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


Double standards much, Nina?

July 17, 2012

On May 1 2012 Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) President Nina Bassat appeared on JOY 94.9FM with Doug Pollard and Rod Swift.  The interview is available online here and the podcast can be downloaded here.

During this interview Doug Pollard asked if there had been any developments arising from the report the JCCV’s GLBT Reference Group put out in November 2011.  Nina’s response (at 4:20) was:

“We’re not a body that can actually bring in change on the ground.  It’s up to our affiliates to do that.”

This response needs to be considered in relation to the JCCV’s Youth Alcohol Program that has been running for a few years now.  I include some statements from various sources relating to the YAP:

“Last year, the JCCV also set up the Youth Alcohol Project and has been working with our schools to combat issues like teenage binge drinking, something to which Jewish kids are certainly not immune.” — Malki Rose on Galus Australis

“The JCCV has responded strongly to information that Jewish youth as young as eleven and twelve are drinking alcohol in excessive amounts, Jewish teenage binge drinking appears to be rising and young Jewish females are drinking alcohol at a rate equal to the general teenage community.” — John Searle (via the JCCV)

“This month the JCCV Youth Alcohol Project Officer Debbie Zauder hosted Focus Groups for Year 6 Jewish School students and another for parents of Year 6 Jewish School students. The Focus Group aims were to inform the Youth Alcohol Project and the curriculum that the JCCV will deliver to the Jewish community in its forthcoming educational program on alcohol. Participants in both Focus Groups commented on the social, peer and in an increasing fashion parental pressure that Jewish youth experience to drink alcohol.” — Debbie Zauder (via AJN)

In addition, there have been a number of stories about the JCCV’s YAP in the Jewish print media recently.  I attach one such story from June 22, 2012 at the end.  In particular it’s worth noting this paragraph:

Debbie Zauder, JCCV Youth Alcohol Project (YAP) manager, explained that the DAW 2012 theme, “Look After Your Mind”, fits perfectly with the YAP education programs for Jewish schools. The programs offer students and parents the chance to hear experts in the alcohol and drug field discuss the short and long term effects alcohol has on the adolescent brain.

It seems, to me at least, that there’s a significant disconnect between the words that Nina Bassat said on JOY and what her organisation is actually doing.  A more honest answer that Nina could have given Doug would be something along the lines of:

“The JCCV can’t actually be seen to be promoting homosexuality for fear of backlash from the Orthodox bloc of organisations that effectively control the JCCV.  My hands are tied and as much as I would like to see intolerant behaviour toward homosexuality stamped out in the Jewish community, just like we are actively intolerant of anti-Semitism in the wider community, I have a job as President to keep and don’t want to risk a vote of no confidence that would see me being asked to step down.  And that’s why you have seen no outcomes initiated by the JCCV further to the report.”

Whilst I’m on the topic of Orthodox, Nina Bassat went on in the interview to say (at 10:20):

“I think the Orthodox community is very open to discussion. … I don’t think our community is closed.”

To which I ask Nina why the JCCV has shut down all discussion about the submission that the Rabbinic Council of Victoria made to the Australian Senate stating their opposition to marriage equality.  This submission goes against the recommendations of the JCCV’s report and is clearly an embarrassment to the JCCV.

Double standards much?


22 Jun 2012
The Australian Jewish News Melbourne edition
AJN STAFF

Community unites to topple teen tipple

“Recent research proves alcohol … does permanently affect the development … of the adolescent brain.”
Debbie Zauder
YAP manager

JEWISH community leaders have joined together to show their support for this week’s Drug Action Week (DAW).

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV), David Southwick MP and Chevra Hatzolah have all spoken out in support of the initiative from the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia (AODCA).

Debbie Zauder, JCCV Youth Alcohol Project (YAP) manager, explained that the DAW 2012 theme, “Look After Your Mind”, fits perfectly with the YAP education programs for Jewish schools. The programs offer students and parents the chance to hear experts in the alcohol and drug field discuss the short and long term effects alcohol has on the adolescent brain.

