If a gross human rights abuse is not about anti-Semitism it would seem the leadership of the Australian Jewish community just doesn’t care.
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.
A rift is developing within Australia’s Jewish community over the treatment of homosexuals. A major gay and lesbian support group claims Jewish community leaders are ignoring discrimination and hate language aimed at homosexuals. A Jewish community leader rejects the claims and says he’s against anti vilification of people according to their sexual orientation.
MARK COLVIN: A rift is developing in Australia’s Jewish community over the treatment of homosexuals.
A major gay and lesbian support group claims Jewish community leaders are ignoring discrimination and hate language aimed at homosexuals. It wants Jewish representative bodies to come up with a clear policy upholding gay rights.
Alison Caldwell reports.
ALISON CALDWELL: When two young people were shot dead in Tel Aviv last month at a gay and lesbian youth centre, Melbourne-based Michael Barnett wanted nothing more than for the leaders of the Australian Jewish community to take a stand against violence towards homosexuals. But he says his calls for action fell on deaf ears.
MICHAEL BARNETT: The Israeli leadership, the Prime Minister, the President of Israel, they spoke out against intolerance and hatred and said you know, everyone deserves respect.
Yet in Melbourne where there is the family of one of the two people killed, there wasn’t even a single statement from the community leaders.
ALISON CALDWELL: He says the silence from the Jewish leadership was symptomatic of a much deeper problem.
MICHAEL BARNETT: There’s a lot of intolerance of gay people in the Jewish people. Calling gay people perverted and disgusting, comparing gay people to people who commit incest or bestiality, there’s all this language that gets used from people like some rabbis in the orthodox world who speak out against gay people.
ALISON CALDWELL: Michael Barnett is the coordinator of Aleph Melbourne, a support group for homosexual people in the Jewish community. He believes representative groups are afraid to express their support for homosexuals for fear of offending ultra-orthodox groups in the community.
MICHAEL BARNETT: I want every state and national Jewish peak body in Australia to have a specific, unambiguous policy addressing the persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews in regard to homophobic hate and intolerance, irrespective of whether it originates from outside or inside the Jewish community.
The policies must be enforced with the same zero tolerance afforded to anti-Semitism and holocaust rhetoric and other hate crimes.
ALISON CALDWELL: Much of his anger is levelled at a Jewish blog which recently described homosexuality as “depravity and debasement” and extolled the virtues of reprogramming homosexuals.
In July, a Sydney rabbi wrote to the Australian Jewish News, comparing homosexual intercourse with adultery, bestiality and incest.
JOHN SEARLE: If it’s a matter that’s guided by religious laws, then those laws will presumably be applied. Now I can’t say very much about those because I’m not an expert in those areas.
ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle is the president of the Jewish Community Council in Victoria. It describes itself as the roof body of Victorian Jewry. On its website, it says it shows zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism and racism but it has nothing to say about supporting or protecting gay or lesbian people within the Jewish community.
JOHN SEARLE: If we need to rewrite a policy that was written some time ago, we can certainly look at that and if it needs to be adjusted in any way, we can adjust that.
ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle says he’s against vilification of any sort.
JOHN SEARLE: The JCCV has issued statements condemning vilification of all minority groups, including vilification based on grounds of sexual orientation, sexual preference.
ALISON CALDWELL: He says the council has sought advice from numerous sources on how to be more inclusive and will invite gay and lesbian support groups to events in the future.
Michael Barnett says it’s not enough.
MICHAEL BARNETT: Lip service, motherhood statements, platitudes, rhetoric, anything but “yes, we’re going to do this and take it seriously”.
JOHN SEARLE: I reject the allegation or assertion that inviting people to participate in community events is simply lip service.
ALEX FEIN: My blog is called The Sensible Jew.
ALISON CALDWELL: Jewish blogger Alex Fein has written about the issue in recent weeks. She says the vast majority of Jews support homosexuals and describes those who don’t as minority extremists. But she says groups like the Jewish Community Council of Victoria need to be more proactive.
