Jewish Community Council of Victoria says “Gay is OK”.

November 1, 2013

This really is a revelation.  For the first time ever, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria has actually acknowledged that it’s ok to be gay.

JCCV says it's ok to be gay (Nov 1 2013)

A lot more needs to be said, but this is a start.


Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic | ABC Religion Report

October 30, 2013

Jewish gays fight for admittance to Jewish Council in Vic

Wednesday 19 May 1999 8:30AM

This week on The Religion Report.

The Pope’s visit to Romania begins to heal the thousand year rift with the Orthodox.

The religiously backed conservative coalition in Israel has been defeated at a general election.

And, the newly elected world leader of the Salvation Army declares the movement should be more flexible about its rigid non-sacramentalism.

Transcript

The Religion Report 19th May, 1999

John Cleary: Today is about fundamental change, from Melbourne to Romania.
SFX: POPE IN ROMANIA

Last week, the Pope made an historic trip to Bucharest, the first time in a thousand years the Roman Pontiff has walked Orthodox streets as a religious leader.

Also today, the Salvation Army has elected a new world leader who signals fundamental change in this worldwide religious and charitable movement; Salvationists may soon be taking the sacraments.

But first to the pressure of change closer to home, and the issue of homosexuality in religion is once again the cause of a deepening split, this time in the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria.

Orthodox members of the Council are maintaining their rage over moves by a gay Jewish organisation called ALEPH Melbourne, to join. While ALEPH has so far failed in its bid to be an affiliate member, there are renewed threats from Orthodox groups that they’ll quit in protest is ALEPH is accepted.

And today, a provocative invitation for the JCCV, (Jewish Communities Council) President, Dr Phillip Bliss, to step down over his very support of ALEPH.

Toni Hassan spoke to Rabbi Ronald Lubofsky and the head of ALEPH, Michael Barnett, and prepared this report.

Ronald Lubofsky: The JCCV was very seriously threatened by this. There are a number of organisations that would have possibly seceded from the board had this been successful.

Michael Barnett: These are the sorts of attitudes that really do the most damage to people who are having troubles dealing with their sexuality. That’s why we have such a high youth suicide rate.

Ronald Lubofsky: There are certain things which they don’t like talking about, but they have done now because it’s forced into the open and is sort of they want to enter into Jewish schools, into sex education. And this is something which will ring the alarm bells with Jewish parents.

Michael Barnett: There’s nothing whatsoever in our organisation’s objectives or ideals to say that we are going to infiltrate or we’re going to convert or we’re going to subvert or whatever. We’re just a very straightforward support group and social organisation, we don’t have a hidden agenda.

Toni Hassan: Some of the high emotion echoed at a recent meeting of the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria. On one side is ALEPH Melbourne, a group whose objective is to provide assistance, support and companionship for gay and bisexual Jewish men. Michael Barnett is the group’s President.

Michael Barnett: The objection to our application was that a homosexual or gay organisation is contravening Jewish law because homosexual practice is one of the forbidden acts in Jewish law. In Leviticus 18, 22 it says -

Toni Hassan: Well that’s commonly argued. How do you get around that?

Michael Barnett: It’s not an issue for me. I mean I’m not a religious Jew and if I was, it wouldn’t bother me either way I don’t think, because that’s me as a person doing what I want to do. But that doesn’t come in to our organisation. Our organisation isn’t set up for the practice of homosexuality, it’s for the support of homosexuals, which is a slightly different issue, very subtle.

Toni Hassan: And do you think the Rabbis, the conservative Rabbis who rejected your proposal, do not see that distinction?

Michael Barnett: Oh well, they may see it, but they choose to ignore it I believe. They are very stubborn people, they stick to the letter of their law and it may be a guise for homophobia, it may not be. But either way it has no bearing on the JCCV, it’s not an issue as far as I’m concerned, or our members are concerned.

Toni Hassan: Ronald Lubofsky is Rabbi Emeritus at the St Kilda Synagogue. For him the inclusion of ALEPH amounts to tampering with the Ten Commandments.

