are side-stepping the real issue?  I understand that “something is better than nothing”, but this “something” is extremely patronising.


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