Interview on the Manny Waks Hour, Feb 13 2014

February 15, 2014

Interview on the Manny Waks Hour on J-Air, Feb 13 2014.

“Manny Waks talks Education with Yossi Goldfarb. He talks to Michael Barnett about being gay and Jewish. Devorah Leah Waks calls from Israel for (The Waks Effect) segment.”

Skip to 29 minutes in to hear me, aptly just after the Barbra Streisand song.


Australian Jewish community leadership abandons concern for persecution of gays

December 21, 2013

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.


Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic | ABC Religion Report

October 30, 2013

Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic

Wednesday 19 May 1999 8:30AM

This week on The Religion Report.

The Pope’s visit to Romania begins to heal the thousand year rift with the Orthodox.

The religiously backed conservative coalition in Israel has been defeated at a general election.

And, the newly elected world leader of the Salvation Army declares the movement should be more flexible about its rigid non-sacramentalism.

Transcript

The Religion Report 19th May, 1999

John Cleary: Today is about fundamental change, from Melbourne to Romania.
SFX: POPE IN ROMANIA

Last week, the Pope made an historic trip to Bucharest, the first time in a thousand years the Roman Pontiff has walked Orthodox streets as a religious leader.

Also today, the Salvation Army has elected a new world leader who signals fundamental change in this worldwide religious and charitable movement; Salvationists may soon be taking the sacraments.

But first to the pressure of change closer to home, and the issue of homosexuality in religion is once again the cause of a deepening split, this time in the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria.

Orthodox members of the Council are maintaining their rage over moves by a gay Jewish organisation called ALEPH Melbourne, to join. While ALEPH has so far failed in its bid to be an affiliate member, there are renewed threats from Orthodox groups that they’ll quit in protest is ALEPH is accepted.

And today, a provocative invitation for the JCCV, (Jewish Communities Council) President, Dr Phillip Bliss, to step down over his very support of ALEPH.

Toni Hassan spoke to Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky and the head of ALEPH, Michael Barnett, and prepared this report.

Ronald Lubofsky: The JCCV was very seriously threatened by this. There are a number of organisations that would have possibly seceded from the board had this been successful.

Michael Barnett: These are the sorts of attitudes that really do the most damage to people who are having troubles dealing with their sexuality. That’s why we have such a high youth suicide rate.

Ronald Lubofsky: There are certain things which they don’t like talking about, but they have done now because it’s forced into the open and is sort of they want to enter into Jewish schools, into sex education. And this is something which will ring the alarm bells with Jewish parents.

Michael Barnett: There’s nothing whatsoever in our organisation’s objectives or ideals to say that we are going to infiltrate or we’re going to convert or we’re going to subvert or whatever. We’re just a very straightforward support group and social organisation, we don’t have a hidden agenda.

Toni Hassan: Some of the high emotion echoed at a recent meeting of the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria. On one side is ALEPH Melbourne, a group whose objective is to provide assistance, support and companionship for gay and bisexual Jewish men. Michael Barnett is the group’s President.

Michael Barnett: The objection to our application was that a homosexual or gay organisation is contravening Jewish law because homosexual practice is one of the forbidden acts in Jewish law. In Leviticus 18, 22 it says -

Toni Hassan: Well that’s commonly argued. How do you get around that?

Michael Barnett: It’s not an issue for me. I mean I’m not a religious Jew and if I was, it wouldn’t bother me either way I don’t think, because that’s me as a person doing what I want to do. But that doesn’t come in to our organisation. Our organisation isn’t set up for the practice of homosexuality, it’s for the support of homosexuals, which is a slightly different issue, very subtle.

Toni Hassan: And do you think the Rabbis, the conservative Rabbis who rejected your proposal, do not see that distinction?

Michael Barnett: Oh well, they may see it, but they choose to ignore it I believe. They are very stubborn people, they stick to the letter of their law and it may be a guise for homophobia, it may not be. But either way it has no bearing on the JCCV, it’s not an issue as far as I’m concerned, or our members are concerned.

Toni Hassan: Ronald Lubofsky is Rabbi Emeritus at the St Kilda Synagogue. For him the inclusion of ALEPH amounts to tampering with the Ten Commandments.

