Defence of the Wertheim Appointment – Just Not Good Enough

peter WetheimAbout two weeks ago we began following the story of Peter Wertheim’s appointment to the position of Executive Director at ECAJ. The utterly opaque process by which this appointment had been made smacked of the very failings in accountability of leadership about which we have been writing from the outset.

In response to “letter writers to the AJN, as well as Jewish bloggers” the AJN’s National Editor Ashley Browne conducted his own investigation of the issue. ECAJ Acting President Robin Margo was quoted as saying that the process of Wertheim’s appointment had been “above board.” Well we at the Sensible Jew are glad that Robin Margo feels that the process was above board, but he then failed to present any evidence as to why this might be the case.

He went on to say: “I’m confident there was substantial transparency and good process, as well as widespread consultation around the appointment.”

To us this doesn’t just smack of the worst kind of doublespeak but actually reveals a total lack of knowledge on Mr Margo’s part. He only feels confident that there was “substantial transparency and good process”, yet doesn’t claim to actually know what happened. Is it possible that the process is opaque even to acting presidents? Why did Robin Margo not know exactly what the process had been?

Ashley Browne continues to reveal what can only be described as an appalling twist in this little tale: “Sources told the AJN that Wertheim had been earmarked for the position pretty much from the time Goot assumed the presidency in late 2007, as part of Goot’s plan to beef up the organisation.”

That’s right. Earmarked from the time Goot assumed the presidency. Where is the transparency and process in that? If presidents are allowed to earmark the executive directors of publicly funded bodies that represent Australian Jewry to both parliament and the media then any pretensions of transparency and process need to be abandoned immediately.

But wait, there’s more. “Funds to pay for Wertheim’s four-year term,” continues the AJN, “had been raised from within the Sydney Jewish Community.” So we were wrong. ECAJ is not a publicly funded body, but one funded by unnamed Sydney Jewish Community members. Which means that ECAJ, an institution that is supposed to be run for the community is being underwritten by unnamed sources of finances.

Now obviously it is not our place to begrudge any Jewish organisation any funding they can get. We know that they need it. But when it comes to organisations that claim to represent all of Australia’s Jewish population, what might be perfectly acceptable for a school or a synagogue just will not cut the mustard.

ECAJ proudly and loudly claims to be representing us all, yet to have unnamed sources of finance paying for positions that were earmarked two years in advance just does not smell kosher in the slightest.

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8 Responses to “Defence of the Wertheim Appointment – Just Not Good Enough”

  1. Manny Waks says:

    Well done SJ for so accurately dissecting the myriad scandals entailed in this single case.

    For the record, while I was not one of the AJN’s sources regarding the claim ‘that Wertheim had been earmarked for the position pretty much from the time Goot assumed the presidency in late 2007, as part of Goot’s plan to beef up the organisation’, I was present at the ECAJ meeting where Goot made this point repeatedly.

    As it seems that the leadership is attempting to ignore this issue, even justify it, I can only hope that the community takes it seriously, and responds accordingly.

    For those who haven’t read it, below is my letter in this week’s edition of the AJN.

    Manny

    Dear Editor,

    Congratulations to Peter Wertheim on your appointment of Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). This appointment is long overdue and Mr. Werheim is clearly well qualified for the position.

    My concern, however, is with the manner of the appointment. Perhaps I missed the advertisement in the AJN or elsewhere, but there does not seem to have been a mechanism utilised to ensure that the position was filled by an appropriate process.

    It is precisely such methods that raise serious questions among our community regarding transparency and accountability in representative community groups (see my letter published in the AJN 12/6/09). A means of direct community vote to representative groups, as opposed to mere affiliate endorsement, is an urgent priority. I would encourage everyone to contribute to the discussion and debate regarding the long overdue reform of representative community groups. If not through the AJN then I suggest a good starting point is the recently launched Sensible Jew website (http://sensiblejew.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/a-democratic-model-for-communal-governance/).

    Sincerely,

    Manny Waks

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  2. The Goy Husband says:

    This blog is getting bogged down with the internal politics/personalities of communal organisations and is driftng from a search for reform/renewal in process to hard core ideological criticism. Arguments regarding the appointment of X or the governance style of Y in a small and highly layered community (multiple interests that cross bundaries of political, social and cultural allegiance) can very much close off communication/dialogue with the very entities or individuals that the blog’s readers or blogmasters (lets use blog mistresses if you like) have purported to champion.

    The four sources of power theory (well regarded since the late 1980s) whereby ideological,
    economic, military and political power structures represent the prevailing elements jousting for influence rather than shere dominance is a better way to understand the reality of communal leadership activism.

    A body that represents a community is not beholden to any set internal governance democracy model which its critics pursue. The effectiveness, efficiency and empowerment of any communal leadership is linked to its stakeholder’s views as to its claim to prominence, its claim to speak for us and its responsiveness.