ALEX FEIN: It’s not enough to say that homophobia is problematic. I think all people of good faith would like to see concrete action.
A letter from Daniel Baker to the Jewish Community Council of Victoria from November 2009.
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
Subject: Meeting with JCCV
To: Michael Barnett
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.
Daniel described his journey from being a somewhat chubby kid in South Australia, a place not known for its swimming heroes, to becoming a silver and bronze medallist in the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games in swimming.
Part of Daniel’s story revolved around how he found he lacked a degree of confidence and that something was holding him back from reaching his full potential. He said that at the time he wasn’t fully certain what it was. As the years went by he realised he was hiding his sexuality and this was having an impact on him.
Daniel Kowalski said he felt that if he had been comfortable with his sexuality he would have been able to stand up proud on the starting block, with a sense of confidence, and put in a far better effort. He believes it may have helped him win gold instead of silver or bronze.
What’s especially exciting about Keshet bringing on board John Searle is that through his strong connections in the Jewish community and his involvement in the VEOHRC it places him in a unique position of being able to access and influence a significant number of organisations and people in the Jewish community about the need for a greater understanding of why discrimination against homosexuality is harmful.
On May 17 2012 the VEOHRC issued a media release in which it stated:
The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission unequivocally stands against homophobia in all its forms and today reaffirmed its support for International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).
As the agency responsible for promoting and protecting human rights in Victoria, the Commission sees the harmful effects that discrimination and inequality have on people and the hurt and damage caused by prejudice, vilification and damaging stereotypes.
Almost a year and a half earlier, in January 2011, the VEOHRC issued another media release on the Fair Go, Sport! initiative in which it said:
At its best, sport is a great way of keeping fit, healthy and socially connected. However, recent research highlights that sport can also be very unhealthy for gay, lesbian, bi‐sexual, transgender, intersex and queer (GLBTIQ) people, many of whom have experienced discrimination and abuse in sports club environments.
Come Out To Play (2010), a survey of 307 lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Victorians, showed that 42 per cent of respondents had experienced verbal abuse because of their sexuality while playing sport.
It’s evident that the VEOHRC is taking discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in sport seriously and is building bridges in the sporting community to help raise awareness of the harms of this discrimination.
The logical progression here, and perhaps the pink elephant on the sporting field, is to get the Jewish community’s sporting association, Maccabi Victoria, involved. That’s where John Searle fits in perfectly, because as a person who is passionate about human rights, equal opportunities, removing discrimination and “educating our Jewish community on GLBTI issues”, all he needs to do is reach out to the team at Maccabi and show them how the VEOHRC, through Fair Go, Sport!, is benefiting the Victorian sporting community.
Maccabi Victoria itself is well placed to take adopt this sort of education, as it lists amongst its values: tolerance, healthy & positive lifestyles, strong community connections, achievement in sport and participation by all. My earlier message about Daniel Kowalski exemplifies how a sporting community supportive of diverse sexual orientations would have assisted him in all of the same areas that Maccabi takes seriously.
I urge John Searle, together with Keshet Australia, to reach out to Maccabi Victoria and help them fly their rainbow colours for a stronger and healthier sporting community. Who knows, it may just help someone achieve their Olympic dreams.
When it comes to combatting homophobia the JCCV claim they don’t run programs that bring in change on the ground. However the existence of their grass-roots education program combatting youth alcohol abuse betrays them.
On May 1 2012 Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) President Nina Bassat appeared on JOY 94.9FM with Doug Pollard and Rod Swift. The interview is available online here and the podcast can be downloaded here.
During this interview Doug Pollard asked if there had been any developments arising from the report the JCCV’s GLBT Reference Group put out in November 2011. Nina’s response (at 4:20) was:
“We’re not a body that can actually bring in change on the ground. It’s up to our affiliates to do that.”