Ronald Lubofsky: The core of the philosophy, the religious philosophy, the political philosophy of being Jewish, is in the written word. The Christians call it the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some would reduce it to the Ten Commandments etc. and that excludes the notion of homosexuality, and as a consequence it’s a contradiction in terms. You simply cannot consider the two ideals as being compatible. So true enough, the members of this group are Jewish and it may well be that they are secular in their intent, but I’m afraid that as a group, as an organisation, they cannot claim parity as individuals absolutely. This is a point which I and others have made, that Jewish gay people, lesbian people, they can join synagogues, they can join the organisations which are represented under the umbrella of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, they can be the Presidents of those organisations, but as an organisation, as an ideology, they’re not compatible.

Toni Hassan: Doesn’t the JCCV, the Council in Victoria, recognise sporting organisations, many voluntary organisations of that nature?

Ronald Lubofsky: Yes, what you’re saying in actual fact is a point of view which many espouse, but there is simply no comparison. You’re talking here of fundamentals of life, you’re not dealing here with a sporting organisation where people make a choice to do this or to do that. These are individuals who do not produce families, these are individuals who perform sexually in a way which is aberrant, to say the least, with regard to Judaism. It is something which runs counter to the fundamentals of Judaism, that is the family unit. It’s not simply playing a sport.

Toni Hassan: What’s really got under the noses of Orthodox groups affiliated with the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria is the public support given to ALEPH Melbourne by the Council’s President, Dr Phillip Bliss. Without his support, the matter wouldn’t not have seen the light of day. Rabbi Lubofsky.

Ronald Lubofsky: If he followed the Westminster rules, he should resign, because it was something that he espoused, it was a motion that he himself moved. He now indicates he’s prepared to take it further. He’s going to endanger this organisation as a result of his monocular vision.

Toni Hassan: Are you calling on him to resign?

Ronald Lubofsky: No, I’m not, I’m just saying that he should. That would be a normal procedure in any other organisation. If there’s something which the President wants his organisation to follow and he is prepared to go as far as he was, knowing how controversial the whole thing was, and that it could well have his organisation disintegrate, and he was roundly defeated under those circumstances I’m surprised that he’s still there.

[unrelated content deleted]

Thanks to Toni Hassan and John Diamond for production.


A letter to Kelvin Thomson

August 13, 2013

August 13, 2013

Dear Mr Thomson,

A little over 17 years ago you addressed the Parliament and people of Australia for the first time.  Kindly allow me to reflect on a few concepts in your first speech.

Appropriately you thanked those who helped elect you, the people your purpose is to serve.  You noted it’s the everyday things that can make the difference:

First, I would like to thank the people of the electorate of Wills for the confidence that they have shown in me by electing me.

The people of Wills have had the opportunity to see me in action as a member of the state parliament for the past seven years and before that as a Coburg councillor. Many have told me that they voted for me because they liked my attention to local work and to ordinary constituent problems, no matter how trivial they may seem. That places on me a responsibility to continue that work, and I place on record here my intention to continue doing just that.

You spoke on the past sufferings of those who chose Australia for their new home, a land where they could be live happier than their forebears and have greater freedoms:

Thirdly, I want to say something about why we are all here—not in this parliament but in this continent. Although Australia is an old continent it is in fact a very young nation. I think the reasons why we are all here tell us something about what our public policy objectives ought to be. So why are we here on this island? We came here because we, our parents or a previous generation came to escape features of our former societies which were intolerable and came here in search of new opportunity.

You spoke of equality and generosity:

Some of us have come in search of social equality, from countries with stifling class systems, countries in which power, wealth and opportunity were concentrated in the hands of a few. So we owe to ourselves a spirit of generosity and compassion towards those who are less well off and a spirit of cooperation between employer and employee. We do not need the dog-eat-dog mentality of America, or Britain’s underclass.

You spoke of freedoms:

Some of us have come in search of democracy and freedom of expression, fleeing totalitarian regimes, military dictatorships and countries in which rigid conformism was the order of the day. So we owe to ourselves freedom of expression, freedom of association and the right to join trade unions, and we also owe to ourselves respect for differing points of view.

You spoke of repression and also of tolerance and respect:

Some of us have come in search of racial and religious tolerance, escaping ethnic conflict and brutal tribal repression. So, finally, and perhaps in the present age of atrocities in Yugoslavia and other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa most importantly, we owe to ourselves the creation of a community based on mutual tolerance, respect and understanding.

Mr Thomson, your first speech is commendable as it shows you have a strong social conscience and that you care about the people of Australia.  However it perturbs me that given your values, you do not support equal rights for all Australians.  Nearly one year ago, on September 19 2012, you were one of the 98 who voted against marriage equality.  Why?

