An urgent request to Our Leadership for the Jewish reponse to anti-Indian violence

How is it that the only Jewish person to appear in the mainstream media condemning the recent violence against Indian students is David Vorchheimer? His letter to the editor, appearing in Saturday’s Age was a triumph of understatement, reason, and should be a template for the language with which our community’s leadership responds to this issue.

So far, the only visible response has been from John Searle (JCCV) and Tony Levy (B’nei Brith) on http://jwire.com – not a widely read media outlet.

Mr. Searle employs language in the Jwire statement that is full of hyperbole, unnecessary Holocaust references, and that – perhaps unintentionally – separates the Jewish experience from other groups’ encounters with racism

We, at the SJ, therefore thought it was necessary to write to Mr. Searle and other communal leaders to express our concerns. Our previous email, requesting our leaders engage us and our readers in dialogue was met with resounding silence. To an extent, this is understandable, because we write an anonymous blog, and there may have been a reluctance to comment in such a forum. With this issue, however, we do not expect a direct reply. We do  expect our leaders to behave responsibly, with the best interests of the community in mind.

Below is the text of the email we sent to our leaders.

“Dear Sir/Madam

We are writing to urge you to take immediate action in the mainstream media, regarding Jewish communal responses to the recent anti-Indian violence. While we are aware that statements made by the JCCV and B’nei Brith have appeared on jwire.com.au, we have yet to see public condemnation of the attacks, offers of assistance, or strategic planning for racism prevention, appear in any other media outlet. At the end of last week, the situation for Indian students had become so dire that top level diplomatic and government discussions were taking place between India and Australia.

We believe that, for the following three reasons, statements of support for the students must be widely disseminated throughout Australia’s media:

1) As a community that has intimate experience of discrimination and violent racism, we are in a unique moral and practical position to offer assistance. Practically, we have bodies such as the Community Security Group and the Anti-Defamation Commission that can offer useful strategies for preventing future attacks. Morally, it is incumbent upon us, as people who have suffered millennia of discrimination to render assistance whenever we witness another group in similar distress.

2) When we seek to eradicate discrimination and violence against one group, we lay the groundwork for a society in which such abuses are the exception, rather than a commonplace occurrence. The benefits are obvious and will be enjoyed by both Jews and non-Jews.

3) By disseminating such statements as widely as possible, Jewish community groups are able to display their compassion and interest in making Australia safer. Because we are defending another ethnic minority in such statements, the Jewish community shows its commitment to a non-racist Australia, not just an Australia that is not anti-Semitic. This will render any future statements from our community far more legitimate (as opposed to self-serving), because we have publicly demonstrated that we are not only interested in our own community’s welfare.

Having read the statements on Jwire, we would like to advise our leaders to proceed with caution. While B’nei Brith’s Tony Levy presented an admirable universalism in his condemnation of racism and support for the Indian students, JCCV’s John Searle made a number of unfortunate comments. In repeatedly emphasising the Jewish experience of discrimination, Mr Searle will be seen in some media quarters to be diminishing the experience of the Indian students. In using, as his reason for speaking out, the experience of racism against Jews, Mr. Searle, perhaps unintentionally, implies that were it not for our own horrific experiences, Jews would either be less inclined to render assistance, or would have less moral compunction to do so. This is certainly not the message the community wishes to project. We needn’t invoke the memory of the Holocaust to condemn the bashings of innocent people.

We also urge our leaders not to distinguish between anti-Semitism and racism in their public statements. Anti-Semitism is a form of racism. When our leaders insist on making statements about, “anti-Semitism and racism,” they create a false dichotomy, and – even if it is unintended – cause the non-Jewish reader to question whether Jews see anti-Semitism as more heinous than other forms of racism.

Adding to the above arguments for widespread media dissemination of Jewish condemnation and plans for assistance, is the need for transparency. While much good can indeed come of inter-communal meetings at the top-tiers, it is equally important that the grass-roots members of these communities are aware of what their leadership is undertaking in their name.