“Recent research absolutely proves that alcohol, especially binge drinking which is popular with Jewish teenagers, does permanently affect the development and condition of the adolescent brain,” Zauder said.

Nina Bassat, president of JCCV, said the media coverage of a Purim party in Melbourne earlier this year, in which several teens were treated for drunkenness, should serve as a stark reminder of the perils of binge drinking among our youths. model appropriate drinking behaviour and to fully discuss with their children their family’s values and expectations in relation to alcohol,” she said.

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, RCV president, commented that “Excellent work has been done in educating school students through the YAP program, but clearly the message hasn’t got through to many older teens and adolescents.”

Member for Caulfield David Southwick said the state government was taking appropriate steps to educate parents.

“Thanks to the state government’s leadership here in Victoria we have legislation which makes it crystal clear that parents are responsible for ensuring young people do not engage in unsafe drinking practices. Parents can now face fines up to $7167 for allowing their kid’s friends to drink in their homes without parental consent, an act that was legal under previous laws.”


Transgressing the GLBT community

November 8, 2011

[SOURCE]

Over recent days I’ve found myself contemplating what the GLBT community is, or is supposed to be.  I live in Melbourne, and base my experience of “GLBT community” from my personal experience of “it” here.  It’s many things to many people.  To some it’s everything.  To others, it’s a “lifestyle” they’d rather not participate in.  Yet for many of us, it’s an integral part of our lives, and something that for the most part enriches our experience of being not “straight”, in one way or another.

So why have I been pondering this?  Something has happened that was for me so radical to my understanding of “GLBT community” that it made me begin to question if this amorphous notion of cohesiveness was simply something in my imagination, or if there was actually something going desperately wrong.  What am I talking about?  Specifically, it involves a well-known transgender activist signing her name, as a representative of Transgender Victoria, to a document that opens with the statement:

The reference group recognised that Jewish Halacha prohibits gay sexual behaviour and, according to orthodox rabbinic interpretation, lesbian sexual behaviour.

That a transgender activist had signed her name to a document making this statement troubles me deeply.  This sends a message of approval, tacit or otherwise, that the aforementioned religious prohibitions against homosexual and bisexual behaviour cannot be challenged in any way.  It shows that the transgender activist in question supports the notion that she is working under a framework of religious intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality, and that in order to be accepted onto the reference group that this document was formed out of, there can be no dissent on this underlying principle.

The statement in question is misleading, divisive and dishonest whilst the “Jewish Halacha” being referred to is not qualified as being “Orthodox” and whilst there is no mention of a different and accepting interpretation of homosexuality and bisexuality by the Progressive and Conservative Jewish communities.

I sincerely believe the term “Sold Out” applies here.  There is no plausible excuse that could convince me that a representative of an organisation whose mission statement begins with the words “To achieve justice and equity for all transgender people” could put their hand on their heart and say that acknowledging immutable religious intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality doesn’t sit uncomfortably with them, in the slightest.

Sure, homosexuality and bisexuality are independent of transgender issues, but in the context of GLBT issues and the GLBT community they are inextricably linked.  The bigotry that GLBT people experience is shared collectively.  The suicide rates our youth suffer are shared collectively.  The hurt and intolerance are shared collectively.  Hurt one of us and you hurt all of us.  Sit on a panel of people who accept an understanding that gay people are sinners and you are furthering the collective hate, bigotry and intolerance against all of us.

The actions of this renegade transgender activist who has allowed her principles to be steamrolled by a homophobic Jewish community council has left me staggered and in shock.  If this is what GLBT has become then I want nothing to do with the T, and will have to make do with a diluted GLB community, a community that is less, a community that is not as rich and as fulfilling as I believed it previously was.

However, perhaps this is not what GLBT has become, and perhaps there is simply a person whose actions and beliefs are misguided and has not understood that by allowing herself to be blinkered by the hate and intolerance of some religious bigots, she has let the team down, and that she can at any stage simply say she’s not going to put up with the religious intolerance and the hateful guidelines of the reference group in question and return to the community that has supported her and the values she previously stood for.

