ECAJ calls for inclusive society (that excludes gays getting married)

January 7, 2013

ECAJ logoDespite my ongoing calls for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry to decry the efforts of the Orthodox Rabbinate’s opposition to civil legislative reform to allow same-sex couples to marry in Australia, they remain steadfastly silent.  I have put a case forward that it is in their best interests to support marriage equality in Australia, especially given they already have issued a statement for respect of GLBT people.

The Executive Director of the ECAJ, Peter Wertheim expresses an interest in the harmony of society in  Australia, as reported in the Australian Jewish News :

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim said there was nothing Dr Mohamed could learn from Gaza and its Hamas rulers that could possibly have any legitimate application in Australia.

“His visit and his comments undermine Australia’s efforts to build a peaceful, inclusive and democratic multicultural society,” he said.

I put it to Peter Wertheim that whilst the ECAJ remains silent on marriage equality it shows that the organisation is not genuine about its desire for a wholly inclusive society in Australia, and demonstrates that the ECAJ’s agenda is pro-Zionist and not pro-humanity.

The credibility of the ECAJ, being a body that represents the interests of Australians, is perilously fraught at present.  Yet a simple statement claiming that it believes all Australians should have equal rights before the law could easily rectify that.

Is that too much of an ask Peter?


Two reasons why the ECAJ must vocalise its support for marriage equality

December 15, 2011

On December 3 2011 the Australian Labor Party voted in favour of supporting marriage equality.  This was promptly followed by a statement of support from the Union for Progressive Judaism and simultaneously a statement of opposition from the Orthodox-based Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia.  J-Wire then reported a message from Jewish Community supporting Marriage Equality (J4ME) along with a statement from the ECAJ:

Peter Wertheim, the executive Director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told J-Wire that his organisation had no policy in place relating to same sex marriage.

The ECAJ recently passed a motion that calls for “mutual respect for the human dignity of all members of the [Jewish] community” and also acknowledges “that there is still much work to be done to remove intolerance of and unlawful discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons in the Jewish community and the wider Australian community”.  This motion appears on the ECAJ Platform.

Peter Wertheim has recently been promoting via email the fact that Israel is the most GLBT-friendly place in the Middle East and that it is the only safe place for GLBT people to live openly and out in the Middle East.  Indeed, the Israeli situation for GLBT people is mostly good.  In some cases Israel is actually more advanced than Australia in affording GLBT people human rights.  One such case is that Israel recognises foreign marriages of same-sex couples whereas Australia has chosen to legislate against such recognition.

I wish to make two points regarding the recent support from the ECAJ for GLBT people and the promotion of Israel as a relatively safe GLBT space.

Firstly, the human rights and equality that GLBT people in Israel have been afforded have come about through changes to civil law and have for the most part been independent of (Orthodox) Jewish law or “halacha”.  If halacha was the law of the land in Israel, GLBT people would have no equality or recognition in any form.  This is evidenced by the aforementioned ORA statement and the general attitude of Jewish Orthodoxy to homosexuality.  This religious intolerance of homosexuality is not dissimilar to that which exists in the Islamic states that surround Israel.

It is the secular and progressive attitudes toward equality and human rights that has made Israel the beacon of tolerance and acceptance of GLBT people in the Middle East that it is.  With ongoing work in this area, such as that around surrogacy and parenting (here and here), Israel will become an increasingly proud oasis of acceptance for GLBT people and will no doubt be further promoted as such by Zionist advocates.

Secondly, with the ECAJ calling for respect of GLBT people in the community and the acknowledgement that there is “unlawful discrimination” against GLBT people, such as in the case of the Australian Federal Marriage Act, I find it hard to understand that the ECAJ chooses to remain silent on marriage equality.

In fact, this silence betrays the ECAJ’s platform on Social Inclusion, where it states:

1. Social Inclusion
This Council:
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;
1.2 NOTES that as Australians we take great pride in what we see as the uniquely Australian values of social egalitarianism, “mateship” and a “fair go”;
1.3 REAFFIRMS our profound commitment on behalf of the Australian Jewish community to the dignity of difference, gender equality, and a belief in the equality of humankind;

Here the ECAJ is calling for “equal empowerment”, “social egalitarianism” and “a belief in the equality of humankind”.  To my understanding, marriage equality fits all of these three concepts.  To clarify, egalitarianism is defined as “affirming, promoting, or characterized by belief in equal political, economic, social, and civil rights for all people.”

