In Australia the Jewish community leadership has abandoned concern for persecution of gays. It does not show it cares about persecution of minority groups around the world, only demonstrating interest in its pet topic of anti-Semitism.
An increasing number of regimes such as Russia and Uganda are persecuting homosexual people and the Jewish community basks in its own self-importance, issues platitudes about how much it must speak out against such terrors, says Never Again and then buries its head in the sand saying la-la-la-la.
Take this fine message from the immediate past president of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (and current Chair of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Right Commission) John Searle:
It is up to us to play our part in ensuring that another holocaust never occurs. Be it attacks against Jews, blacks, homosexuals or political rivals, we must be ever vigilant in bringing the message to the world – never again! 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.
Sounds good. And yet, computer says no. Silence is all we get. Just silence.
Despite my ongoing calls for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry to decry the efforts of the Orthodox Rabbinate’s opposition to civil legislative reform to allow same-sex couples to marry in Australia, they remain steadfastly silent. I have put a case forward that it is in their best interests to support marriage equality in Australia, especially given they already have issued a statement for respect of GLBT people.
The Executive Director of the ECAJ, Peter Wertheim expresses an interest in the harmony of society in Australia, as reported in the Australian Jewish News :
Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said there was nothing Dr Mohamed could learn from Gaza and its Hamas rulers that could possibly have any legitimate application in Australia.
“His visit and his comments undermine Australia’s efforts to build a peaceful, inclusive and democratic multicultural society,” he said.
I put it to Peter Wertheim that whilst the ECAJ remains silent on marriage equality it shows that the organisation is not genuine about its desire for a wholly inclusive society in Australia, and demonstrates that the ECAJ’s agenda is pro-Zionist and not pro-humanity.
The credibility of the ECAJ, being a body that represents the interests of Australians, is perilously fraught at present. Yet a simple statement claiming that it believes all Australians should have equal rights before the law could easily rectify that.
Is that too much of an ask Peter?
Yesterday afternoon I was lucky enough to be walking around the shore of the Mallacoota Inlet with my partner Gregory. It’s a delightfully beautiful part of Victoria and we were absorbed in the magic of moment. We live in a part of the world where we have many liberties and rights that others in less fortunate parts of the world are unable to similarly enjoy. Living in a legal same-sex relationship, having the right to criticise government and having the right to vote in a democracy are but a few of these.
Yet in all of this our community faces many challenges before we can call ourselves world-class in the human rights arena. And so we have the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to help us get there, one way or another.
Between sampling wild cherries, photographing sting-ray and marvelling at the ability of pelicans to hover mid-flight inches over the surface of the lake, my phone alerted me to a new email. I quickly checked the message and saw it was a media release announcing the appointment of the new chairperson to the board of the VEOHRC.
Over the course of the evening and into today I fielded an amazing barrage of emails from all manner of human rights activists, media and other interested parties in Victoria, particularly from the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) community. The messages were mainly along the lines of “have you seen this…”. Yes, I had, only minutes after it had been announced.
The concern of these people was mainly centred around my past involvement with John Searle and my call for him to raise the visibility of GLBT human rights within the Victorian Jewish community. It’s been a real challenge getting any traction on the issue, and I must admit that I never for once expected any degree of cooperation on this fraught topic.
Yet now with John Searle being appointed to the chair of the board of the VEOHRC (note, not the role of Commissioner), it puts him in a more public and accountable role on the issues of human rights and equal opportunity, for all Victorians.
Of particular concern to me is Searle’s ability to lead his board in making the best decisions for the welfare of GLBT Victorians. He has shown glimmers of hope in wanting us to believe he’s genuine in his commitment to this cause. Take for example the current Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) inquiry into the extent of vilification and discrimination against GLBT people in the Victorian Jewish community. Listen to his interview on JOY 94.9 FM here.
What I find most intriguing about this high-profile appointment is that I would expect the incumbent to have a gleaming A+ record on being a strong and outspoken advocate for all human rights. In my human rights activism over the past 3 years dealing with John Searle, in his presidency of the JCCV, I have found that that he has an unconventional approach to human rights.
Allow me to highlight three particular scenarios.
1. The Progressive Jewish movement has for a long time been amongst the foremost proponents for equality and inclusion of GLBT people in their religious communities. The Australian Progressive Jewish community has proven to be a shining light on how a religious community can go beyond tolerance of GLBT people and actually include and accept them unquestioningly as equals. So much so that the Australian Progressive Jewish community has called for full marriage equality for non-heterosexual Jewish couples.