Ultimately this is about reducing harm, saving lives and making better of a woefully bad situation.  Suicide and mental health issues amongst trans and same-sex attracted people are very real.  Any intolerance of us, of our relationships, of our community is unacceptable and there is no excuse for it.  Supporting people who are intolerant of us is just as inexcusable.

Only time will tell whether this transgender activist will understand the harm she has done to her cause, and to ours collectively.  It is possible to repair the damage, and I hope that it happens soon.


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.


IDAHO and the JCCV

May 17, 2011

Today, May 17 2011, is the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO).  Many organisations and people go to great effort to acknowledge the occasion and take a stand against homophobic and transphobic intolerance in society.

Take for example the head of Victoria Police, Chief Commissioner Simon Overland.  He has a pretty supportive message.  Similarly, Dr Helen Szoke from the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has an unambiguous message on inclusion.  Even Hilary Clinton and Jeremy Browne each had a message of support.

As I’ve previously mentioned, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria set up a reference group to investigate the issues affecting GLBT people in the Jewish community.  They’ve also made it pretty clear, via their messenger of intolerance Rabbi Chaim Rapoport (here and here), that GLBT people are not welcome as members of their organisation, despite JCCV President John Searle saying that “racism and prejudice in all its evil forms will not be tolerated.”

This week the JCCV published a number of media releases.  There was one on how they’re getting on well with the Catholic community,  another on working with Victoria Police on combatting anti-semitic hate crimes, yet another on working with people with disabilities, and lastly one on welfare organisations in the community (mind you, not one of them openly advertises services supporting GLBT people).

I had trouble finding the JCCV media release on how they’re supportive of initiatives that combat homophobic intolerance in the Jewish community in this week of IDAHO.  I tried to find one, but I just couldn’t see it.  I guess they had it all prepared, but didn’t manage to get it out in time.

Now I’ll just have to wait until next year’s IDAHO to see if the big bad JCCV bully has learnt a lesson from the wider community and has realised it’s time to stop creating the hate and intolerance and start fighting it.

And lastly a message to John Searle.  You talk about racism and prejudice in all its evil forms.  Take a look in the mirror mate.


Suicide, binge drinking and GLB intolerance in the Jewish community

April 25, 2011

Joe. My. God. recently wrote a short piece about new research, published in Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) –  showing that gay children are less prone to suicide and other harmful behaviour if they are brought up in an accepting environment.

A new study out of Oregon indicates that gay kids that grow up in a supportive environment are 20% less likely to attempt suicide. We knew this, of course, but now there’s some science behind it.

The results of this research advise:

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to attempt suicide in the previous 12 months, compared with heterosexuals (21.5% vs 4.2%). Among lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth, the risk of attempting suicide was 20% greater in unsupportive environments compared to supportive environments. A more supportive social environment was significantly associated with fewer suicide attempts, controlling for sociodemographic variables and multiple risk factors for suicide attempts, including depressive symptoms, binge drinking, peer victimization, and physical abuse by an adult (odds ratio: 0.97 [95% confidence interval: 0.96–0.99]).

In the Melbourne Jewish community there is a diversity of acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality ranging from complete acceptance to complete intolerance, with the visible balance leaning more toward the latter than the former.  Sadly the level of enlightenment in this community surrounding human sexuality has a long way to go before the reality and unconditional acceptance of it outweighs the fundamentalist beliefs in religious dogma opposing it.

As I have recently written, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is giving high visibility to its Youth Alcohol Program (YAP).  Yet it has given nothing but lip service to the issue of the welfare of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in the Jewish community.  Further, the JCCV has made it evident that it is backing the intolerant Orthodox Jewish perspective on homosexuality, whilst being silent on the commendable attitude the Progressive Jewish movement has adopted.

I implore the officer of the JCCV YAP Debbie Zauder to read this research.  It’s likely that a contributing factor to the issue of binge drinking in the Jewish community, the main issue that her project is charged to address, is the intolerance of homosexuality that her employer believes is acceptable and justifiable.  It may not be a large factor but it is likely to be a relevant factor.