Ronald Lubofsky: The core of the philosophy, the religious philosophy, the political philosophy of being Jewish, is in the written word. The Christians call it the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures. Some would reduce it to the Ten Commandments etc. and that excludes the notion of homosexuality, and as a consequence it’s a contradiction in terms. You simply cannot consider the two ideals as being compatible. So true enough, the members of this group are Jewish and it may well be that they are secular in their intent, but I’m afraid that as a group, as an organisation, they cannot claim parity as individuals absolutely. This is a point which I and others have made, that Jewish gay people, lesbian people, they can join synagogues, they can join the organisations which are represented under the umbrella of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, they can be the Presidents of those organisations, but as an organisation, as an ideology, they’re not compatible.

Toni Hassan: Doesn’t the JCCV, the Council in Victoria, recognise sporting organisations, many voluntary organisations of that nature?

Ronald Lubofsky: Yes, what you’re saying in actual fact is a point of view which many espouse, but there is simply no comparison. You’re talking here of fundamentals of life, you’re not dealing here with a sporting organisation where people make a choice to do this or to do that. These are individuals who do not produce families, these are individuals who perform sexually in a way which is aberrant, to say the least, with regard to Judaism. It is something which runs counter to the fundamentals of Judaism, that is the family unit. It’s not simply playing a sport.

Toni Hassan: What’s really got under the noses of Orthodox groups affiliated with the Jewish Communities Council of Victoria is the public support given to ALEPH Melbourne by the Council’s President, Dr Phillip Bliss. Without his support, the matter wouldn’t not have seen the light of day. Rabbi Lubofsky.

Ronald Lubofsky: If he followed the Westminster rules, he should resign, because it was something that he espoused, it was a motion that he himself moved. He now indicates he’s prepared to take it further. He’s going to endanger this organisation as a result of his monocular vision.

Toni Hassan: Are you calling on him to resign?

Ronald Lubofsky: No, I’m not, I’m just saying that he should. That would be a normal procedure in any other organisation. If there’s something which the President wants his organisation to follow and he is prepared to go as far as he was, knowing how controversial the whole thing was, and that it could well have his organisation disintegrate, and he was roundly defeated under those circumstances I’m surprised that he’s still there.

[unrelated content deleted]

Thanks to Toni Hassan and John Diamond for production.


Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia | ABC PM

October 30, 2013

Jewish leaders accused of ignoring homophobia

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

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

MARK COLVIN: A rift is developing in Australia’s Jewish community over the treatment of homosexuals.

A major gay and lesbian support group claims Jewish community leaders are ignoring discrimination and hate language aimed at homosexuals. It wants Jewish representative bodies to come up with a clear policy upholding gay rights.

Alison Caldwell reports.

ALISON CALDWELL: When two young people were shot dead in Tel Aviv last month at a gay and lesbian youth centre, Melbourne-based Michael Barnett wanted nothing more than for the leaders of the Australian Jewish community to take a stand against violence towards homosexuals. But he says his calls for action fell on deaf ears.

MICHAEL BARNETT: The Israeli leadership, the Prime Minister, the President of Israel, they spoke out against intolerance and hatred and said you know, everyone deserves respect.

Yet in Melbourne where there is the family of one of the two people killed, there wasn’t even a single statement from the community leaders.

ALISON CALDWELL: He says the silence from the Jewish leadership was symptomatic of a much deeper problem.

MICHAEL BARNETT: There’s a lot of intolerance of gay people in the Jewish people. Calling gay people perverted and disgusting, comparing gay people to people who commit incest or bestiality, there’s all this language that gets used from people like some rabbis in the orthodox world who speak out against gay people.

ALISON CALDWELL: Michael Barnett is the coordinator of Aleph Melbourne, a support group for homosexual people in the Jewish community. He believes representative groups are afraid to express their support for homosexuals for fear of offending ultra-orthodox groups in the community.

MICHAEL BARNETT: I want every state and national Jewish peak body in Australia to have a specific, unambiguous policy addressing the persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Jews in regard to homophobic hate and intolerance, irrespective of whether it originates from outside or inside the Jewish community.

