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


John Searle, a man whose words and actions walk different paths

June 7, 2011

Over the past month and a bit we’ve heard a number of messages from John Searle, President of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.

One of the most emphatic of these messages it that we must never turn a blind eye to prejudice, and that prejudice will not be tolerated.1

Another of these messages is that he was the victim of racial taunts when he was at school.2a

Then there’s the message that because of “threats” against the Jewish community it’s unfortunate that there have to be security guards outside Jewish schools and synagogues yet these people are making us all very proud and safe.2b

And lastly there’s the message that the Amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act are going to be good for the Jewish community, to make sure the right people get employed for the job (or as I like to say, to make sure the wrong people aren’t employed for the job).3

In summary, the self-proclaimed “leader” of Victoria’s Jewish community, a person who is familiar with being taunted for his difference, is telling us that we must never allow prejudice, and that we need to protect ourselves against threats of violence, but that it’s ok to prevent certain people from being employed because of their difference, despite the fact that they may be the best person for the job.

In case it’s not yet clear what I’m talking about, we’ve got a heterosexual male Jew telling the Jewish community that they mustn’t discriminate against homosexuals, yet it’s more than acceptable to discriminate against homosexuals, to make sure that religious organisations aren’t burdened with homosexual employees whose personal characteristics conflict with the anti-homosexual teachings of these religious organisations.

As Sue Pennicuik from the Victorian Greens says: “There is no place for discrimination in employment on the basis of personal characteristics”.4

In Victoria there are few places where Jews can’t be openly Jewish.  In Elsternwick and Caulfield you’ll find Jews wearing highly visible garments that identify themselves as Jewish.  In Melbourne CBD and on public transport you’ll find Jews wearing kippot, a religious head cover that immediately identifies them as Jewish.  For the most part these people can get about without being taunted, harrassed, being the victims of bullying or being brutalised.  Most of the time, although not always, as Menachem Vorchheimer will remind us.

By contrast, gay and bisexual men cannot walk down most streets in Melbourne holding hands, hugging or kissing each other or showing other respectable forms of affection or intimacy without abuse being hurled at them, taunted, intimidated or bashed within an inch of their lives.  I recently observed a heterosexual couple kiss passionately on the promenade at Southgate and not a single person looked twice or intruded on their personal space.  Yet if that couple were two men, or perhaps two women, I suspect most would do a double-take, or at best, if they were feeling vocal, tell them to get a room.

In the extreme, I’ve read news (here and here) of gay men in Melbourne being actively hunted as if it were a sport, simply to poofter bash, with death or permanent incapacity sometimes resulting.  This is not uncommon.  It will pay to check out the Anti-Violence Project map of violence reports, showing the location of incidents of violence against GLBT people and a description of what occurred.

In the Jewish community we have a “leader” of a community endorsing media releases quoting rabbis who state that accepting homosexuals to the community council will cause a division in the community.  The same “leader” states that it’s acceptable for orthodox Judaism to discriminate against homosexuals.  And the same “leader” endorses an act of parliament that allows religious organisations to discriminate against homosexuals.

Yet this “leader” tells us that we must never allow prejudice against homosexuals.  But this “leader” offers no protections for homosexual members of his community.  He offers no safe place for homosexual Jews in Victoria.  He offers no message that homosexuals are people like everyone else, to be treated with unconditional respect and with dignity.  He offers no gesture of welcome to homosexual Jews, to be who they are without fear of being taunted, or fear of being discriminated against, or fear of being excluded, or fear of being marginalised.

In fact he offers nothing of benefit for the homosexual Jews in Victoria, nor for the bisexual Jews or the transgender Jews.

Instead what John Searle does offer is further discrimination, further prejudice, further intolerance, further marginalisation and further invisibility.  His words unequivocally don’t match his actions, and that is unacceptable.  It is not the first time I have said this, and at this rate, it certainly won’t be the last.

Yom Hashoa Commemoration Evening – Speech by John Searle  [May 1 2011]

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.

JCCV Welcomes Amendments to Equal Opportunity Act  [May 6 2011]

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is delighted to see that the Victorian Government is proposing amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act as recently announced by the Attorney General, Robert Clark. In particular, the JCCV sees the amendments as rectifying anomalies in Victorian Equal Opportunity legislation as it relates to religious based schools and organisations.

JCCV president John Searle said that “the provisions that remove the inherent requirement test as it applies to faith based schools is a vast improvement for all Victorians and will ensure that all faith based schools will be able to hire staff who uphold the values and beliefs of the school and the school population. This is a very positive step for all those schools and organisations.”

Searle noted that “the amendments will ensure we have a fair balance between preventing discrimination and ensuring that schools and other organisations are able to employ people who conform with the value system and beliefs of the organisation. In this way, we will limit the possibilities for clashes, offence and tension in the workplace.”