A holistic approach to welfare of the community’s youth needs to be adopted, rather than one that targets individual behaviours.  It is likely to be a futile effort to stop binge drinking in isolation when it could well be a symptom of a far deeper and more insidious problem or set of problems.

The community, its leaders, parents and young people need to understand that homosexuality and bisexuality is normal and healthy.  Intolerance of homosexuality and bisexuality is abnormal and unhealthy as the research proves.

It is imperative that the vocal leaders, claiming to be the voice of the community, and applying for government funding to look after the welfare of the members of the community (and perhaps their own political careers), put aside their egos and arrogance and adopt some humility and humanity.  Until that time they will continue to need a YAP and they can continue to enjoy alarming rates of suicide and harmful behaviour in the community’s vulnerable youth.


JCCV trots out research when it suits and rabbis when it doesn’t

April 7, 2011

It’s apparent that the Jewish Community Council of Victoria is pandering to the sensitivities of its Orthodox constituents when it comes to tackling the uncomfortable issue of homosexuality.

Compare the radically different approaches it has adopted regarding youth alcohol abuse and the extremely vague problem of “issues affecting GLBT people”.

With the former, it has obtained government funding, trotted out respected academic research and is dealing with it like it is the most pressing issue on the planet.  Refer to the latest JCCV media release “YAP begins a new DAY”:

Current research shows that the rate of drinking at harmful levels by 12-17 year olds has doubled in the past decade. Research undertaken by the Victorian Drug and Alcohol Prevention Council has found that 90% of young people have tried alcohol by age 15.

And, there’s not a single rabbi in sight, despite much of this alcohol abuse occurring due to exuberant religious celebration.

Compare this with the uncomfortable problem of “issues affecting GLBT people”.  The JCCV has trotted out an Orthodox rabbi, apparently an authority on all matters homosexual, whose most useful piece of advice is that GLBT organisations cannot be members of the JCCV as they will fracture the community.

The JCCV has been briefed by Associate Professor Anne Mitchell, a respected Australian academic on relevant issues of human sexuality, yet the JCCV have not published a single reference to an iota of credible research on the matter.  Examples of the research they have not yet quoted include:

Studies conducted over the last decade reveal that GLB individuals attempt suicide at rates between 3.5 and 14 times those of their heterosexual peers

and

Those belonging to religious faiths that promulgate negative discourses about homosexuality are particularly vulnerable to suicide and self-harm. 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.

Why is it necessary for the JCCV to engage an Orthodox rabbi in order to address serious issues like homophobic bullying in schools, mental health issues, self-esteem and suicide, but not for the issue of youth alcohol abuse?  Is there no cause for concern that the exuberant religious celebrations might be the catalyst for the binge drinking?  Perhaps it’s necessary to bring in the rabbis and suggest they should sermonise on the community tempering celebrations a little if they are going to result in youth alcohol abuse.

So far the only thing the JCCV has achieved in dealing with “the issues that affect GLBT people” by bringing in an Orthodox rabbi is to demonstrate blatant homophobia and further exacerbate the problems they are reluctant to identify and address.

If the JCCV is at all serious about tackling the issues that are affecting GLBT people, such as bullying, marginalisation, invisibility, homophobia, intolerance, mental health issues and suicide, then they must understand the academic research, refer to the academic research and avoid Orthodox rabbis.  The Orthodox dogma is the cause of many of the problems, and will never be helpful in finding a solution to these problems.


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


My Letter to the AJN Editor

February 25, 2011

In response to the AJN’s unbalanced coverage of the JCCV’s latest “open mouth, change feet” statement of GLBT “inclusion” (I think they actually meant “exclusion” – they seem to get the two concepts mixed up so often these days), I have submitted this Letter to the Editor:

Dear Editor,

I welcome the historic resolution on Gender and Sexual Equality that the assembly of World Union for Progressive Judaism recently passed at their convention in San Francisco.  This resolution condemns bigotry and discrimination and calls for equality of gay and lesbian people in all facets of the community.