The policies must be enforced with the same zero tolerance afforded to anti-Semitism and holocaust rhetoric and other hate crimes.

ALISON CALDWELL: Much of his anger is levelled at a Jewish blog which recently described homosexuality as “depravity and debasement” and extolled the virtues of reprogramming homosexuals.

In July, a Sydney rabbi wrote to the Australian Jewish News, comparing homosexual intercourse with adultery, bestiality and incest.

JOHN SEARLE: If it’s a matter that’s guided by religious laws, then those laws will presumably be applied. Now I can’t say very much about those because I’m not an expert in those areas.

ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle is the president of the Jewish Community Council in Victoria. It describes itself as the roof body of Victorian Jewry. On its website, it says it shows zero tolerance towards anti-Semitism and racism but it has nothing to say about supporting or protecting gay or lesbian people within the Jewish community.

JOHN SEARLE: If we need to rewrite a policy that was written some time ago, we can certainly look at that and if it needs to be adjusted in any way, we can adjust that.

ALISON CALDWELL: John Searle says he’s against vilification of any sort.

JOHN SEARLE: The JCCV has issued statements condemning vilification of all minority groups, including vilification based on grounds of sexual orientation, sexual preference.

ALISON CALDWELL: He says the council has sought advice from numerous sources on how to be more inclusive and will invite gay and lesbian support groups to events in the future.

Michael Barnett says it’s not enough.

MICHAEL BARNETT: Lip service, motherhood statements, platitudes, rhetoric, anything but “yes, we’re going to do this and take it seriously”.

JOHN SEARLE: I reject the allegation or assertion that inviting people to participate in community events is simply lip service.

ALEX FEIN: My blog is called The Sensible Jew.

ALISON CALDWELL: Jewish blogger Alex Fein has written about the issue in recent weeks. She says the vast majority of Jews support homosexuals and describes those who don’t as minority extremists. But she says groups like the Jewish Community Council of Victoria need to be more proactive.

ALEX FEIN: It’s not enough to say that homophobia is problematic. I think all people of good faith would like to see concrete action.

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


Australian Society for Polish Jews says No To Homophobia

June 4, 2013

ASPJ logoIt just came to my attention that The Australian Society of Polish Jews and Their Descendents Inc., a little known organisation in Melbourne’s relatively small Jewish community, signed up as an Organisational Supporter of the No To Homophobia campaign in early May this year.

A testament to their support of No To Homophobia is the addition of the No To Homophobia logo to their web site:

ASPJ says No To Homophobia

(As I write this article, the inaugural Jewish organisation to support No To Homophobia, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, does not yet sport the No To Homophobia logo on their own web site.  Hopefully they will see there is merit in proudly saying No To Homophobia, just like the ASPJ have done.)

Following the lead of the JCCV signing up to No To Homophobia in March this year, the ASPJ are to be congratulated on being the first individual organisation in the Victorian Jewish community to sign up to No To Homophobia.

I hope their lead paves the way for many more organisations to also say No To Homophobia.


Jewish Parliamentarian Michael Danby should not tolerate any discrimination against gays

May 31, 2013

Yesterday Federal Labor MP for Melbourne Ports Michael Danby made this grand announcement on his Facebook profile:

20130530 Michael Danby Facebook post

Former West Australian Democrats Senator Brian Greig had this comment to make following the announcement of the proposed Anti-Discrimination legislation:

20130530 Brian Greig Facebook comment 1

and also this:

20130530 Brian Greig Facebook comment

I am absolutely disgusted (more than usual) with Michael Danby, a Jewish parliamentarian, spruiking a piece of bigoted legislation, claiming how wonderful it is and how better off we’ll all be and that we should be so grateful to him and his party.  All this from a man who only a few months ago abstained on a vote on marriage equality because he was under pressure not to support equality for gays, yet now changes his position because he knew the June 6 Adam Bandt vote on a marriage equality bill was going to be kiboshed and isn’t likely to come up again any time soon after the federal election.

And if a Jewish parliamentarian can promote such hateful legislation, wrapped up as love and light, despite it being a small step forward, then it sends out the message that it’s ok to discriminate against gays, even when you’re from a minority that has seen the worst persecution possible.