This response needs to be considered in relation to the JCCV’s Youth Alcohol Program that has been running for a few years now. I include some statements from various sources relating to the YAP:
“Last year, the JCCV also set up the Youth Alcohol Project and has been working with our schools to combat issues like teenage binge drinking, something to which Jewish kids are certainly not immune.” — Malki Rose on Galus Australis
“The JCCV has responded strongly to information that Jewish youth as young as eleven and twelve are drinking alcohol in excessive amounts, Jewish teenage binge drinking appears to be rising and young Jewish females are drinking alcohol at a rate equal to the general teenage community.” — John Searle (via the JCCV)
“This month the JCCV Youth Alcohol Project Officer Debbie Zauder hosted Focus Groups for Year 6 Jewish School students and another for parents of Year 6 Jewish School students. The Focus Group aims were to inform the Youth Alcohol Project and the curriculum that the JCCV will deliver to the Jewish community in its forthcoming educational program on alcohol. Participants in both Focus Groups commented on the social, peer and in an increasing fashion parental pressure that Jewish youth experience to drink alcohol.” — Debbie Zauder (via AJN)
In addition, there have been a number of stories about the JCCV’s YAP in the Jewish print media recently. I attach one such story from June 22, 2012 at the end. In particular it’s worth noting this paragraph:
Debbie Zauder, JCCV Youth Alcohol Project (YAP) manager, explained that the DAW 2012 theme, “Look After Your Mind”, fits perfectly with the YAP education programs for Jewish schools. The programs offer students and parents the chance to hear experts in the alcohol and drug field discuss the short and long term effects alcohol has on the adolescent brain.
It seems, to me at least, that there’s a significant disconnect between the words that Nina Bassat said on JOY and what her organisation is actually doing. A more honest answer that Nina could have given Doug would be something along the lines of:
“The JCCV can’t actually be seen to be promoting homosexuality for fear of backlash from the Orthodox bloc of organisations that effectively control the JCCV. My hands are tied and as much as I would like to see intolerant behaviour toward homosexuality stamped out in the Jewish community, just like we are actively intolerant of anti-Semitism in the wider community, I have a job as President to keep and don’t want to risk a vote of no confidence that would see me being asked to step down. And that’s why you have seen no outcomes initiated by the JCCV further to the report.”
Whilst I’m on the topic of Orthodox, Nina Bassat went on in the interview to say (at 10:20):
“I think the Orthodox community is very open to discussion. … I don’t think our community is closed.”
To which I ask Nina why the JCCV has shut down all discussion about the submission that the Rabbinic Council of Victoria made to the Australian Senate stating their opposition to marriage equality. This submission goes against the recommendations of the JCCV’s report and is clearly an embarrassment to the JCCV.
Double standards much?
22 Jun 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
Community unites to topple teen tipple
“Recent research proves alcohol … does permanently affect the development … of the adolescent brain.” Debbie Zauder
JEWISH community leaders have joined together to show their support for this week’s Drug Action Week (DAW).
The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), David Southwick MP and Chevra Hatzolah have all spoken out in support of the initiative from the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (AODCA).
Debbie Zauder, JCCV Youth Alcohol Project (YAP) manager, explained that the DAW 2012 theme, “Look After Your Mind”, fits perfectly with the YAP education programs for Jewish schools. The programs offer students and parents the chance to hear experts in the alcohol and drug field discuss the short and long term effects alcohol has on the adolescent brain.
“Recent research absolutely proves that alcohol, especially binge drinking which is popular with Jewish teenagers, does permanently affect the development and condition of the adolescent brain,” Zauder said.
Nina Bassat, president of JCCV, said the media coverage of a Purim party in Melbourne earlier this year, in which several teens were treated for drunkenness, should serve as a stark reminder of the perils of binge drinking among our youths. model appropriate drinking behaviour and to fully discuss with their children their family’s values and expectations in relation to alcohol,” she said.
Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, RCV president, commented that “Excellent work has been done in educating school students through the YAP program, but clearly the message hasn’t got through to many older teens and adolescents.”