This approach by the WUPJ is in direct contrast to that being suggested by the JCCV-endorsed Rabbi Chaim Rapoport who “contends that the GLBT community must accept that they cannot become official members of the JCCV as this would fracture the Jewish community”.

The position that the JCCV and Rabbi Rapoport are taking on this matter of inclusion and acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members of the Jewish community is in direct contradiction with the best practices of Australian health professionals expert in the area of human sexuality.

I strongly urge the JCCV to adopt a more inclusive, transparent and secular approach to this serious matter.  It seems that the JCCV have forgotten that they are not a religious organisation and that they represent a diverse range of religious and non-religious interests.

Michael Barnett.

I managed to keep the letter to under 250 words and have submitted it well in advance of the deadline for the AJN Letters column, so I’m sure they’ll publish it in the next edition.


And now for something completely different

February 24, 2011

Last week I commented on the latest news from the JCCV regarding homosexuals.  This week the Australian Jewish News (in Melbourne) reports on the JCCV.

AJN p11 Feb 25 2011: A different take on same-sex couples

AJN p11 Feb 25 2011: A different take on same-sex couples

Write a Letter to the Editor (letters@jewishnews.net.au).  Keep it under 250 words.  Do it now.


JCCV grovels to Orthodox on gay inclusion

February 16, 2011

[SOURCE]

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) has today released details of ‘ground breaking’ work that they’ve undertaken, to try to work out some way to remove the hate and intolerance in the Jewish community that ostracises and marginalises people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or unsure of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  There is incredible stigma in the Jewish community around these areas of human sexuality and gender identity, especially amongst those who subscribe to a fundamentalist interpretation of Jewish teachings.

Compounding this issue is the reluctance of the Jewish community, at best, to engage in the topic of discussions around the area of suicide, especially youth suicide.  I mention this as there is an especially high and alarming rate of suicide amongst GLBT youth.

It is with highly cautious optimism that I am pleased to see discussions on this issue going on.  Some talk is better than no talk.  However I am extremely disturbed that the JCCV are undertaking this in the context of the Orthodox interpretation of homosexuality.  This issue is so serious that any religious parameters placed around the discussions will effectively render the entire process a complete waste of time.  It is the fundamentalist religious attitudes that have created this dire situation and while there is any respect given to them, there can be no credibility placed on what the JCCV are doing.  In fact these intolerant religious attitudes much be challenged, even if this is not popular.

From the media release:

Searle says that although the JCCV leaves questions of Halacha to the Rabbonim, the JCCV remains guided by principles of inclusion and support for Jewish people to live meaningful lives. “The JCCV was set up as an umbrella organisation to protect the needs of all Jews in the Victorian Jewish community and is hence obliged to investigate areas of concern and provide support structures as necessary.”

The JCCV is a secular organisation representing a highly diverse Jewish community. It is imperative that it respect the complete religious diversity of the community they claim to represent.  From a religious perspective, there is a significant percentage of members who are Progressive and Conservative, in addition to those who identify as Orthodox or similar.  There are also members of the Jewish community who are secular and who do not subscribe to any religious teachings.  This reference group must not operate within a religious context, as the JCCV is not a religious organisation and does not operative within any specific religious context.

The highly partisan stance the JCCV has taken on this matter betrays the impartiality of the JCCV, if it ever had any.  I would strongly encourage the JCCV to include representation from the Progressive community on this reference group, along with community members who do not have an Orthodox allegiance.

Given the extreme lack of transparency the JCCV has fostered with their GLBT Reference Group, one can only conclude that it consists of people stacked from the Orthodox community, people sympathetic to the Orthodox community and people who simply don’t understand the dynamics of the diverse nature of the Jewish community.

Until the JCCV acknowledges that the Progressive and Conservative Jewish communities have a diametrically opposed, inclusive and accepting understanding and interpretation of homosexuality to that of the fundamentalist Orthodox community, they will be doing the entire Jewish community a serious disservice.

