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.


Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia | ABC PM

October 30, 2013

Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia

Alison Caldwell reported this story on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 18:34:00

Listen to MP3 of this story ( minutes)
Alternate WMA version | MP3 download

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.

MARK COLVIN: Alex Fein the author of the blog known as the sensiblejew.wordpress.com, ending Alison Caldwell’s report.


Daniel Baker’s 2009 letter to the JCCV

February 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


Clarifying the authority of the ECAJ

January 11, 2013

Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
PO Box 6100
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600
Australia
legcon.sen@aph.gov.au

January 11 2013

Dear Committee Secretary,

I wish to clarify some potentially misleading information presented in submission #242 by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) on the Exposure Draft of Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

The ECAJ describes itself as “the officially elected representative organisation of the Australian Jewish Community and speaks on its behalf.”

If you review the ECAJ web-site (www.ecaj.org.au) you will see on the front page it lists its constituents and affiliates.  These are the organisations and communities it represents.  To help you understand this better, let me give you an example.

One of the constituents of the ECAJ is the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.  The JCCV represents approximately 60 member organisations in the Victorian Jewish community.  There are many organisations it does not represent, including a number of schools, synagogues and other organisations.  The JCCV claims to be the voice of the Victorian Jewish community, yet it has no authority to be the speak on behalf of the organisations it does not actually represent.  Similarly, the ECAJ has no authority to claim to represent those organisations, communities or citizens who are not affiliated with its constituents.

It is also important to understand that the ECAJ does not represent in any way the best interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the Jewish community.  The ECAJ, and its constituents have no formal GLBTI representation, and have never engaged in any formal consultation with the GLBTI community to understand and cater for the specific needs of this highly disadvantaged, marginalised and victimised minority section of its community.

In fact it is clear from the ECAJ submission to your committee that they believe GLBTI people should not have any protection under anti-discrimination legislation.  The ECAJ also give tacit approval that same-sex couples should be denied the right to equality under the Marriage Act, which is further evidence that the ECAJ do not represent the interests of GLBTI people.

To this end you will have a better understanding that not only do the ECAJ not represent the entire Australian Jewish community, but they do not and cannot speak on its behalf.  Further, I can state with absolute authority that the ECAJ do not speak on behalf of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in the Jewish community.

Finally, I would like to make it clear that it is imperative that anti-discrimination legislation afford full protection to people on the grounds of gender identity, gender expression, biological sex characteristics and sexual orientation.

I will be glad to assist in clarifying any of this information.

Sincerely,

Michael Barnett
Convenor
Aleph Melbourne
www.aleph.org.au
0417-595-541


Jewish Gays still excluded from Victoria Police Jewish Community reception

June 22, 2012

For the third consecutive year Aleph Melbourne, the only organisation representing GLBT people in the Melbourne Jewish community, has not received an invitation to attend this year’s Victoria Police Jewish community reception.  This year’s cocktail party was organised in conjunction with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), as it was in previous years.  Aleph Melbourne was invited to the 2008 and 2009 Victoria Police Jewish Community reception dinners.

I was advised by Bruce Colcott of Victoria Police in advance of the 2011 Victoria Police Jewish community cocktail reception:

The organisers invited those members of the Jewish Community who hadn’t been given an opportunity in the past to attend  to represent their organisations.

Giving the benefit of the doubt, it would be fair to say that with the number of organisations in the Jewish community, “the organisers” would have been able to include everyone they had previously overlooked in their 2010 and 2011 events.  It staggers me to think that with 100 police and over 70 members of the Jewish community in attendance, there wouldn’t have been enough room to invite one more person.

In their 2011 GLBT Reference Group report, the JCCV said that all community organisations should adopt a policy prohibiting discrimination and vilification based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity and that it was clear that Jewish members of the GLBT community are subjected to discrimination, harassment and abuse because of their sexuality.

It would seem that the JCCV haven’t followed their own advice and Aleph Melbourne continues to be discriminated against by them and some of the wider Jewish community.

I question whether there is some sinister motivation for the ongoing exclusion of the most vulnerable, marginalised, and excluded group of people from such an event.  Victoria Police have not been able to come up with a credible reason why there has been such an “oversight” on previous occasions.

Does Victoria Police have a policy of excluding GLBT organisations from these types of events?  If not, why the ongoing exclusion?  It doesn’t bode well for their liaison with the GLBT community.


22 Jun 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
AJN STAFF

Cops, Jews come together

THERE was no emergency call and no suspicious characters or packages that led 100 police to descend on Beth Weizmann Community Centre earlier this month. There was, however, plenty of goodwill and friendship, as the Men in Blue and the Jewish community came together for their annual reception.

Commander Ashley Dickinson chats with hate-crime victim Menachem Vorchheimer.

“We are fortunate to enjoy warm and productive
relationships with Victoria Police at all levels.”
Nina Bassat
JCCV president

Now in its sixth year, the cocktail function saw Victoria Police men and women and over 70 members of the Jewish community, as well as representatives from other ethnic communities, celebrate diversity.