I believe the ECAJ does want marriage equality to be legislated, but has not yet taken the time to think about the implications of not vocalising its support for it.  The ECAJ is an organisation that has a genuine concern for the human rights of all people in every nation on this planet.  Further, it is inherent in the Jewish psyche to understand what deprivation of human rights can lead to.

I sincerely urge the ECAJ to consider its stance on marriage equality in general and speak out in favour of removing the legislated discrimination that all GLBT Australians face when it comes to recognition of our relationships.  It is without a doubt in the ECAJ’s best interests to advocate marriage equality, as doing so will have the double reward of making Australia a better place for all its citizens, and simultaneously making the beacon of light in Israel, the country that it is so proud of, shine even brighter.


How many must die to warrant a response from the JCCV?

September 13, 2011

[SOURCE]

The United States Consulate General Melbourne in association with the Jewish Christian Muslim Association of Australia  held a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of September 11 2001 attacks on Sunday the 11th of September 2011 at the 9/11 Memorial Trees, Kings Domain, Melbourne.

The JCCV had a representative at this solemn occasion:

Mr Simon Tisher, Executive Member of Jewish Community Council of Victoria lays flowers.

JCMA: "Mr Simon Tisher, Executive Member of Jewish Community Council of Victoria lays flowers."

On August 11 2009, 10 days after the Tel Aviv attack where two Israelis where brutally murdered in a youth centre, I sent out an email asking a number of community leaders to speak up and condemn some anti-gay sentiments being published on a Jewish blog in Melbourne.  The response to my email from John Searle, JCCV President, was:

From: John Searle <jsearle@vicbar.com.au>
Date: 12 August 2009 11:38
Subject: RE: Gay hate is rife in Jewish Australia on AJNwatch (resend)
To: Michael Barnett <michael@aleph.org.au>
Cc: Geoffrey Zygier

Hi Michael,

I was thinking we should have a chat about this over a coffee one day next week. I might even ask Geoffrey to join us. Can you make it one morning at 7.30 or 8.00 in the Caulfield area or does it have to be in the city in which case I would suggest 10.00 or 10.30?

I was thinking Wed next week.

JS

We ended up meeting at John Searle’s house, the evening of Wednesday August 19, 2009.  I was accompanied by Colin Krycer, also from Aleph Melbourne.  At this meeting I politely asked John Searle to issue a statement from the JCCV condemning the attack in Tel Aviv.  His response was that the JCCV doesn’t issue statements for many issues, of which this was but one.  At this meeting I handed John Searle a printed copy of this letter that I had written, outlining a draft proposal for an anti-homophobia strategy for the Australian Jewish community.  I subsequently sent through an electronic copy of it.

I quote from the JCCV’s “About Us > Overview” page:

Through consultation, advocacy and working with government, other faith and ethnic communities, the media, service providers and the general public, the JCCV seeks to achieve the following goals:

And in partnership with the State Zionist Council of Victoria:
A more sophisticated public understanding of Israel’s efforts to achieve peace and security
Effective counteraction of misinformation on Israel, the Middle East and the Arab/Israel conflict
A more sophisticated public understanding of Israel in relation to contemporary Jewish identity.

I seem to be getting a number of messages from the JCCV.

  1. They are prepared to make a public statement about the terrible attacks in the USA on September 11, 2001.
  2. They are concerned about issues relating to peace and security in Israel.
  3. They are concerned about contemporary Jewish identity in Israel.
  4. They are not prepared to comment on the horrific death of two young Israelis killed in a youth centre in Tel Aviv.

I am really puzzled by the JCCV’s reluctance to be outspoken on an issue that is core to their agenda.  What is so wrong with condemning an attack on young Israelis, given the Zionist and peace-loving nature of the JCCV?  The only conclusion I can make, in comparison with their response to September 11, is that perhaps insufficient people were killed on August 1, 2009 in Tel Aviv to warrant a response from the JCCV.