I am fed up with his arrogance and the arrogance of his party.


Responding to Corey: there’s an elephant in the room at the JCCV and it’s far from kosher

April 28, 2013

Yesterday I wrote a blog “The JCCV Puppet Show 2013“.  Today Corey posted a comment on it:

Personally I think this is childish and unwarranted.

No organisation or community has EVER gone from “homophobic” to “acceptance” over night. There has always been some with an organisation who harbour their old prejudices.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t benefit in doing SOMEthing rather than NOthing…

All this cartoon tells me is that the author has been so personally hurt by some in the JCCV that his pain is too great to see any glimmer of good in their action towards inclusive behaviour.

Perhaps my message was too subtle for Corey, so I will elaborate (although I hoped this would have been clear from the Aleph Melbourne media release issued on March 28).

The JCCV has put their name to the No To Homophobia campaign.  Any ordinary person would understand this to mean that they say no to homophobia.  Not just some homophobia, but all homophobia.  By comparison, take the issue of anti-Semitism, which is an area of concern for the JCCV.  They have the Anti-Defamation Commission to look after that for them, and through the ADC they attempt to stamp out all anti-Semitism.

Now from my humble perspective, when I read that the JCCV has signed up to No To Homophobia, I trust they are actually taking this initiative seriously and with no less concern for homophobia than they have for anti-Semitism.

But here’s the thing.  There’s a big fat elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and that’s the biblical prohibition on homosexuality, Leviticus 18:22, that the Orthodox section of the Jewish community feel compelled to uphold.  It’s about as black and white as it gets: Homosexual sex is forbidden.  Now if that’s not homophobic, then nothing is.  Incidentally, the Orthodox community seem to have no qualms about not stoning to death those who commit homosexual activity, as required under Leviticus 20:13, although maybe that’s because civilised societies don’t stone people to death any more (much like civilised societies aren’t actually intolerant of homosexuality any more).

Leviticus Elephant

The JCCV Leviticus Elephant

I mention Leviticus 18:22 because in 2013 the Orthodox leadership in the community are steadfastly intolerant of homosexuality, and further, are intolerant of equal recognition of homosexual relationships under the law and under the religion.  You may wonder why this is an issue here.  Let me tell you.  If the JCCV is going to call for no homophobia in the Jewish community, then this means it is calling for no intolerance of homosexual people, no intolerance of homosexual relationships and no intolerance of homosexuality.

And this is an impossible situation for the JCCV because the Orthodox member organisations of the JCCV are not suddenly going to start embracing homosexuality just because the JCCV has signed up to No To Homophobia.  And further, the JCCV will willingly continue to accept the not-insubstantial membership dues (and any other financial contributions) of these organisations that are currently intolerant of homosexuality.  It should be noted that the spiritual leaders of many of these organisations belong to the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, itself unaffiliated with the JCCV, that made a submission to the Australian Senate calling for the homophobic discrimination in the Marriage Act to remain in place.

There is no amount of “good-will” that the JCCV can dish up that will make any thinking person believe it is sincere about saying no to homophobia while it actively nurtures organisations that themselves are actively intolerant of homosexuality in the Jewish and wider community.  It’s that simple.

Lastly, for those who say “Saying no to homophobia is a start, even if it’s just saying it” (and no, that doesn’t cut the “we don’t tolerate some anti-Semitism” test), how about the JCCV actually does something practical, like any one of these:

  • Recommend all Jewish schools join up to Safe Schools Coalition Victoria
  • Recommend the government doesn’t exempt religious organisations from discriminating against LGBTI people in Anti-Discrimination legislation
  • Call for the removal of discrimination in the Marriage Act that prevents same-sex attracted and intersex members of the Jewish community from getting married
  • Rebuking members of the community, lay and spiritual, who make public homophobic claims, such as that of Rabbi Shimon Cowen, Rabbi Chaim Ingram, Dr Miriam Grossman, Robert Weil, Ilana Leeds, and the “AJN Watch” blog.  Their standard yelp “Don’t give them oxygen” simply doesn’t cut it, considering just how strongly they rebuke purveyors of anti-Semitism
  • Establish a properly funded rigorous investigation into the rate of self-harm and suicide from members of the Jewish community who are struggling with their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • Extend an invitation to LGBTI Jewish organisations to become members of the JCCV, as an act of goodwill (especially considering they rejected the last application from a long-established LGBTI Jewish organisation)
  • Start praising the stellar work of the Progressive and Conservative Jewish communities.