It is therefore particularly troubling that there is no easily accessed email address to the JCCV or its president, John Searle. On the JCCV website, the only email address provided is for Geoffry Zygier, the former president, and that email address is no longer functional. It is difficult to understand how a roof body that speaks in an entire community’s name can have no means by which the public can contact it online.

Finally, we would like to congratulate Tony Levy for B’nei Brith’s inter-faith initiatives. These wonderful events deserve far more publicity than they are currently receiving. We urge Mr Levy and B’nei Brith to take a pro-active media approach on this matter.

Yours Sincerely,
The writers at The Sensible Jew blog – http://sensiblejew.wordpress.com”

[edited at 10:40pm to add] We received an email from Danny Lamm of the ZSC.

He wrote, “I’m unaware of any email to me in my capacity as Pres ZCV or Chairman Beth Weizmann, but I have raised this issue with the Premier, Minister of Multicultural Affairs,Police Commissioner and several others in a position to act.Likewise has John Searle.

Danny Lamm”
We thank Dr Lamm for his reply, and congratulate him on his actions. We do wonder whether any of our emails have been finding their correct recipients. We send all our emails to communal leaders to the addresses specified on their official web pages. We already know that the JCCV president does not have a current public address. Perhaps other organisations might also want to check that their contact details are correct.

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14 Responses to “An urgent request to Our Leadership for the Jewish reponse to anti-Indian violence”

  1. faygale says:

    I guess we should be following the Muslim community you know all the public announcements they have been making in the news condemning the attacks against mainly the Hindu Indians …and their public announcements condemning anti Semitic attacks against Jews …then I woke up >>

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  2. TheSadducee says:

    Faygale

    And because the Muslim community hasn’t made any criticisms the Jewish community shouldn’t either? Bizarre thinking on your part on this one – anti-racists should stand up for any case where racism or prejudice occurs.

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  3. Michael Brull says:

    No, you’re all wrong (and considering SJ seems to live in Melbourne, it’s surprising). For example, who wrote this?
    http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/stop-hesitating-indians-are-being-targeted-20090521-bh2r.html?page=-1

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  4. The Goy Husband says:

    Dear TSJ,

    I must be somewhat confused – first the community leadership is ridiculed, criticised or scrutinised with mock concern (eg the AIJAC slow burn and the urgent email that seems to have died in cyberspace) and then the leadership is called to arms over deplorable, criminal acts aimed at Indian subcontinent overseas students.

    Are the community’s leaders expected to be at the forefront of all anti-racism efforts in this country? If so, when did they get the job, when did they get elected (a favorite TSJ theme or aspiration) to do this or when did the pressure to be vanguards of immediate reaction descend?

    Reaction to the action of criminals and racists (sometimes not always the same person or cohort) is not the test of the leadership bonafide status re racism. Shock horror: some Australians equate zionism to racism and therefore they might find Jewish community over-reaction regarding the Melbourne incidents to be playing to a stereotype.

    Anonymous public correspondence demanding or urging action have limited value or integrity.

    The community has many voices and many institutional entities (given its size and demographics)… the major problem for some on this site is that the majority viewpoint is horribly not to their liking. Where does the middle ground lie? Where is the sensible jew – probably working constructively within the bosom of one of a number of mainstream organisations.

    Placing yourself to the “right” of the extreme left to use the old cold war terms, and demanding credit for reason and moderation, is just too simple. Sensible or moderate are terms that are very value laden – I see myself as a moderate but you may disagree (that is the essential feature of political discourse) and that is fine with me. I can live with being wrong.

    However, do not pretend to speak on behalf of thousands (ok let us just drop it to hundreds) if there is no evidence of such support.

    Numbers visiting the site do not make for mass engagement – are you prepared to run independently controlled web surveys or polls (with protection from ballot stuffing) on key issues. If the results are not terribly pleasant (contrary to your preferred position) will you publish?

    I acknowledge that TSJ has not in any way stopped me or about 2 dozen others from blogging/commenting.

    However, it is no way a mass meeting of minds or even a cyberspace version of a town hall meeting.