Speech by J Searle at 2011 Yom Ha’atzmaut Cocktail Reception (and here)  [June 1 2011]

Of course, there are times when I am aware of being Jewish. I don’t remember when I first became aware of the fact that I was Jewish, but I do recall there were certain racial taunts at primary school and there were times I had to stand up for who I was or rather what I was; Jewish.

My kids have also had moments of discovery. I can recall the first time my they asked me with some bewilderment why there were no security guards at a non-Jewish school we were visiting. You see they had never seen a school without security guards. Unfortunately, as many in this room will realise, because of the threats against the Jewish community all our schools have guards.

All of our synagogues also have guards.

Imagine if every time you dropped your kids off at school, went to Church, Temple or your House of Worship you saw guards out the front. Often those guards or protectors come from the dedicated band of volunteers comprising the CSG and as I said earlier, in that way they are making us all very proud, and safe.

Media release: Greens MP stops Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill in the upper house  [June 3 2011]

This bill will allow faith-based organisations and schools to discriminate in employment matters on the basis of a person’s religious beliefs or activities, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity, without the current qualifier that the attribute must be an inherent requirement of the job (introduced by the previous government in 2010 in attempt to balance religious freedom with freedom from discrimination).

“However, neither the current act, nor the proposed changes balance religious freedom with the fundamental human rights of everyone to equality and protection against discrimination,” Ms Pennicuik said.

“There is no place for discrimination in employment on the basis of personal characteristics”, she said. “Employers should not be asking employees or job applicants about their personal lives. The only questions should be about qualifications and experience that are genuine requirements of the job”.


IBM – setting the standard for GLBT inclusion

April 20, 2011

IBM has been an advocate for equality for many years.  Since 1984 it has spoken out about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) equality and inclusion and has fought discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation:

[Source]
On September 21, 1953, Thomas Watson, Jr., the company’s president at the time, sent out a controversial letter to all IBM employees stating that IBM needed to hire the best people, regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or gender. He also publicized the policy so that in his negotiations to build new manufacturing plants with the governors of two states in the U.S. South, he could be clear that IBM would not build “separate-but-equal” workplaces.[30] In 1984, IBM added sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. The company stated that this would give IBM a competitive advantage because IBM would then be able to hire talented people its competitors would turn down.[31]

Today IBM released its 2010 IBM GLBT Inaugural Annual Report.  It’s remarkable that one of the most significant corporations on the planet has taken this positive step in demonstrating that everyone of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity in its workplace is valued and respected.  There are many organisations in which people are not encouraged to feel comfortable to be who they are and it’s in these workplaces where both the employee and employer suffer.

I’m confident IBM’s GLBT Annual Report will help lead the way for other organisations to show how they are also making their workplaces just as inclusive, productive and safe.

IBM and JOY 94.9 at the 2011 Melbourne Midsumma Carnival

IBM and JOY 94.9 at the 2011 Melbourne Midsumma Carnival

Lastly, I’m pleased to see my photo featuring IBM and Melbourne GLBT radio station JOY 94.9, taken at the 2011 Midsumma Carnival,  is included in the report on page 12.


Victorian Rhapsody: A post-Purim tale of Jewish Community Council arrogance as told by a bohemian queen

March 23, 2011

[SOURCE]

JCCV Contributes to Government Crackdown on Homophobic Intolerance
22 March 2011

JCCV president John Searle today applauded the Victorian Government for its intended introduction of legislation this week, providing for $7,000 fines for adults who misinform children that homosexuality is wrong.

Searle had met with new Attorney-General Robert Clark soon after Clark’s appointment and had proposed this very innovation. He noted that he was extremely gratified with the hearing he had received and delighted that the Government was on the same page and that prompt action has been taken.

According to Searle, the significance of this legislation is that it will educate the community about appropriate behaviour and encourage adults to consider their actions and their duty of care to others.

Searle stated, “It is well established that homophobic intolerance can cause serious harm to developing brains. It is incumbent on older people, particularly those in roles of responsibility, to educate children about human sexuality and also to act as role models in regard to their own behaviour.  If we expect young people to change their attitudes, we really need to focus on adults.”

“According to Suicide Prevention Australia (SPA)[1], gay, lesbian and bisexual people attempt suicide at rates of up to 14 times those of their heterosexual peers,” Searle added.  “This groundbreaking research announced in 2009 sets a benchmark for understanding the extent of this grave problem, all too prevalent in our community, perpetuated by too many adults.”

“SPA cautions that those belonging to religious faiths that promulgate negative discourses about homosexuality are particularly vulnerable to suicide and self-harm.  They also warn that conflicts between spiritual or religious beliefs and sexuality can result in significant psychological dissonance as well as division and exclusion from family, friends and community.”