Lastly, the JCCV continues to sideline people, such as me, who have the credentials to competently address many of their concerns.  It begs the question why this is the case.


Thank you Mr Braitberg

December 17, 2010

Adam Braitberg was part of the Equal Love Rally in Melbourne on November 20, 2010.  I took a photo of him and a friend Tyger-Lee Baise, both proudly displaying their blue Habonim Dror shirts, and showing their support for equal human rights for all Australians.

From 20101120 Equal Love Rally

Because they participated in this rally, as part of a Jewish organisation, they came under attack on the AJN Watch web site.  You can read all about it in my previous blog.  Keep an eye on the comments on the AJN Watch site though, as the conversation continues (to dismay).

Yesterday Adam’s father, George, made a profound statement, and in doing so has moved me deeply.

George said…
I am Adam’s father. To those that see fit to judge someone you don’t know or have ever met, I ask you to explain what right you think you have to behave in this manner. As Jews we are well aware of the history of bigotry, slander and false accusation. To judge my son, without knowing him is perpetuate the belief that “difference” in itself is an excuse for hatred. How ashamed am I of Jews who show such intolerance. I love you Adam. Dad
Thursday, December 16, 2010 11:17:00 PM

Adam’s father is a wonderful role model for showing unconditional love and acceptance of his son Adam.  He is an example to every member of the Melbourne Jewish community and the wider Australian society on how we must bring up our children.  It is only with this positive and supportive attitude that we can start to overcome the horrifying level of suicide, self-harm and mental health issues that (religious) intolerance afflicts on Australia’s same-sex attracted youth.

Thank you Mr Braitberg.  You and Adam have demonstrated far greater leadership ability and are infinitely better role models than those who currently claim to speak on behalf of the Jewish community.  They don’t need a ‘GLBT Reference Group’ to arrogantly identify and address “our issues”.  They need intelligent and compassionate leaders like you.


John Searle and the JCCV want full acceptance of homosexuality in the Jewish community

December 3, 2010

Yes, it’s true.  The JCCV, under the presidency of John Searle, want to work toward full acceptance of homosexuality in the Victorian Jewish community.  It’s been reported in the Australian Jewish News (Melbourne edition,) on page 9 (Dec 3 2010).

Praise for the JCCV
AJN STAFF

UNDERSTANDING and cooperation between faiths is key to promoting a better society, according to commissioner of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Helen Szoke.

Szoke made the comments as guest speaker at last week’s Jewish Community Council of Victoria’s (JCCV) 3rd annual general meeting.

She explained the work of the commission, the importance of building a human rights culture, and law reforms planned for the near future.

Szoke also noted the similarities between her organisation and the JCCV, praising Victoria’s peak Jewish body for its efforts to stamp out hate crimes.

Changes to the JCCV executive included Matthew Lazerow and Helen Light joining, and Gerard Max stepping down.

With one year of his term remaining, president John Searle said he felt it appropriate to reflect on the JCCV’s achievements to date, as well as looking ahead to the next 12 months.

“In so doing, it is important to remember that five or 10 years ago, the JCCV was cash-strapped, not particularly well known and lacking in influence.

“Today, it is truly an influential body, capable or representing our community at all levels and whose input is sought by government, police, the media and many other bodies.”

Searle spoke highly of the Youth and Alcohol Project and thanks project office Debbie Zauder for her efforts.

He also made mention of the GLBT reference group formed by the JCCV, which is continuing to work towards combating discrimination, vilification and managing mental health issues.

You see, the only way that discrimination and vilification against GLBT people in the Jewish community, along with managing mental health issues in same-sex attracted people who don’t necessarily identify with the GLBT community (ie, they haven’t accepted their sexual orientation and may still reluctantly identify as heterosexual) will come about is when the JCCV work toward full acceptance of homosexuality in the Jewish community.  It’s a bit like being pregnant.  You either are or you aren’t.  There are no half measures in taking on these challenges.

