The ECAJ should look at it’s policy on Social Inclusion

January 16, 2013

I’ve written recently on how the Executive Council of Australian Jewry believes anti-discrimination legislation should not protect people on the grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation.  I’ve also written on how the ECAJ believe our society should be “inclusive” (that’s the ECAJ’s version of “inclusive”, which means everyone except gays and lesbians).

In The Age today the topic of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in relation to discrimination against lesbians and gays was raised, and the following reported:

Jews ”don’t have a position on this”, Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said.

Perhaps the ECAJ has forgotten the extreme discrimination that the Jewish people have suffered in recent and distant times?  Maybe the words “Six Million” might ring a bell?  Or “Pogroms”?  Or “Spanish Inquisition”?  Or “Pharaoh” and “Egypt”?  In the history of the Jewish people there has been no shortage of persecution.  Yet the ECAJ claim they don’t have a position on discrimination against lesbians and gays.

Hop on over to their web site and have a look at their Platform, in particular Section 1.1 on Social Inclusion:

1.1 NOTES that it is the vision of the ECAJ to create and support a community in which all Australians, including all Jewish Australians:
(a) feel valued and their cultural differences are respected;
(b) have a fair opportunity to meet their material and other needs; and
(c) are equally empowered as citizens to participate in and contribute to all facets of life in the wider community;

Given that the ECAJ want a society in which all Australians feel valued, have a fair opportunity, and are equally empowered to participate in and contribute to all facets of life, they actually do “have a position on this”.

The correct and only response from the ECAJ should be “We condemn all forms of discrimination, especially that perpetrated against persecuted minorities, and support an Australia where all people are treated equally.”

It’s not asking too much, is it?


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.


Ban Ki-moon on same-sex relationships and ending discrimination against GLBT people

March 23, 2012

A response from SBS to the ECAJ’s complaint about “The Promise”

January 18, 2012

Consider this conversation* between Sally Begbie, SBS Ombudsman and Peter Wertheim, ECAJ Executive Director regarding the ECAJ complaint about the screening of “The Promise”, a situation that has even made the mainstream media.

SALLY BEGBIE:  Hi Peter.  It’s Sally Begbie from SBS calling.  It’s about the letter we’ve received from you regarding The Promise.

PETER WERTHEIM:  Hi Sally.  Thanks for calling.  How may I help you?

SALLY:  I’ve read the complaint, all 31 pages.  It took me a while to get through the document.  Very thorough and comprehensively researched I’ll have to admit.

PETER:  Indeed.

SALLY:  It’s about stereotyping, and discrimination of Jewish people.  Those are the main concerns?

PETER:  Yes, that’s correct.  Stereotyping, discrimination, negative attitudes of Jews.

SALLY:  I see.  Yes.  That’s a concern we take seriously at SBS.

PETER:  That’s good to hear.

SALLY:  And no doubt, it’s something your organisation takes just as seriously, stereotyping and discrimination.

PETER:  Absolutely.  We pride ourselves on our efforts to prevent and reverse such attitudes.  If you take a moment to review our web site you’ll see we give those issues priority amongst the many issues we care about.

SALLY:  That’s excellent to hear.  In reviewing the complaint that we’ve received I have been doing some research into issues and attitudes amongst the community you represent, to gain a more complete understanding of the situation.  I’ve had some interesting findings.

PETER:  Oh, yes?

SALLY:  Well, it seems that there appears to be an area of concern into discrimination that the ECAJ has remained silent on, that some in your community are demanding a more vocal response.

PETER:  Please explain.

SALLY:  In particular, it seems that the ECAJ values equality and egalitarianism, yet has no comment to make on the issue of marriage equality.  That would seem to me to be a strange position to take, considering your organisation does not stand for discrimination in any way whatsoever.

PETER:  That’s a difficult area Sally.

SALLY:  Discrimination?  It really doesn’t seem that difficult to me.

PETER:  No, not discrimination.  Marriage.  It’s a complex issue for some in the Jewish community.

SALLY:  But your organisation does not stand for discrimination.

PETER:  Correct.

SALLY:  And yet you’re prepared to remain tolerant of some discrimination?

PETER:  No, we don’t stand for discrimination of any type.

SALLY:  So you’re supportive of efforts to remove discrimination facing Jews in same-sex relationships?

PETER:  It’s not so simple Sally.

SALLY:  It is to me.  Discrimination is discrimination.

PETER:  Of course, but not all discrimination is the same.

SALLY:  However you look at it, it’s still discrimination.  There’s another issue that has come to my attention.  If I may.

PETER:  Certainly.

SALLY:  I’ve read that some in your community are concerned about attitudes that are upheld amongst certain religious leaders and members of the community whereby homosexuality is considered a condition that can be overcome with reparative therapy.  The concerned parties seem to be calling on your organisation to speak out against these attitudes, claiming they’re proven to be harmful to members of the community who are being asked to overcome their orientation.  They’ve provided you with evidence from leading professional bodies claiming these are harmful and ineffective therapies.

PETER:  I’ve heard these concerns.