I hope that this explains why the JCCV must prove that it is actually engaging with the community to break down homophobia and not just taking the lazy way out (in order to tick the “We’re LGBTI inclusive” box on government grant applications, to ensure its funding sources don’t dry up).  Until then it will remain nothing more than a three-ring circus replete with puppet and clown show.


The JCCV Puppet Show 2013

April 27, 2013

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria is trying to convince people they’re against homophobia.  Yet they take bucket-loads of money from numerous member organisations that are deeply intolerant of homosexuality.

Here’s my response to their GLBTI Statement from Nina Bassat AM.  Click on the image to enlarge.

JCCV puppet show 2013


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


Miriam Margolyes – Australia’s newest Citizen and outspoken marriage equality advocate

January 26, 2013

I woke up on Australia Day to my partner Gregory telling me that Miriam Margolyes has become an Australian Citizen and that she had been photographed with Prime Minister Julia Gillard.  Nice one.

It’s not everyday that an outspoken (Jewish) lesbian marriage equality advocate is photographed with Julia Gillard, both sharing a moment of pure glee.

Miriam Margolyes is not one to mince her words, and has made it evidently clear that she believes Gillard needs to change her position to support marriage equality.

(“One-woman show with great expectations“; SMH Feb 1 2012)

Miriam Margolyes wants a word with Julia Gillard – although a word is not all the forthright British actor might deliver if she encounters the Prime Minister.

”I love Julia Gillard, she’s great fun, but I believe she is not in favour of gay marriage,” Margolyes says. ”She should be smacked.”

(“A woman not afraid to say her piece“; The Age Feb 25, 2012)

FORTHRIGHT British actress Miriam Margolyes – a ”socialist, lesbian, Jew” – is on a roll about gay marriage and her crisp English diction reaches a crescendo.

”People just get their knickers in a twist about this. Everybody should just grow up. If somebody you don’t know wants to get married, what the hell does it have to do with you?” she says.

”I don’t want to ape a straight relationship,” says Margolyes, who has been with her Australian partner for more than 40 years. ”The only reason I’d get married is to get some presents. I want some Le Creuset sets. Not that I cook.’

(“Barry Humphries joins Q&A“; Q&A May 28, 2012)

MIRIAM MARGOLYES: What about President Obama, who has come out in favour of gay marriage?

TONY JONES: Dragged into the open by his vice president?

MIRIAM MARGOLYES: Is that how it was?

TONY JONES: Pretty much.

BARRY HUMPHRIES: Afraid so.

MIRIAM MARGOLYES: Well, I wonder will it cost him in the election in America and would it here, for example? No, I don’t think it would here because Australians are sensible. In England, where they’re frightfully stupid, over 70% are against gay marriage in England. I, as it happens, since nobody’s asked, I don’t want to get married to my partner of 43 years but some people do and, you know, let them. It’s another question, of course. I realise that.

So how about it, Julia?  Go have a chat with Miriam and sort out her right to get married (and mine too), here in Australia, under Australian law, in case she ever decides she wants to tie the knot.  It won’t cost you the election and it might even help you win it, because love always wins over hate.


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


Ethical Eggs | The Stirrer

October 21, 2012

Ethical Eggs is the second piece I’ve had published on The Stirrer.


Ethical Eggs

Recently it came to my attention, by way of a Sydney-based Jewish gay mailing list, that an observant Orthodox Jewish couple (married and nominally heterosexual) were unable to conceive conventionally due to a medical condition.  However they were advised that conception could be achieved with the assistance of a donated egg.