“This night is a significant occasion on the police calendar and indicates the commitment of the force to community engagement as a mainstream policing strategy,” said commander Ashley Dickinson, who acted as host and emcee on the evening alongside deputy commissioner Tim Cartwright.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president Nina Bassat thanked police for the way they handled recent protests outside Parliament House, which was hosting a cocktail party to celebrate Israel’s 64th birthday at the time. Anti-Israel demonstrators screamed abuse, called for the destruction of the Jewish State and burned an effigy of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.

“We are fortunate to enjoy warm and productive relationships with Victoria Police at all levels,” she said.

“This enables us to feel as a community that our voices are heard, and that we can count on VicPol to do their utmost to ensure our safety,” she added.

A Q&A session with a young member of the police force and a performance by Leibler-Yavneh College’s a cappella choir followed.


Pride March 2012 and Habo joins the ranks

February 7, 2012

Sunday Feb 5 2012 saw the 17th Victorian Pride March.  The weather forecast was 33 degrees C, windy and thunderstorms.  I guess that’s Melbourne for you.

There were close on 120 entrants in the parade (that’s organisations, not people), which is a remarkable effort.  Check out the march order for the who’s who.

I was again running the Aleph Melbourne entry, ably assisted by Mike and Doobie.  Through the powers of social networking and the Internet we pulled together a pleasingly sized group of guys and girls of all ages to fly the flags and show their queer pride and cultural heritage.

Joining the team this year was a straight ally, Dr Mark Cherny.  I was especially pleased Mark came on board as he is trying hard to break down the barriers and isolation for same-sex attracted people in the Jewish community.

One of the highlights for me at Pride March this year was seeing Habonim Dror (or just “Habo”) enter a contingent.  Habo is a mainstream Jewish youth organisation with a strong social justice conscience.  When I was in New York watching the pride parade there in 2007 I was overwhelmed seeing Habo flying a massive flag and fielding a strong presence.  At first I couldn’t believe my eyes, but gradually my disbelief was replaced by exhilaration, and an ear to ear grin.  Wow.

And the Habo Wow has continued over the last few years here in Melbourne, with increasing numbers of Habo members joining the Equal Love Marriage Equality rallies in Melbourne.  These young adults are amongst the best role models I have seen in ages.  Most are not queer, but they are passionately supportive of queer equality and are prepared to stand up and show their support.

And on a windy Melbourne day in Fitzroy Street, a large group of Habo members turned up, in uniform, accompanied by placards of support and made a strong statement in support for queer equality.  Thank you.

I look forward to the 2013 Pride March and the return of Habo, and Mark, and Mike (and his two Poochons) and Doobie and the rest of the great team, and hopefully many other supportive Jewish (youth) organisations, from a community that is learning gradually that it’s better to include than exclude.

P.S.  I’ve posted my photos from the day on Picasa and Facebook.  You can see my photos and blogs from previous pride marches here.


Josh Frydenberg and the UN Holocaust Memorial Day 2012

January 26, 2012

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is January 27.  The Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne, Australia held a commemoration for this solemn occasion on Thursday January 25, 2012 (to avoid a clash with the Jewish Sabbath).

In keeping with the tradition of having a representative of the GLBT community to attend the commemoration, Colin Krycer of Aleph Melbourne accepted the invitation to light a candle in memory of the tens of thousands of homosexual men who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.

Colin Krycer lights a candle in memory of the homosexual victims of the Holocaust

Colin Krycer lights a candle in memory of the homosexual victims of the Holocaust

Federal member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg MP, delivered the keynote address on the evening.

Josh Frydenberg MP delivers the keynote address

Josh Frydenberg MP delivers the keynote address

I feel compelled to express my reservations with the selection of Josh Frydenberg as keynote speaker at this event.  My reservations stem from the fact that Josh Frydenberg wishes to deny equal rights for homosexual Australians and calls for a second-class status for the registration of same-sex relationships.

My view is that marriage is a unique relationship between a man and a woman. It is much more than a simple debate about preferred terminology.

Relationships between same sex couples are equally special but nevertheless by definition different.

These relationships are to be respected and valued for the love that they bring and the families that they build. However, the term marriage should not apply.

Civil unions, however, should be an alternative.

I know many people in our community, particularly those younger than me will not agree with my view on same sex marriage.

I hope they respect my view as I do theirs.

In the Holocaust homosexual men were denied equality and treated as lesser citizens, with reduced rights and status.  There is no place for any discrimination against homosexual men and women in Australian society.

Aside from the possibility of a same-sex couple producing a biological child belonging to both parents, same-sex relationships are equal in every way to opposite-sex relationships, including those opposite-sex relationships where a biological child is not a viable or a desired option.

I ask Josh Frydenberg to understand this reality and to join the increasing ranks of Australians who understand that marriage equality, a definition of marriage that does not discriminate on the basis of gender, is in the best interests of all Australians.


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