SALLY:  Do you take them seriously?  The claims that they are harmful to members of the Jewish community who are being forced to undertake them?

PETER:  Absolutely.  The ECAJ does not for one minute want a single member of the Jewish community to undergo an iota of suffering or come to any harm.  We would extend that concern to the wider community as well.

SALLY:  And you would then want to ensure that your community had a clear and unambiguous understanding that it is inappropriate to refer people to practitioners of these untoward therapies?

PETER:  It would be our desire to ensure no member of our community came to any harm.

SALLY:  So what I am hearing is that your organisation takes the issues of discrimination and harm seriously and wants to ensure the ongoing and increasing welfare of the members of your community, the Jewish people of Australia.

PETER:  Effectively.  Yes.

SALLY:  Then it would seem to me, Peter, that it would be to your organisation’s advantage to show the rest of us that it does take these issues seriously and take a stand on them.  You are asking SBS to take a stand against discrimination and stereotyping affecting the Jewish people, but what I see is that there are members of your community who are lacking the necessary protection from your organisation and who are at the mercy of harmful attitudes that have not been reined in.

PETER:  Of course, we want a positive outcome for all parties.

SALLY:  That’s good to hear.  So do we.  I appreciate your time today.  We’ll be in touch.

* This is one of many possible conversations that could potentially occur.  I am not aware of it actually having occurred, yet.


JCCV on GLBT discrimination (or “When the report becomes part of the problem”)

November 2, 2011

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 reason why vilification of homosexuals exists in the Jewish community

August 16, 2011

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria has called for submissions “to investigate issues surrounding vilification, discrimination and mental health concerns faced by members of Victoria’s Jewish GLBT community.”

In considering preparing a submission for this investigation I have sought definitions of ‘vilification’ and ‘discrimination’ from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC).

The VEOHRC defines ‘vilification‘ (in the context of race and religion) as:

Vilification is behaviour that incites or encourages hatred of, serious contempt for, revulsion or severe ridicule of another person or group of people on the grounds of their race or religion.

Further, it defines ‘discrimination‘ (in the context of sexual orientation and gender identity) as:

Discrimination is treating someone unfairly because of a personal characteristic protected by law and causing them to be disadvantaged as a result.

Initially I thought it would be appropriate to prepare a comprehensive list of examples of vilification and discrimination that I have experienced on a personal level and those which I have witnessed through the media in the Jewish community.  My archives over the past decade or so provide me with ample material for this exercise.

However, the time and effort necessary to undertake this task is substantial, and I feel that it would not necessarily convey the best ‘return on investment’.

Instead, what I have decided to do is present the underlying reason that vilification and/or discrimination exists against homosexuals and same-sex attracted people, relevant to the terms of reference for this submission.  This reason unarguably underlies every single instance of attack, hatred and intolerance against homosexuality or same-sex attraction.

What I am presenting is the proscription of homosexuality in the Torah.  I draw from two verses from the Book of Leviticus (Vayikra), specifically Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13.  My source here is my personal copy of The Chumash (Artscroll – Stone Edition, 4th Edn, 1994).  I present the abovementioned verses and any accompanying commentary.

Leviticus Chapter 18 deals with “forbidden relationships”.

Leviticus 18:22

22 You shall not lie with a man as one lies with a woman, it is an abomination.

22-23 Sodomy and bestiality.  The chapter of immorality ends with two forms of sexual perversion: homosexuality and bestiality.  The harshness with which the Torah describes them testifies to the repugnance in which God holds those who engage in these unnatural practices.

22 Toevah – An abomination.  None of the relationships given above are described with this term of disgust, because they involve normal activity, though with prohibited mates.  Homosexuality, however, is unnatural and therefore abominable.

Leviticus Chapter 20 deals with “punishments”.

Leviticus 20:13

13 A man who lies with a man as one lies with a woman, they have both done an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon themselves.

In these two verses from Leviticus, dealing with homosexuality, I encountered the terms ‘abomination’, ‘immorality’, ‘sexual perversion’, ‘repugnance’, ‘unnatural practices’, ‘disgust’, ‘unnatural’ and ‘put to death’.  These are extremely harsh and unambiguous terms, so much so that to me they comprehensively and without a doubt exemplify the definitions of both vilification and discrimination that I supplied earlier.

If the JCCV is looking for the single reason that any vilification and discrimination exists against same-sex attracted people, they need look no further than any Torah or Chumash in the Jewish community of which a literal or absolute observance is expected.  The Orthodox interpretation of these two verses of the Torah, and any associated commentaries, leave no doubt as to the expectations and obligations of same-sex attracted people.

The rabbis and others who teach and those who perpetuate these doctrines, doctrines that are out of touch with modern medical and psychological practices, are all complicit in vilifying and discriminatory behaviour against same-sex attracted people.  Further, these attitudes contribute to the mental-health deterioration of same-sex attracted people, while rigorous and uncompromising adherence is demanded.

I believe this submission offers sufficient evidence to demonstrate vilification and discrimination against homosexual and same-sex attracted people in the context of the Victorian Jewish community.


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