Progressive Judaism Victoria, the Victorian organisation representing the Progressive Jewish community, is a member of the JCCV. Yet despite PJV being a voting member of the JCCV, John Searle has yet to acknowledge their exemplary stance on GLBT human rights, and goes so far as to refuse to acknowledge their legitimacy as Jews in the Australian Jewish context.
2. Orthodox Judaism is uncompromising on its intolerance of homosexuality. A significant number of the member organisations of the JCCV are actively members of the Orthodox community, or closely aligned with it. Searle himself strongly follows Orthodox Jewish tradition. Yet despite the absolute and uncompromising intolerant nature of Orthodox Jewish dogma when it comes to homosexuality, Searle has never once distanced himself from this repressive and homophobic attitude. Simply put, he endorses it’s right to exist, under claims that it is “Jewish Law” and is immutable.
This spin never fails to amaze me, as the Progressive Jewish community have worked their way through these tough issues of “Jewish Law” and come out intact on the other side. It seems the Orthodox Jewish community lacks the desire to confront this particular challenge, despite them having confronted countless other issues over many hundreds, if not thousands of years. Most notably, they don’t stone homosexuals to death any more, as their dogma still dictates.
Even though the JCCV promotes itself as “The voice of Victorian Jewry”, under Searle’s presidency it has taken a strong stance in favour of its Orthodox membership, leaving its more open-minded and accepting Progressive, Conservative and Secular membership starkly unrepresented.
This situation was recently evidenced when the JCCV put out a media release claiming
Rabbi Rapoport contends that the GLBT community must accept that they cannot become official members of the JCCV as this would fracture the Jewish community.
I commented on this here.
3. Since late 2009 John Searle has singularly refused to have any contact with the only Jewish GLBT social and support group in Victoria, Aleph Melbourne. He has not stated a credible reason for this situation and frankly it strikes me as a bizarre situation for his organisation, especially when it is trying to understand why GLBT Jews in Victoria feel vilified and discriminated against.
I can only hope that under the eye of public scrutiny John Searle will act in a more transparent and accountable fashion in his role as chair of the board of the VEOHRC than he has done with his presidency of the JCCV.
Further, I can only hope that he works to restore a healthy and wholesome relationship with the organisation I represent, of which there are a sizeable number of GLBT Jewish members.
To this end I hope that under the chair of John Searle, the VEOHRC can provide the best protection for GLBT Victorians on the grounds of human rights and equal opportunity.
Dr Helen Szoke, Commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, was guest speaker at the AGM of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) on November 22, 2010.
I have highlighted below the sections of the address that refer to same-sex attracted people, sexual orientation and gender identity.
In your case, you have a specific community of interest. In my case, our community of interest is all Victorians, whether they be people with a disability, people with different religious beliefs, people who are same sex attracted, people who are old or young.
I would also say that race and religion is a particular area of focus. But our own work shows that all areas of discrimination can be the basis of prejudice motivated reaction, and to this end, we try as a Commission to keep a broad focus, looking at the work of people with a disability, age discrimination, the prejudice experienced by people who are same sex attracted, which forms the focus of our work in the sport area.
In our view, this would mean strengthening civil and criminal provisions protecting people from hate conduct. Such remedies are necessary because hate crime and hate conduct have a disproportionate impact on particular groups – groups characterized by race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, impairment or homelessness – and their ability to realise other human rights. Call it the domino effect of discrimination.
In short, we have recommended that this model include: … A provision in the Equal Opportunity Act prohibiting offensive, insulting, humiliating or intimidating conduct against people, or a group of people, not just based on race or religion, but also sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, impairment and homelessness …
My hope, as I’m sure is also Dr Szoke’s, is that the leaders of the Jewish community, including those present at the AGM, will want to work to remove all hate crimes and intolerance of difference in their Jewish community. It is going to be a gargantuan effort to see it realized in the short-term, but with the right message coming from the top, the way forward will be significantly easier.
It really isn’t difficult to understand that intolerance contributes to unhappiness, which in turn contributes to self-harm. Conversely, acceptance and inclusion leads to happiness and an increased feeling of self-worth and belonging.
I ask those people who decry homosexual behaviour because “it is forbidden by the Torah”, if they really care about the people in their community and ask them to consider whose best interests they have at heart.
A dead child is dead for a long time.