You told us that you care for what your electorate wants.  Overwhelmingly they want marriage equality.  The 2010 New Ltd Same-Sex Marriage Poll shows 57% of voters in Wills want marriage equality.  Together with the 18% of voters who are indifferent, 75% of voters in Wills are not against marriage equality.

You said you care about the ordinary things that matter.  For many people, being able to live a dignified existence, in a relationship with the person they love, is very very ordinary.  It’s not about winning the Nobel Prize or climbing Mt Everest.  It’s about being a person in society, the same as everyone else.  Getting married and sharing that experience with your friends and family is pretty darn ordinary if you ask me.  Putting a ring on it and having a few photos, that’s ordinary stuff Mr Thomson.

What happened to your concern for equality, for generosity, freedoms, escaping repression, showing tolerance, respect and understanding?  I trust you still hold true to those values.  But I don’t see you showing them, because Mr Thomson, on September 19 2012 you voted against equality.  On that day you showed an absence of generosity, you were unprepared to revoke the repressive legislation restricting the freedoms of all Australians on who they can choose to marry, and you showed an unfortunate lack of tolerance, respect and understanding.

Mr Thomson, my partner Gregory has a sister who lives in your electorate of Wills.  She passionately wants to be able to see us get married.  I would be surprised if she entertained the very thought of voting for a person who actively denied us the right to get married.  57% of your electorate also want to see people like us be able to get married.  Are you so comfortable in your seat that you can afford to casually dismiss the views of the majority of the people you are elected to represent?

September 7 2013 is Judgement Day Mr Thomson.  Wouldn’t you rather you were returned to office, especially because you supported equality and freedoms?  It’s an easy decision to make and doing so will put you on the right side of history.  It’s never too late to say sorry and make amends.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett.
Ashwood, VIC.


When saying No To Homophobia can look more like window dressing than genuine support for a cause

June 21, 2013

On June 3 the City of Darebin Council passed the following motion:

City of Darebin logo

THAT building on its support for the No to Homophobia campaign expressed on 10 December 2012, Council commit to No to Homophobia’s ‘Promise Campaign’, thereby ‘giving its word to stand up against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Always’

Impressive.

In March this year, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria announced they were joining the No To Homophobia campaign.  At their May 6 plenum meeting they advised they would not pass a motion in support of saying No To Homophobia or calling others to do so, and instead simply made an informal recommendation to its affiliates:

JCCV logo

MOTIONS BEFORE THE PLENUM

The motions on the agenda regarding the ‘No to Homophobia’ campaign and Child Protection were actually recommendations to the JCCV affiliates and not motions which needed to be voted upon. Nina Bassat read the recommendations to the Plenum on the ‘No to Homophobia’ Campaign and the offer from the Child
Protection Reference Group.

Nina Bassat requested that Affiliates advise the JCCV if they sign up to the ‘No To Homophobia’ campaign, and requested that Affiliates respond to the questions in the Child Protection Briefing Paper prepared by Andrew Blode and presented at
the Council of Presidents.

Not so impressive.

This week I asked the JCCV if a motion was put to their plenum that preceded their March announcement to support No To Homophobia, given that there was no minuted record of it in their March plenum minutes.  They were unable to provide confirmation of such but advised me they would make enquiries to establish if there was.  Watch this space.

window dressing

And so, here we have two sizeable organisations who have both signed up to saying No To Homophobia, the City of Darebin which has made a firm documented commitment to the cause at council level, and the JCCV, not so much.  A pity really, because in the absence of such a motion their level of commitment could be perceived to be lacklustre.


Australian Society for Polish Jews says No To Homophobia

June 4, 2013

ASPJ logoIt just came to my attention that The Australian Society of Polish Jews and Their Descendents Inc., a little known organisation in Melbourne’s relatively small Jewish community, signed up as an Organisational Supporter of the No To Homophobia campaign in early May this year.

A testament to their support of No To Homophobia is the addition of the No To Homophobia logo to their web site:

ASPJ says No To Homophobia

(As I write this article, the inaugural Jewish organisation to support No To Homophobia, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, does not yet sport the No To Homophobia logo on their own web site.  Hopefully they will see there is merit in proudly saying No To Homophobia, just like the ASPJ have done.)

Following the lead of the JCCV signing up to No To Homophobia in March this year, the ASPJ are to be congratulated on being the first individual organisation in the Victorian Jewish community to sign up to No To Homophobia.

I hope their lead paves the way for many more organisations to also say No To Homophobia.


Responding to Corey: there’s an elephant in the room at the JCCV and it’s far from kosher

April 28, 2013

Yesterday I wrote a blog “The JCCV Puppet Show 2013“.  Today Corey posted a comment on it:

Personally I think this is childish and unwarranted.