Member for Caulfield David Southwick said the state government was taking appropriate steps to educate parents.
“Thanks to the state government’s leadership here in Victoria we have legislation which makes it crystal clear that parents are responsible for ensuring young people do not engage in unsafe drinking practices. Parents can now face fines up to $7167 for allowing their kid’s friends to drink in their homes without parental consent, an act that was legal under previous laws.”
ALISON CALDWELL: What are your views regarding same sex marriage?
JOHN SEARLE: My views?
ALISON CALDWELL: Yes.
JOHN SEARLE: My personal views, I have no issues with it.
ELEANOR HALL: That is the chairman of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, John Searle. He was speaking with Alison Caldwell in Melbourne and Professor George is still Victoria’s deputy chief psychiatrist.
Well, a most welcome admission indeed. For a person who is out of character in making supportive public statements on GLBT issues, this admission that he “has no issues with it” is a quantum leap forward.
Only a pity he was unprepared to make such a declaration on GLBT matters during his recent term as President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria. Having done so would have actually assisted many in need in the community he was claiming to act in the best interests of.
With John Searle’s new-found support of marriage equality I’m sure the team at Equal Love will be booking him in to address the August 11 Equal Love Rally. They should be prepared for his unavailability though, with the rally being on a Saturday, so a pre-recorded address from him should suit nicely.
The report into vilification and discrimination of GLBT people in Melbourne’s Jewish community by the JCCV reveals that the JCCV is actually a part of the problem it is investigating.
The report of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s (JCCV) investigation into issues of vilification and discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the Jewish community was released this week.
Perhaps the only revelation in the “ground-breaking” 16 page report is the statement:
Of concern was the data provided by Hatzolah that indicates approximately one person under the age of 25 and one person over that age within the Jewish community attempts self harm or suicide per month.
From my discussions with Rabbi Mendel Kastel of the Jewish House in Sydney he told me he believed there were around 12 completed suicides per year in the Sydney Jewish community, a community that is comparable in size to that in Melbourne. Both these scenarios are disturbing. To the best of my knowledge there has never been a public conversation in Melbourne’s Jewish community on the topic of suicide prevention.
Disappointingly, yet unsurprisingly, this report has made scant mention of the positive stance on homosexuality and GLBT issues that exist in the strong and vibrant Progressive Jewish community in Victoria. The report takes a biased Orthodox stance on homosexuality at the outset and portrays this as the only Jewish stance on homosexuality. This is entirely disingenuous of the JCCV and is a symptom of the deep and ugly rift that exists between the Orthodox and Progressive sectors of the Jewish community.
The Progressive sector has over recent years becoming increasingly more accepting and inclusive of same-sex couples and GLBT people to the point that they have effectively become the model citizen of how a religious community can remove all barriers and discrimination facing GLBT people. The apex of their acceptance to date came in May 2011 when the Progressive rabbinate called for full marriage equality under Australian law.
Yet the JCCV’s report has taken the Orthodox interpretation of Jewish Law (Halacha) and painted it as the only interpretation of Jewish Law:
The reference group recognised that Jewish Halacha prohibits gay sexual behaviour and, according to orthodox rabbinic interpretation, lesbian sexual behaviour.
The JCCV is not obliged to agree with the Orthodox stance on homosexuality. The JCCV is simply an umbrella organisation representing a diverse and for the most part disparate range of perspectives on Judaism, none of which are absolute. For the JCCV to take a single approach to this issue further strengthens my understanding that they are pandering to their majority Orthodox member-base. They are not representing the entire community that they claim to be the voice of, but only the sector that is strategic for its survival.
The report shows the GLBT Reference Group has no formal representation from the Progressive community. In their official capacity as members of the JCCV executive both John Searle and Anton Block staunchly support the Orthodox community and the Orthodox attitude toward homosexuality. It would have been helpful if this bias had been included in the report, yet it was conveniently overlooked.
