Talking Tachles: Models of Representation and Democratising Australian Jewish Leadership

We’ve said in the past that one of the most important functions of this site is to provide  a forum for discussion for Australian Jews. We also have made no secret that we believe one of the greatest challenges facing our community is representation. We’ve posted extensively on why and how the current system is not working.

A number of people have asked for a discussion to be established that could deal with the tachles (nitty gritty) of how exactly one could go about reforming the current model.

The term, “direct democracy” has been bandied about a fair bit by both advocates and critics. It’s important, however, to distinguish what we mean by the term. Are we talking about the model as it exists in, for example, California, in which constant plebiscites on various issues have undermined government ability to budget  – some might say govern at all – effectively? Or are we simply referring to the idea of one Jew, one vote?

There are a plethora of issues to examine. There’s the perennial, “Who is a Jew?” conundrum when working out the potential electorate. There are registration and voting logistics, and voting systems to consider (proportional representation? First past the post? It’s an interesting thought that the Jewish demographics of a city like Melbourne might actually prove conducive to a system similar to the Federal House of Reps single member constituencies/electorates).

We ask our readers to share their thoughts on these and any related issues.

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8 Responses to “Talking Tachles: Models of Representation and Democratising Australian Jewish Leadership”

  1. This is a tough, tough question.

    You’re writing about an impossible question to answer–it’s the old conumdrum, who and what is a Jew? A Jewish Australian? An Australian Jew (change the same to Greek or Lebanese, and you’ve got the same problem. How do you prove that you are Jewish in lifestyle and intent? Many of us would fail, completely.

    Isn’t being the citizen of Australia enough?

    It’s also about needs – if you think of aged care, there are definitely parochial interests, but, for example, in politics, can and should there be a Jewish position? I think we see that in fact, ‘Jewish’ (ie Israel) interests have quite a strange effect on the words and actions of local MPs. So it comes down to ‘Leadership for What’. Perhaps on Aged Care, perhaps on schools, but the sore point for many is the particular view on Israel put forward by ‘leaders’ on various scales heading rightward.

    When wrapped up with the natural emergence of power blocks, and business and political links (nothing speaks like money), you end up with the emergence of elites who enjoy throwing their wait around This is a univesal, so this isn’t a neccesarily Jewish problem, but in this community, leadership and power have been the purview of a few, and they won’t give an inch-either to each other, or the rest of the community.

    Furthermore, as the Jewish community becomes more affluent–and this is just my view–and appears increasingly enmeshed in supporting it own welfare and education services to ‘mixing’–can the natural interests of those who maintain such services that draw upon the public purse–be assumed to be representative of all the ‘community’. This inward tendency has, I believe, not appealed to many people who would otherwise want a stronger connection to the community.

    Additionally, given the lack of recognition given to alternate expressions of Judaism by the orthodox rabbinate, there is a real danger of such a body becoming involved in the worst sort of internal religious bigotry through force of voting numbers.

    Finally, despite the clear success of multiculturalism in Australia, I don’t think that separate communal kehillah self-governance (the kind of thing familiar in medieval Poland),or the model proposed in pre-war Europe by Zhitlow, is something that contributes to a mutually respectful civil society.The last thing we need is another parliamentary mess and I suspect it would end up on Party (Labour, Liberal, Green) lines–but THAT would be interesting!

    Given the low opinion rating of politicians generally, and the low standard often found in state and local government, I have grave concern about the quality of local Jewish politicians attached to communal elections, with swollen heads and egos about their self-importance.

    I don’t think I have provided a solution, but indicated just what a bowl of jelly is the problem of representation.

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  2. Rahab says:

    I’ve always had a soft spot for The West Wing. Especially the pearls of wisdom that have emanated from the mouth of a fictional President.

    Something that stuck with me was this, “Democracy belongs to those who show up”. It’s not our ‘right’ to be represented within the community, it’s something that is offered to us that requires our participation.

    If you want to see change within the representation, then join the JCCV, the Board of Deputies or the ZCV and run for office. Or better yet, encourage others to do so.

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  3. sensiblejew says:

    Larry and Rahab, hi and welcome.

    We will discuss some of the issues you have raised in a post tomorrow.

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  4. Firstly, on the subject of “direct democracy”, this is the position of well known anarchist Joe Toscano. Asking the public about every important decision will paralyze them and make it impossible for them to govern. Let’s please drop that option.