The JCCV established a GLBT Reference Group some two years ago that has focused on revealing the issues affecting GLBT people in the Jewish community in response to pressure that the JCCV was directly contributing to this problem. This Reference Group has been seen as a whitewash and smokescreen to date but if taken seriously by the JCCV has the potential to actually achieve some useful outcomes.

For further information, contact John Searle, JCCV President, on 0412251344.

1 SPA: Suicide and self-harm among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Communities


WUPJ – The Jewish Superhero

February 25, 2011

[SOURCE]

It’s heartening to see the Progressive Jewish world working to reduce the isolation and marginalisation of same-sex attracted people.  Unconditional acceptance and inclusion is the only way this can be done effectively and it seems they are on track here.

Yes, there is the big elephant in the room about same-sex marriage, and there doesn’t appear to be a light at the end of that tunnel yet.  I am optimistic that when the federal government here in Australia removes the obstacles to marriage equality, the Progressive community will be open to discussing this issue in a sensible and respectful manner.  I would be happiest to hear them say they will fully support the evolution of the Marriage Act.

I have included below a communication from Philip Bliss, President of Progressive Judaism Victoria and the Chair of the World Union For Progressive Judaism Resolutions Committee.  It contains the relevant resolution passed at the recent WUPJ assembly in San Francisco.  Clearly this is a step in the right direction.  I have asked Philip Bliss to have his committee consider including mention of bisexuality and gender identity, and reminded them that same-sex attracted people generally find the term “sexual orientation” favourable over “sexual preference”.

A hearty Mazal Tov to the Progressive community.  They are great advocates of human rights and equality and set a high benchmark for others to follow.

Dear Michael
In response to your email
As chair of the WUPJ resolutions committee I was delighted that the resolution below was passed by a huge majority (only one vote against) at our recent WUPJ convention in San Francisco. I also gave on interview on the GLT radio station Swirl a few days after.
I would say that this resolution covers the attitude of the UPJ and PJV here in Victoria
Sincerely
Philip Bliss President PJV


2) WUPJ Resolution on Gender and Sexual Equality
Whereas this International body of the World Union for Progressive Judaism condemns all forms of bigotry and discrimination in our society as being  incompatible with the preservation of human dignity which is destructive of tzelem elohim.
And whereas the WUPJ upholds the principle of treating all people equally whether by gender, age, colour or sexual preference.
And whereas the WUPJ has long championed full equality of women in our movement and in society generally.
IT IS RESOLVED that this International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism  calls on all institutions, colleges, congregations and youth groups to give equal opportunity to gay and lesbian members,  especially in terms of leadership and learning and to be aware of gender issues when developing study curriculum
IT IS FURTHER RESOLVED that this International Assembly of the World Union for Progressive Judaism calls on all institutions associated with the WUPJ to treat gay and lesbian couples in the same manner as married heterosexual couples and families.  This call includes commitment ceremonies, and family membership fees.


GLBTI, Jewish and enrolled to vote in Melbourne Ports or Wentworth?

August 1, 2010

With the federal election looming, there are a number of political parties offering to fight for increased rights and equality of GLBTI people and families.  The key parties offering this are the Greens, the Australian Sex Party and the Secular Party of Australia.  The Liberal Party offers no hope for advancing the rights of GLBTI people and families in Australia.  The Australian Labor Party has previously advanced the rights for GLBTI people and removed a lot of the discrimination that we had been facing, however it is currently not prepared to turn around any significant existing discrimination facing GLBTI people, most notably in the area of marriage.

The Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group (TGLRG) has set up a web site “Moving Forward“.  They have surveyed a number of political parties and posted their responses online.  Take some time to read these survey responses.  TGLRG will post responses from other political parties as they are received.

The electorates of Melbourne Ports (VIC) and Wentworth (NSW) contain the largest Jewish populations in the country.  They both also contain significant gay, lesbian and bisexual populations.

The Greens’ Sue Plowright, the Australian Sex Party’s Christian Vega and the Secular Party’s Gregory Storer are candidates in Melbourne Ports.  The Greens’ Matthew Robertson and the Secular Party’s John August are candidates in Wentworth.  [I have provided links here for candidate's web sites that I am aware of.  I will post others if they are brought to my attention.]

If you are in Melbourne Ports, LIVE are running a candidates forum on August 10.  Click here for details and to RSVP.  You can also send a question to the candidates via the web site.

If you are in Wentworth, Network (for Jewish young adults who are searching for, questioning and celebrating their Jewish identity) are running a pre-election candidate forum on August 11.  Click here for details and to register.

As I become aware of further such meetings or supportive candidate details prior to the election I will post them to my blog.  If you have any relevant details feel free to post a comment below.  Thanks.

Michael.


Israel’s national GLBT association receives award from President Shimon Peres

May 24, 2010

Israel’s national gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) association, the Agudah, has received an award for volunteerism by the President of Israel Shimon Peres.  That’s quite an achievement.  Read the story in Hebrew here or a translated version here.


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