The report claims the reference group had a member of Jewish Care and a member of the Australian Jewish Psychologists on it. I would like to know the professional expertise each of these two people brought to the table. My understanding is that the psychologist on the reference group, Dr Ruth Kweitel, has a professional background in dealing with people who have gambling problems. If this person is no longer on the reference group, I sincerely hope the JCCV managed to find a person who has a relevant background in GLBT issues. Despite that, why were these two professionals not named in the report? Are they concerned their professional credibility or reputation will be tarnished by being named in a report investigating GLBT issues? Perhaps they too will become victims of the religious intolerance that exists in the community.
Another claim of the report is that a “third party” introduced the GLBT members of the reference group to the JCCV. I was that third party, as the contact for Aleph Melbourne. Read my blog on how the JCCV engaged this “third party”. It doesn’t look very good for the JCCV when a GLBT support group operating for over 16 years is referred to as a “third party” in the report, and further is completely ignored in the report and by the reference group, without explanation.
Higher on my list of disappointments about the JCCV and their GLBT Reference Group are the GLBT people who sit on the reference group. To be told by the JCCV that they must function within the constraint that Jewish law forbids homosexual behavior is deeply offensive and arrogant and it disappoints me that they tolerated this intolerance. I am most disappointed that Transgender Victoria’s Sally Goldner, one of Australia’s most outspoken transgender and human rights activists, would even sit on a reference group that upholds the belief that all gay men and women are not free to live as equal human beings in a community, to live with the same dignity and acceptance as the rest of society. Her reticence to speak to me or go public about her involvement with the reference group is evidence of her conflict in being on the reference group. Sadly her integrity in caring for the welfare of all GLBT people has been brought into question as far as I am concerned.
Continuing the disappointment is the JCCV’s use of language to describe the people it is investigating:
GLBT Jews within our community
GLBT members of the Jewish community
Jewish GLBT community members
Jewish members of the GLBT community
members of our GLBT community
members of the GLBT community
members of the GLBT Jewish community
members of the Jewish GLBT community
The people this report should be talking about are all people in the Jewish community. The problems are not just faced by “GLBT” people. The problems are faced by those people who are not able to talk about their sexual orientation or their gender identity because they have not been empowered to do so, or who believe they are not allowed to do so. They are the invisible people, the ones who are told they must conform, be heterosexual and get married to a person of the opposite sex. They are the people who find themselves in loveless relationships, or in relationships that put them at conflict with their personal desires. They are the children, the siblings, the parents, friends and relatives of everyone in the Jewish community. They are not “members” of any section of the community. They are the entire Jewish community.
I am not pleased about many aspects of this report, however I am pleased this report has been written because if nothing else, it highlights the topic of suicide and mental health issues that religious intolerance of homosexuality inflicts on same-sex attracted people. It also puts GLBT issues on the radar and has created a starting place that can be built upon. I am glad for this as it’s better than nothing.
It was singularly because of my concern for the welfare of both the visible and the invisible GLBT people in the community that I spearheaded the 1999 application for JCCV membership of Aleph. Now some 12 years later my efforts are beginning to pay off and a momentum is building. The road ahead is not going to be without significant challenges, but as the stalwarts of intolerance are increasingly displaced by a younger and more enlightened generation, I am confident that change for the better is inevitable.
I can only hope that the imminent change in JCCV presidency ushers in someone who has the necessary leadership skills, impartiality, competency, professionalism and selflessness to steer the JCCV in a direction that puts the welfare of all the people in the community it represents ahead of their own career prospects and ahead of the sensitivities of its various constituent organisations.
The JCCV refused to make a statement when two Israelis were shot in a Tel Aviv youth centre, yet they sent a representative to a September 11 2001 memorial to lay a wreath. Did not enough people die in Tel Aviv on August 1 2009 to satisfy the JCCV?
The United States Consulate General Melbourne in association with the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia held a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of September 11 2001 attacks on Sunday the 11th of September 2011 at the 9/11 Memorial Trees, Kings Domain, Melbourne.