    Cell groups are wonderful examples of elite comfort – we all know each other and then pretend that the debate is significant. However, my students (yes I have outed myself as a tertiary sector teacher, “the shame” ) would have expected more by now.

    Maybe it is time to drop the anonymity, the self-appointed presumption that you are the moderates and the ongoing beat up about leaders – if you don’t like what they are doing, just don’t donate or support them. Roll up your sleeves and take up the slack – collective responsibility is out of fashion but terribly relevant to human progress. One thing the old fashion tories and the pre-Blairite socialists both agree upon is that it takes more than rabid individual self-interest to build a community.

    The strong are meant to help the weak – if TSJ see themselves as the ideologically or intellectually strong then just come out of the closet and help those who disagree with you.

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  5. TheSadducee says:

    Brull

    The point whether the Muslim community have or have not made public comment is irrelevant (though the fact that the ICV has, as you point out, is very commendable) – the issue was that anti-racists have an obligation to speak out irrespective of others. Faygale’s sarcasm was addressed.

    The Goy Husband

    Your post has raised some very interesting issues that I at least would like to explore if you have the time;

    with regards to your 3rd para you refer to a stereotype. What stereotype would that be? I’m uncertain how Jewish community leadership figures speaking out against racism against Indian students to be an over reaction? Indeed I’m not even sure what the relationship to some Australians equating Zionism with racism is to this topic?

    (BTW, I would think that any stereotype, if it existed in the popular mind, would relate to Jewish people overreacting to anti-semitism, criticism of Zionism, Israel etc – all issues primarily concerned with Jews and their interests.)

    TSJ placing themselves to the “right” of the extreme left? How have you come to this conclusion based on the limited amount of material provided by TSJ to date?

    And to your last 2 paras – its deeply ironic that you refer to “rabid individual self-interest” – isn’t this characteristic of much of the leadership of the existing communities? At least anecdotally from some of the comments posted here it seems to be – as well as my own personal experiences.

    Additionally, you dont address the fact that some existing leadership may not want to work with people who disagree with them? How does that relationship work? You advise people to get out there and do something without advising us how to handle the inevitable “turf war” which results?

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  6. The Goy Husband says:

    Dear The Sadducee,

    Thanks for the response. Discussing difference and contesting ideas are both valid elements of this blog.

    1. Leaders of one of the many diverse ethno-religious elements (Jewish) of our culturally diverse community (Victoria or Australia) leaping to the barricades over deplorable violence against another element may be seen by some as seeking to own the turf on anti-racism or pure postering to gain prominence. Crying wolf at every occasion can minimise your impact. All of us share the concern for the violence that has occurred and we all share a national interest to see this defeated. There is a small and (happy to say ) unrepresentative Australian fringe that equate zionism with racism.

    2. I understood that the TSJ places themselves between the A Lowenstein side of the spectrum and the more conservative (call it maybe rightist) elements of the community. However, how far to the centre or how far to the A Lowenstein side of things do they sit? I perceive it (at its just me) standing probably at 2.5 if we use a scale where Antony is 1 and the ultra-right are 9. But moderation or centrist labels are all in the eyes of the beholder.

    3. Rabid self interest is not generally a feature of leadership that donates vast personal/corporate sums, great personal/professional time, enormous market valued skills and the loss of much of the anoymity that TSJ and other enjoy.

    4. In a liberal civil society (yes its imperfect, but not bad compared to most) you cannot force your way into the tent by noise or demonstration. You can seek to build alternate entities; you can seek to build trust based on work and contribution; and you can utilise the cherished values of scholarship and dialogue. If we use the Greek-Australian or Vietnamese-Australian communities as models, we see a diversity of organisations, some wealthy and other not; some addressing whole community aspects (welfare, health, families) and others with older political/denominational/cultural limitations.