I politely ask the JCCV to reconsider their stance on which international events they make statements on, especially when it comes to contemporary Israeli youth, and issue a belated and sincere statement about the 2009 attack.  It’s not asking too much is it?


Israeli Haredi MK echoes Nazi-style sentiments about gays

June 6, 2011

[SOURCE]

Coming out of the ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in Israel today is some deeply disturbing news, emphasising the problems that confront the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender communities in Israel.

Israel is a world leader in GLBT rights in many ways, yet despite this they constantly face stiff opposition from their ultra-orthodox communities when it comes to issues that contradict their religious teachings.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin plans to meet with leaders of the gay community in Israel in honor of Gay Pride Month on Monday, raising the ire of haredi MKs.

On Sunday, Yediot Aharonot reported that United Torah Judaism fiercely opposes the event and Rivlin’s participation.

“They aren’t people like everyone else,” MK and Deputy Education Minister Menahem Eliezer Moses told the paper. “In the Torah it says that this is an abomination, and the fact is that a conference like this is in the Knesset means that a coalition that [UTJ] is a part of is giving it patronage and legitimization. It doesn’t make sense.

These words from MK Moses resonate with overtones of Hitler dealing with the “Jewish problem”.  Can he not hear what he is saying?  It alarms me that these ultra-orthodox Jews have very short memories.


Jews can be Jewish without Israel. Discuss.

May 31, 2011

New Israel Fund comes to Australia

May 11, 2011

[SOURCE 1] [SOURCE 2] [SOURCE 3]

NIF is coming to Australia and I have a feeling this new player in the Australian Jewish scene is going to usher in a breath of fresh air.

From a GLBT perspective this is very exciting, simply by looking at their list of Civil and Human Rights Grantees:

Al-Qaws – for Sexual and Gender Diversity in the Palestinian Society

Promotes the development and rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community within Palestinian society.

and

Assiwat (through Kayan)

Provides a safe and anonymous space for gay Palestinian women; pursues recognition for their sexual and gender identity and promotes their rights through personal empowerment, raising awareness and public education.

Further, their Shatil program advocates for issues such as Freedom of Choice in Marriage (video) and to give voice to Orthodox lesbian women in Israel.

NIF Australia are on Facebook.  That seems to be the best place to connect with them currently.  Also check out We Are NIF.

I sincerely hope they engage with the local GLBT community, both Jewish and wider, and build some strong bridges.


Challenging mainstream parochiality in the Jewish community

October 18, 2010

This letter appeared in the October 15, 2010 (Melbourne) edition of the Australian Jewish News:

AJDS deserves a slap on the wrist

KUDOS to the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) for passing a resolution unanimously condemning in the strongest possible terms the left-wing Australian Jewish Democratic Society’s (AJDS) support of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanction (BDS) campaign. It is about time the JCCV made it clear that the AJDS’ extreme views on Israeli-Arab-Palestinian conflict are not in sync with the mainstream Jewish community.

MICHAEL BURD
Toorak, Vic

The argument that Michael Burd puts forward here is extremely troubling.  He asserts that because a view held by an organisation is “not in sync with the mainstream Jewish community” it must therefore be worthy of condemnation.  What utter nonsense.  A minority view, as unacceptable or extreme as many may find it, does not by default equate to a wrong or unworthy view.

The “mainstream Jewish community” has trouble coping with or discussing a lot of concepts, amongst which the AJDS’ view on BDS is not in isolation.  One could start with issues such as indifference or opposition to Zionism, intermarriage, Orthodox vs Reform, secular humanism, child abuse, suicide, homosexuality, etcetera, etcetera.

It is imperative that the views and attitudes of the “mainstream Jewish community” be challenged and debated more frequently, in an intellectual and respectful manner.  Any community will contain a diversity of opinions on most issues, of which more than one may be valid.  Respect for this diversity is crucial for the health of the community.  Minorities being shouted down in a parochial and bullying fashion by organisations such as the JCCV is far from respectful or healthy.

The JCCV promotes itself as “the voice of Victorian Jewry“.  How remiss of me for taking an inclusive and plural interpretation of their motto.  It’s time the JCCV stopped pushing its single agenda view of how they want their community to be.  It will never work.


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