Some more good news to share.  It’s now been 12 months since the JCCV formed their GLBT reference group and they have had a number of great successes as a result of this.  These include

  • making sure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Jewish community still don’t have a voice at the table in the community and effectively remain unrepresented by the JCCV
  • further alienating, excluding and isolating GLBT Jews
  • having nothing to show for all that has been done over the past 12 months
  • not speaking out against intolerance of homosexuality in the Jewish community
  • ignoring homophobic hate in the Jewish community
  • closing lines of communication with established GLBT networks in the Jewish community
  • not acknowledging that suicide amongst same-sex attracted youth is a major problem in Australia and is worst amongst religious communities intolerant of homosexuality

It really has been a great twelve months of success for the JCCV.  Let’s toast a l’chaim to the next twelve.

PS.  I’m still here waiting for you, when you’re ready to re-open the lines of communication John.  My number is on the contact page here.


Anton Block silent on his one-time support for gay Jews

December 2, 2010

[SOURCE (refer agenda item 10.1)]

Almost twelve years ago, in 1999, Anton Block seconded the motion for the gay Jewish social and support group Aleph Melbourne to become an affiliate member of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV).

Motion for affiliate membership status of Aleph Melbourne

Motion for affiliate membership status of Aleph Melbourne

As history dictated in May 1999, this motion, put a second time after the first was deemed void due to a technicality at the March plenum meeting, failed to pass and the application by Aleph Melbourne was rejected by the JCCV.  No further application for membership by Aleph Melbourne has been made since and, particularly during the term that Block was president, no invitation to reapply for membership was extended by the JCCV.

Having since served a three-year term as President of the JCCV (2006-08), and now appointed to the position of Chairman of the JCCV’s Anti-Defamation Commission, there has been nothing but silence from Block on his one-time support for gay Jews.

But why did Block go silent on this matter?  Is he fearful that if he openly supports visibility and inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people in the Jewish community he might face a backlash from the Orthodox sector of the Jewish community?  He will only stand to gain support and adulation from the large Progressive, Conservative, secular and other sectors of the community that express their unconditional support for GLBT Jews.

I understand that Block is on the mysterious “GLBT Reference Group” that the JCCV formed in December 2009.  However his inclusion in this group has not been made public, as the JCCV has refused to disclose its membership.  If Block is on this reference group, as I believe he is, then he must speak up about it, and he must speak up as to why he sits on it.  I hope it’s for a more altruistic reason than kudos.

I put it to Block that maintaining this silence is harming the entire community, along with his credibility.  The alarming rate of suicide amongst same-sex attracted youth does not bypass Jews.  It is imperative that Block takes an active and vocal stance on fighting all intolerance of and working toward unconditional acceptance, visibility and inclusion of GLBT people in the Jewish community.  Only then will he show he is capable of being a genuine leader in his community.


A response to the JCCV’s Victorian Community Report

November 25, 2010

[SOURCE]

In J-Wire, Geoffrey Zygier of the JCCV says:

Finally Searle said that ”the GLBT Reference group formed by JCCV, is continuing to work towards combatting discrimination, vilification and managing mental health issues for this community. The plan is to look at speaking with school representatives in regards to bullying issues.

and

Searle has pledged to host more politicians’ lunches, conduct more interfaith activities starting with the Croatian community and expects to welcome more new affiliates next year in keeping with the JCCV’s policy of inclusion.”

Combatting bullying in schools necessary, as we know from the It Gets Better Project, but we need to hear the JCCV say that any intolerance of homosexuality is unacceptable to know they are taking the issue seriously.  To date that is the one thing they refuse to say.

For a secular organisation, with no official religious position, it is evident they are biased toward the interests of their Orthodox membership, and this is not the role of the organisation that is supposed to represent the entire Jewish community.

As for the “JCCV’s policy of inclusion”.  That is deceitful.  The JCCV has a strong history of excluding various organisations in the Jewish community, including the gay group Aleph Melbourne, and it certainly has excluded me from any discussions.

The JCCV needs a major overhaul, which I would suggest should start with the removal of the president.  Only then might the organisation start to become representative.


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