    What would be the right level of support (in your opinion) to justify recognition of a new voice on the spectrum (is it a small group of skilled intellectuals – let us call them the Bolshevik or Elite cell; a larger group say 400 or more reformers – our Menshevik or Peoples Movement; or maybe 3-4000 liked minded partisans – our Kerensky or Progressive Democrats)

    I’ve noticed no real institutional hurdles to people pursuing political. social or welfare reform – it is now generally just a mouse click away.

    Harassment, hectoring behaviour or holding a kangaroo court will not get others to listen, let alone change. Engagement means knocking at the door an awful number of times … in the end, they just may open up.

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  7. TheSadducee says:

    The Goy Husband

    Thanks for the reply. To address some of your points;

    1. “may be seen by some as seeking to own the turf on anti-racism or pure postering to gain prominence. Crying wolf at every occasion can minimise your impact.”

    - this strikes me as deeply cynical. Who would see this in a negative light? What reasonable voice is going to articulate that people speaking out against racist violence against another ethnic/cultural/religious minority are not serious and are grandstanding for attention? Do you really need the approval of people who would subscribe to such a position?

    Certainly not the Indian community or the people have suffered the violence would hold that position – I’m sure they would appreciate the solidarity. I think in fact that saying nothing only creates the impression that we care when it happens to us, and then who could blame them for saying nothing when something does happen to us?

    As to the crying wolf analogy. I would respectfully suggest that you re-read the fable as written by Aesop: (http://classics.mit.edu/Aesop/fab.1.1.html). The analogy would not be appropriate for this example as there is actual violence being conducted against Indian students.

    2. Can you point out some examples where TSJ places themselves at the 2.5 point on your scale? Where would you put someone like myself?

    3. I’m not convinced that the criteria you note necessarily argue against rabid self-interest in leadership positions. Broadly speaking, there are several examples of political or religious leaders who would fit the criteria you note but are clearly indulging in self-aggrandizement. Hollywood stars or high profile people starting up their own charities comes to mind (especially when they name them after themselves). (Perhaps I’m being cynical now?)

    4. I agree that alternate entities can be developed to work on areas/issues that are required in the community. However, you don’t address the concern about a turf war which will erupt when other existing entities see their areas of influence encroached upon and this is inevitable. Similarly, you haven’t addressed how this would impact on leadership roles in the community. Set up alternative leadership – and who do the press/media/other communities/govt. etc go to to gauge community opinions? Don’t you run the risk of reducing community and leadership credibility through all of these little groups?

    As you seem to like Soviet analogies, perhaps I’ll posit one also. I would think that those who are seeking reform of the existing leadership in the community are like the Kronstadt sailors rather than any of the examples that you prefer.

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  8. Mark R says:

    Hello “Sensible Jews”,

    I would like to make two points:
    Firstly, to express my thanks at your existence and concern about your longevity,
    Secondly, to give a simple story underlying my belief that anti-Semitism in Australia today is far less virulent than a generation ago.

    I applaud your efforts, as I have always felt the “middle ground” to be under-represented in Jewish affairs. Though, as expressed by many of the others on this blog, one wonders how broad a church (pun intended!) you truly represent? For example, while I am notionally of the Jewish faith, my oldest, dated possession is a Catholic bible handed down to me by my very Protestant grandmother.

    People applauding your efforts is very gratifying, but doesn’t pay the bills. To have a real longevity you need formal legitimacy. And I wonder how you are going to achieve that?

    On a brighter note, let me relate to you two short stories.

    While attending one of Melbourne’s innumerable church-based, Eastern suburbs private schools I had the pleasure of being: bullied, punched, kicked and tripped as well as most vicious of all – my toes being smashed by a boy sitting intentionally down hard on his chair which he had adroitly placed on top of them. The pain was excruciating giving me temporarily immense strength. I grabbed hold of the back of the chair ripped it out from underneath him hurling it backwards smashing a window while his head thudded against the front of my desk. A fight was arranged at the back of the gym. This I notionally won by walking up to the aggressor, holding out my hand and saying to the effect that I knew he was set up and that I would help him with his home-work.