    Assuming most of us believe in a democratic system similar to what we enjoy in Australia (although when it comes to Jewish matters, none of us want to be in the minority), it makes sense to follow a similar model.

    As stated earlier, I suggest we roughly retain the roof body we already have. It is good to have delegates that have experience in particular community issues, and have shown their commitment by actually being on the boards or orgs. This should be augmented with a handful of directly elected community representatives. This will give representation to that part of the community that isn’t quite covered by current orgs.

    SJ & Larry,

    Re the issue of “Who is a Jew”, this discussion is quite tangential. We have enough Melbourne-specific issues to consider that there is little value in rehashing something that has been debated over and over, and an issue for which there is some standard defined in Israel (like it or not). This has come up in various local orgs from time to time and in my own experience, been dealt with in a pragmatic way.


    You have it right. The overwhelming majority of vocal critics have never “done time” as an office bearer in any local orgs. Walk a mile (or even a few metres) in their shoes and then let’s see what you have say (and do).

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  5. Malki says:

    regarding your comment,

    “If you want to see change within the representation, then join the JCCV, the Board of Deputies or the ZCV and run for office. Or better yet, encourage others to do so.”

    We have discussed this many times on this blog, please refer to those discussions in older topics and you will notice that this is easier said than done as those who’ve attempted what you suggest have had no success in being allowed to put forward ideas for initiating change. So although it seems like the first natural and obvious course, it is not one which actually works. So stage 2 is needed.

    Bringing those leaders who are interested in discussion and change (And several of us believe that there are some) to the table to debate what stage 2 should be.

    I do agree on some level with your west wing’ism, that “democracy belongs to those who show up”. But with my earlier point in mind, many have tried to show up and have been turned away at the door.

    I disagree though in one other important sense, some do not have the ability or courage to “show up”. Should those who simply cannot “show up” be stripped of their right to enjoy democratic process?


    SJ has said part of what needs to be said. Although I do agree with you that there are plenty in both this blog and across the community who will complain ad nauseum and never attempt to walk a single centimetre in the shoes of those who have painfully trod across hot coals to get things done.

    To avoid that situation where nothing is done and walking in painful shoes is not partaken in, I would love to read your answer to my comment from before Shabbos under the “John Searle’s speech” post, regarding how we’d begin bringing people to the table to effect real change.

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  6. !) To add to this–I have been an office bearer in at least two organisations–one with a religious edge, the other, socio-political. I think I have done some hard, at at time, incredibly unpleasant slog.

    2) Furthermore, not everyone has the time (family time) and resources to commit to communal activity in the way implied by Mr Werdiger. Real life sometimes interferes.

    3) As for the ‘who is a Jew’ stuff–in fact, the negative vibes given out to the ‘others’ who share very different identities, has long-been recognised as a problem to effective engagement.

    4) But I’d still like to know what is a ‘Jewish’ issue outside of welfare & education ( both contentious issues anyway due to the funding issue and self-interest of the industry). Issues like religious freedom are an Australian issue, not just a Jewish issue.

    5) I suspect that for many people, the overarching official structures are completely irrelevant to them.

    6) Furthermore, the issue is that the current parliamentary system at all 3 levels (federal, state, local gov) is inadequate in defending rights and freedoms and people feel the need for their own structures?

    Thus, by turning to a communal self-governance model, are people thinking that current civil society structures are inadequate: if we look at countries like Argentina or South Africa, the emergence of Jewish community organisations is perhaps more justified because of the highly divided nature each society for different reasons. But is this the case here? Or, is self-interest and increasing privatization of the public sphere and private sphere encouraging this?

    And of course, there is nothing else like getting into the public limelight…

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  7. SJ#5,

    Again, you jump on my broad statements (I said “vast majority” this time, not “all”, and didn’t even specifically refer to critics who write on this blog) and accuse me of “patently false accusations”. You must be a barrister!

    Thanks for telling us that you personally have experience in community service. I’m sure most (have to be careful here) will agree that it gives your criticism more credibility.

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  8. sensiblejew says:

    David Werdiger, please provide evidence that any of the critics of the status quo have not “done time” in communal service and/or leadership.

    Your friendly moderator most certainly has, Yvonne Fein, too. Yoram, Malki? Their cultural and leadership activities may not fit neatly into JCCV designated groups, but they have both contributed considerably. There are many, many others. Mr Werdiger, it is beneath you to make patently false accusations against people who advocate for change by implying they have not yet put their hands up, or they have not yet contributed.

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