No organisation or community has EVER gone from “homophobic” to “acceptance” over night. There has always been some with an organisation who harbour their old prejudices.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t benefit in doing SOMEthing rather than NOthing…

All this cartoon tells me is that the author has been so personally hurt by some in the JCCV that his pain is too great to see any glimmer of good in their action towards inclusive behaviour.

Perhaps my message was too subtle for Corey, so I will elaborate (although I hoped this would have been clear from the Aleph Melbourne media release issued on March 28).

The JCCV has put their name to the No To Homophobia campaign.  Any ordinary person would understand this to mean that they say no to homophobia.  Not just some homophobia, but all homophobia.  By comparison, take the issue of anti-Semitism, which is an area of concern for the JCCV.  They have the Anti-Defamation Commission to look after that for them, and through the ADC they attempt to stamp out all anti-Semitism.

Now from my humble perspective, when I read that the JCCV has signed up to No To Homophobia, I trust they are actually taking this initiative seriously and with no less concern for homophobia than they have for anti-Semitism.

But here’s the thing.  There’s a big fat elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and that’s the biblical prohibition on homosexuality, Leviticus 18:22, that the Orthodox section of the Jewish community feel compelled to uphold.  It’s about as black and white as it gets: Homosexual sex is forbidden.  Now if that’s not homophobic, then nothing is.  Incidentally, the Orthodox community seem to have no qualms about not stoning to death those who commit homosexual activity, as required under Leviticus 20:13, although maybe that’s because civilised societies don’t stone people to death any more (much like civilised societies aren’t actually intolerant of homosexuality any more).

Leviticus Elephant

The JCCV Leviticus Elephant

I mention Leviticus 18:22 because in 2013 the Orthodox leadership in the community are steadfastly intolerant of homosexuality, and further, are intolerant of equal recognition of homosexual relationships under the law and under the religion.  You may wonder why this is an issue here.  Let me tell you.  If the JCCV is going to call for no homophobia in the Jewish community, then this means it is calling for no intolerance of homosexual people, no intolerance of homosexual relationships and no intolerance of homosexuality.

And this is an impossible situation for the JCCV because the Orthodox member organisations of the JCCV are not suddenly going to start embracing homosexuality just because the JCCV has signed up to No To Homophobia.  And further, the JCCV will willingly continue to accept the not-insubstantial membership dues (and any other financial contributions) of these organisations that are currently intolerant of homosexuality.  It should be noted that the spiritual leaders of many of these organisations belong to the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, itself unaffiliated with the JCCV, that made a submission to the Australian Senate calling for the homophobic discrimination in the Marriage Act to remain in place.

There is no amount of “good-will” that the JCCV can dish up that will make any thinking person believe it is sincere about saying no to homophobia while it actively nurtures organisations that themselves are actively intolerant of homosexuality in the Jewish and wider community.  It’s that simple.

Lastly, for those who say “Saying no to homophobia is a start, even if it’s just saying it” (and no, that doesn’t cut the “we don’t tolerate some anti-Semitism” test), how about the JCCV actually does something practical, like any one of these:

  • Recommend all Jewish schools join up to Safe Schools Coalition Victoria
  • Recommend the government doesn’t exempt religious organisations from discriminating against LGBTI people in Anti-Discrimination legislation
  • Call for the removal of discrimination in the Marriage Act that prevents same-sex attracted and intersex members of the Jewish community from getting married
  • Rebuking members of the community, lay and spiritual, who make public homophobic claims, such as that of Rabbi Shimon Cowen, Rabbi Chaim Ingram, Dr Miriam Grossman, Robert Weil, Ilana Leeds, and the “AJN Watch” blog.  Their standard yelp “Don’t give them oxygen” simply doesn’t cut it, considering just how strongly they rebuke purveyors of anti-Semitism
  • Establish a properly funded rigorous investigation into the rate of self-harm and suicide from members of the Jewish community who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Extend an invitation to LGBTI Jewish organisations to become members of the JCCV, as an act of goodwill (especially considering they rejected the last application from a long-established LGBTI Jewish organisation)
  • Start praising the stellar work of the Progressive and Conservative Jewish communities.

I hope that this explains why the JCCV must prove that it is actually engaging with the community to break down homophobia and not just taking the lazy way out (in order to tick the “We’re LGBTI inclusive” box on government grant applications, to ensure its funding sources don’t dry up).  Until then it will remain nothing more than a three-ring circus replete with puppet and clown show.


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