    Contrast the above with the experience of my son, who likewise attended a similar school. As the day of his Bar Mitzvah drew near, parents of his class-mates rang me to ask whether they and their children could attend the service as a mark of respect and interest. My son never once experienced a nasty word.

    This in a country that formalised racism in the infamous ‘White Australia’ policy. There always has been and probably always will be racism in Australia. To me anti-Semitism is simply a specific form of racism – intolerance of the ‘other’. I agree as Jews we should speak out against the current spate of racism against Indian students. However, their frustration at their treatment here needs to be put into perspective of the intolerance shown at the time of the separation and partition of India. Deaths were estimated at several hundreds of thousands to a million. To paraphrase Christ: “It is better to take the log out of one’s own eye before taking the splinter out of someone else’s.” Furthermore, it seems a twisted argument to protest against racism in another country by promoting it at home – in this case in India by burning effigies of Kevin Rudd etc!

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  9. sensiblejew says:

    Quite right, Sadducee. Please check your email.

    Hi Faygale. If you think certain organisations have behaved badly, why would you want to emulate that behaviour? Why wouldn’t we try to forge a path that contributes to tolerance and the best possible quality of life for both minority groups and the broader Australian population?

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  10. sensiblejew says:

    Michael, you’re quite right. We remember reading this article when it was first published and thinking it was an important contribution to the debate. Unfortunately, in the blogging world, the temptation to keep up with the news can mean that we neglect important articles that appeared some days earlier. So thank you very much for reminding us about it. It is also an important example of how to write effectively for the media while maintaining a moderate tone and position. We don’t have to be strident or extreme to be newsworthy.

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  11. sensiblejew says:

    GH, we distinguish between what is and what we would like to be. Currently, what is, is a leadership situation in which our spokespeople are already established as media go-to people. They have placed themselves in that position and therefore have the responsibility – as self-appointed representatives of ALL Australian Jews – to conduct themselves in a manner that benefits their community.

    What we would like, regarding our leadership, is a different story, and we have written extensivley on the issue. We urge you to look through old posts for the answers to many of your questions.

    No one is suggesting that the leaders neglect all other duties to speak out on racism. Again, we have written clearly on the issue. Condemning racism publicly, benefits both Jews and non-Jews alike.

    We understand the disquiet regarding our anonymity and have sought to address that in a recent post.

    The behaviour that is not to our liking is often not to the community’s liking either. See, the Maccabi incident. There was nothing sensible in that entire debacle, save the backdown at the end.

    Again, we do not claim to represent anybody. We do believe, however, that there is a massive, untapped well of moderation in Melbourne’s (and Australia’s) Jewish community that is currently unrepresented. Again, see Maccabi.

    The numbers on this site have been astonishing. But that is not really the point. If there were any technically/organisationally oriented people who believed they were able to set up a system that could acurately and transparently monitor community sentiment – perhaps expanding into some sort of electoral system – we would support that whole-heartedly.

    We are not entirely sure what you mean by mentioning your students’ expectations. We would love to meet them, but we have no idea what they are.

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  12. sensiblejew says:

    Sadducee, thank you for another great response. We have heard a number of stories in which “turf wars” root out internal dissent. We simply cannot imagine how a genuine outsider might go about convincing a closed shop that opening up might be in its best inetrests – even if it is in the community’s.

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  13. sensiblejew says:

    Sadducee, thank you for your excellent response.

    GH, Sadducee has effectively articulated our position.

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  14. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Mark, and welcome.

    Firstly, we are not gifted with second sight, so we can only hope that longevity will come with our being around for a while, and legitimacy will grow as people find us worthy. We don’t mean to be flippant, but in a way, your concerns are impossible to answer. We’ll just do what we can.

    It’s great to hear that your son’s environment is so accepting of his Jewishness, and we are glad you’re out the other side of your own difficult experiences.

    We believe that just because a greater injustice may exist, that does not absolve us from arguing against the lesser injustice. Indeed, the lesser injustices, if allowed to fester, can often amalgamate and grow into something quite great indeed.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment and we look forward to reading more from you.

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