The JCCV had a representative at this solemn occasion:
On August 11 2009, 10 days after the Tel Aviv attack where two Israelis where brutally murdered in a youth centre, I sent out an email asking a number of community leaders to speak up and condemn some anti-gay sentiments being published on a Jewish blog in Melbourne. The response to my email from John Searle, JCCV President, was:
From: John Searle <email@example.com>
Date: 12 August 2009 11:38
Subject: RE: Gay hate is rife in Jewish Australia on AJNwatch (resend)
To: Michael Barnett <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: Geoffrey Zygier
I was thinking we should have a chat about this over a coffee one day next week. I might even ask Geoffrey to join us. Can you make it one morning at 7.30 or 8.00 in the Caulfield area or does it have to be in the city in which case I would suggest 10.00 or 10.30?
I was thinking Wed next week.
We ended up meeting at John Searle’s house, the evening of Wednesday August 19, 2009. I was accompanied by Colin Krycer, also from Aleph Melbourne. At this meeting I politely asked John Searle to issue a statement from the JCCV condemning the attack in Tel Aviv. His response was that the JCCV doesn’t issue statements for many issues, of which this was but one. At this meeting I handed John Searle a printed copy of this letter that I had written, outlining a draft proposal for an anti-homophobia strategy for the Australian Jewish community. I subsequently sent through an electronic copy of it.
Through consultation, advocacy and working with government, other faith and ethnic communities, the media, service providers and the general public, the JCCV seeks to achieve the following goals:
And in partnership with the State Zionist Council of Victoria:
A more sophisticated public understanding of Israel’s efforts to achieve peace and security
Effective counteraction of misinformation on Israel, the Middle East and the Arab/Israel conflict
A more sophisticated public understanding of Israel in relation to contemporary Jewish identity.
I seem to be getting a number of messages from the JCCV.
They are prepared to make a public statement about the terrible attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001.
They are concerned about issues relating to peace and security in Israel.
They are concerned about contemporary Jewish identity in Israel.
They are not prepared to comment on the horrific death of two young Israelis killed in a youth centre in Tel Aviv.
I am really puzzled by the JCCV’s reluctance to be outspoken on an issue that is core to their agenda. What is so wrong with condemning an attack on young Israelis, given the Zionist and peace-loving nature of the JCCV? The only conclusion I can make, in comparison with their response to September 11, is that perhaps insufficient people were killed on August 1, 2009 in Tel Aviv to warrant a response from the JCCV.
I politely ask the JCCV to reconsider their stance on which international events they make statements on, especially when it comes to contemporary Israeli youth, and issue a belated and sincere statement about the 2009 attack. It’s not asking too much is it?
The new VEOHRC chairperson John Searle has spoken out against racial vilification, making reference to racial vilification legislation and stating that a placard portraying a swastika “represented a disgraceful and outrageous threat.”
Will Searle be as strident in his response to equivalent vilification on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity as he is to vilification on the grounds of race? He has a concerning record of ignoring the former when presented with it, claiming that by not giving it oxygen it will go away. He told me that in his house in August 2009.
On the basis of his aforementioned logic, Searle should be ignoring this anti-Jewish swastika-ridden placard, because in doing so the hate should magically vanish if ignored.
Searle has adopted an Orwellian approach to vilification – that all vilification is unacceptable, just that some vilification is more unacceptable. He is wrong. All vilification is equally unacceptable. All vilification needs to be stamped out, not by ignoring it, but by exposing it and eradicating it.
It is imperative for Searle to adopt the approach that no vilification is acceptable and to guide the VEOHRC to speak out strongly against discrimination and vilification on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity in Victoria. Is Searle willing to go this far for all Victorians?
John Searle has been appointed to the Victorian Equal Opportunity And Human Rights Commission as the chairperson of it’s board. He brings to this role an unimpressive record on GLBT human rights. Does he have what it takes to make a positive difference?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.