To accommodate their strict religious requirements the egg donor ideally must be Jewish and must be, and remain, unmarried.  The writer of the post felt that if the egg donor were to be a lesbian, this would rule out the likelihood that she would ever marry (a man), thereby meeting the aforementioned prerequisite that the donor be now, and remain, unmarried.

By the time I had digested the gist of this somewhat unusual request I was starting to feel a little uneasy.  Not that someone should donate an egg.  In itself that was fine.  What bothered me initially is that it was considered acceptable to use a lesbian woman as an egg donor simply because she would effectively be guaranteed never to get married (under Jewish law).

In 2012 in Australia this is a correct assumption.  Lesbian couples cannot currently marry in Australia, and if they get married overseas their marriages are not legally recognised here.  In any case, Orthodox Judaism does not currently recognise same-sex marriages anywhere in the world, so even if they could get married under a civil jurisdiction, they would not be considered married under Orthodox Jewish law.

What this doesn’t take into account is that at some time in the future lesbian couples may be able to get civilly married in Australia.  Given this possibility, it raises questions as to whether said lesbian egg donor, unmarried at the time of donation, would still be considered unmarried in the eyes of the Jewish law if she were to tie the knot with a same-sex partner under civil law.  Whilst this is not a concern of mine, it may need to be a consideration for the prospective parents.

What is of greater concern to me is the welfare of any child born from the gift of an egg to this couple by an unmarried lesbian donor.  Specifically, I would be concerned that this child might be raised in a manner that did not take into account that it may grow up to be same-sex attracted.  Given that Orthodox Jewish couples of strong religious observance do not typically consider homosexuality acceptable, the likelihood of such an inflexible upbringing is high.

Should the child turn out to be other than heterosexual, and assuming it was nonetheless expected to conform to heterosexual norms, there is an increased chance of negative mental health outcomes, self-harm and even suicide.  Current Australian scientific research1 shows that these scenarios are prevalent in religious environments intolerant of homosexuality.

The ethical dilemma for the egg donor, as I see it, is whether she should donate an egg to a couple, with the full knowledge that any child born of her egg and raised by this couple will potentially suffer due to the religious attitudes of the parents, if it turns out to be same-sex attracted.

How would the egg donor feel if this child experienced a life of misery because it was forced to conform to heterosexual norms?  Would that be an acceptable outcome to the donor?

Ultimately this decision is one for the egg donor to make.  Being party to the creation of life is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and hopefully the donor would take this situation into account, along with any other considerations she may have.  Needless to say, all parties would want the best outcome for the child.  I just hope all parties understand the consequences of their actions and attitudes.

1. Refer Suicide Prevention Australia – GLBT Position Statement (PDF here)


Queer Jewish Crisis | The Stirrer

September 27, 2012

Check out “Queer Jewish Crisis“, my first contribution on The Stirrer.


Queer Jewish Crisis

by: Michael Barnett

September 25, 2012 – Family, Religion – Tagged: , , 3 comments

I recently attended a talk by Keshet Australia aimed at getting its message out to the Jewish community.  The local Keshet, based on its USA counterpart, advertises itself as “a Jewish GLBTIGQ (Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Transgender, Intersex and Gender Queer) movement to better educate Australian Schools on how to educate a Jewish child on GLBTIGQ.”

At this talk a flyer was distributed, the opening paragraphs of which described a crisis of Queer[1] departure from the Jewish community and how Keshet is placed to address it.  As a seasoned activist this crisis was news to me, with my priorities centring on reduction of isolation, self-harm and suicide.

Legitimate crises in the local Jewish community include the state of aged care and the entrenched and chronic covering up of child sex-abuse.

Other community crises surround alcohol abuse, domestic violence, poverty, private school fees and intermarriage.  The cost of keeping kosher is even of concern to some.

Another almost ignored real crisis is the rate of self-harm and suicide in the Melbourne Jewish community.  Rough figures were published in 2011 claiming approximately two people a month attempt suicide or self-harm.  Taken together with the alarming rate of suicide amongst same-sex attracted people and this issue should be given elevated priority.