    The witch hunt of the ECAJ appointment has all the hallmarks of the ideological purity of the boycott, disinvestment and sanction mentality that says that certain states or regimes are not worthy of recognition/respect due to some foundational sin.

    The town hall small d democracy approach is all fine with the local P & C but fails the needs or realities of the more complex community organisation. The old Melbourne based Painters & Dockers had elections and democratic facades – form does not make it real.

    This blog should consider itself at risk of alienating and isolating itself from mainstream dialogue if it ventures down the puritan road. (I never did like the Cromwellian certainties)

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  3. michael says:

    Boring , Boring !!!

    Why don’t use some of your massive spare time instead of pushing your own personal agenda and instead investigate the damage self hating Jews in Australia are doing to Israel’s image and fueling anti semitism.

    Ps if you feel so strongly about representation as you are going on and on about this issue why don’t you first joining the committee of these Jewish Organizations and then stand for it’s leadership and test your theory that your views are so popular? Its so easy to be a arm chair critic!

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  4. sjeditorial says:

    Goy Husband,

    On your point: A body that represents a community is not beholden to any set internal governance democracy model which its critics pursue. The effectiveness, efficiency and empowerment of any communal leadership is linked to its stakeholder’s views as to its claim to prominence, its claim to speak for us and its responsiveness.

    We completely agree.

    We are not arguing for transparency because we think its fun to stir the pot with our leadership bodies. We are not basking in any ideologically pure witch hunts.

    We feel that transparency has ramifications that go far beyond notions of ideological purity, morality or fairness, even though these are important considerations.

    We believe that the entrenched and ossified nature of the leadership structure has created a dangerous status quo within the community whereby the institutions passively encourage disengagement. A disengaged community is a vulnerable community. Vulnerable to all sorts of influences, be they assimilationist, anti-semitic or otherwise. A community that is fundamentally disengaged is one that will not have the internal strength or fortitude to withstand any serious challenges made against it.

    By maintaining a governance system that is predicated on a closed “old boys club” system you end up with a small coterie of highly engaged individuals, but an overwhelming majority of totally disengaged individuals.

    For all those commenters and otherwise who keep admonishing malcontents to simply join the system we believe that this simply isn’t possible. A call to join a defunct system will not help to energise and invigorate the community, it will only provide honour and engagement for the few who brave the almost insurmountable hurdles in their path.

    Engagement with the community should not require one to brave anything. It should be the easiest action in the world. Yet it is not.

    While we are not naive enough to believe that mere transparency in leadership and governance processes will immediately regenerate the engagement of the community, we also believe that without reform at the top no other change is possible.

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  5. Daniel Levy says:

    Daniel Levy and other readers: We have deleted The Truth’s comments. Please do not reply.

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  6. The Goy Husband says:

    Dear TSJ (yes, I woke up unable to get back to sleep)

    Thank you for the measured and detailed response. Whilst we might not agree on the conclusions from our dialogue – you have made a sound and well argued set of points. I would welcome more responses from a diversity of readers – or are we and Michael the only ones taking the issue seriously. Otherwise – time for that hot milk sedative (or a quick read of The Age online)

    Cheers TGH

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  7. Daniel Lewis says:

    It is hard to take seriously at all, anyone who complains about a lack of transparency yet refuses to use their own name. You aren’t living in China, nor do you need to worry about any Fatwas for your views. Why should anyone take you seriously at all?

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  8. Manny Waks says:

    Well done SJ for so accurately dissecting the myriad scandals entailed in this single case.

    For the record, while I was not one of the AJN’s sources regarding the claim ‘that Wertheim had been earmarked for the position pretty much from the time Goot assumed the presidency in late 2007, as part of Goot’s plan to beef up the organisation’, I was present at the ECAJ meeting where Goot made this point repeatedly.

    As it seems that the leadership is attempting to ignore this issue, even justify it, I can only hope that the community takes it seriously, and responds accordingly.

    For those who haven't read it, below is my letter in this week's edition of the AJN.

    Manny

    Dear Editor,

    Congratulations to Peter Wertheim on your appointment of Executive Director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). This appointment is long overdue and Mr. Werheim is clearly well qualified for the position.

    My concern, however, is with the manner of the appointment. Perhaps I missed the advertisement in the AJN or elsewhere, but there does not seem to have been a mechanism utilised to ensure that the position was filled by an appropriate process.

    It is precisely such methods that raise serious questions among our community regarding transparency and accountability in representative community groups (see my letter published in the AJN 12/6/09). A means of direct community vote to representative groups, as opposed to mere affiliate endorsement, is an urgent priority. I would encourage everyone to contribute to the discussion and debate regarding the long overdue reform of representative community groups. If not through the AJN then I suggest a good starting point is the recently launched Sensible Jew website (http://sensiblejew.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/a-democratic-model-for-communal-governance/).

    Sincerely,

    Manny Waks

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