My experience of coming out as gay in the Jewish community was one of compassion at best and indifference at worst.  I was not strongly religiously observant, but I continued to attend an Orthodox synagogue for some years and my friends and family accepted me and continued to include me and connect with me as they had always done.  In fact, for a number of years after coming out my Jewish “identity” actually strengthened.

Individual experiences will no doubt differ to mine, depending on the attitudes of the person’s family, friends and religious community.

I have made a number of observations about what happens when people self-identify as other than heterosexual.  If their religious context is accepting, they will open up to their peers and live a full life merging their sexuality and their cultural context.  If their religious context is intolerant they will more than likely find a context to express their sexuality at a safe distance from their cultural community, keeping both alive but separate.  I have not yet experienced many who give up their entire religious community simply to allow unhindered sexual self-expression.

And so I challenge this perceived “crisis”.  I feel it is a phenomenon that is alarmist, unfounded and exaggerated.

If a person departs their Jewish identity due to peer intolerance when they “come out”, it may potentially induce a situational crisis for their friends and family due to a sense of confusion, bewilderment, loss and even grief.  But keeping a sense of perspective, these situations are not ubiquitous or universal.

There may be legitimate grounds for concern over people leaving the Jewish community but the reasons for this are potentially varied and complex.  One mid-20’s community-minded gay woman recently told me that her university and career choices took her away from much of the Jewish surrounds that she was immersed in during her secondary school years.

Disengagement from the Jewish community may occur for ideological reasons, lack of need for a connection, or prioritising a connection with a different community.  All reasons are legitimate.

People leaving the Jewish community is not a crisis or even a problem if they make these choices voluntarily, free from duress.

If a situation arises that drives many away from a community, the crisis should be identified as the underlying reason why people are leaving rather than the fact that people are leaving.  We invariably seek the path of least conflict.

As to Keshet’s claim on their flyer “We need to keep Jews, Jewish”, I disagree.  We need to keep people in the Jewish community happy and alive.


 [1] GLBTIQ / same-sex attracted / gender diverse, etc

 


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.


Why you should not donate to the JCCV 2012 Appeal

May 16, 2012

The Jewish Community Council of Victoria has launched their 2012 appeal with an enticing email:

JCCV 2012 appeal

The pitch begins:

THE JCCV WHO?

We’re often asked what we do, how we support the Jewish community and build social cohesion within the wider multicultural community. Given the JCCV 2012 Appeal, it is timely to address these questions.

A good starting point is to define the role of a peak body - a representative organisation that provides information dissemination services, membership support, coordination, advocacy and representation, and research and policy development services for members and other interested parties…

and wraps up with:

So to our original question – the JCCV who? We speak on behalf of our community and are recognised as the body to turn to for issues regarding the Jewish and broader communities. There is so much more that we would like to do if we were better resourced and we need your support to remain relevant, viable and effective. , and to increase our efforts on the community’s behalf, we need our community’s support and your understanding.

Just before you whip out your credit card and fork out your hard-earned, take a moment to ponder the integrity of the message you’re being fed and question whether you’re donating your money to an honest, ethical organisation.

The JCCV appear to be taking some creative license here in having you believe they speak on behalf of the entire Jewish community.  It is clear that they don’t represent the best interests of gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer or same-sex attracted Jews whilst they stand by the following claim:

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

So whilst the JCCV would want you to believe it represents the entire Jewish community in Victoria, in reality it only represents those people who are heterosexual, those who are pretending to be heterosexual, or those who are openly same-sex attracted and celibate.  Some honesty in their marketing would be a start (followed by some integrity in their leadership).

I should add that this over-zealous desire to infer representation of an entire community of Jews is not constrained to Victoria, as has recently been evidenced in New South Wales, where their orthodox rabbinical council inaccurately claimed representation over all “mainstream” Jews in that state.

If you’re looking to donate money to a worthwhile organisation that is genuinely interested in the welfare of all people in the community, and not just those that meet with certain narrow religious expectations, ask some questions first.  Find out if the organisation you plan to fund is accepting and inclusive of all people, without regard to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and if they welcome and recognise those people, along with their partner and any children, unhesitatingly.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,342 other followers

%d bloggers like this: