AJN 3 – John Searle: A Very Bizarre Suggestion

John Searle’s commentary on the community survey (AJN 15) is a study in how to say as little as possible in 800 words. One brief section, however, demands attention.

Along with the expected motherhood statements that pepper his piece, Searle also indulges in frantic dissimulation.

To give the appearance of responsive governance, Searle concedes that certain areas of communal governance might require improvement. The way in which he couches this concession, however, is profoundly disturbing.

He writes (emphasis is mine), “And love of the land and State of Israel bind almost all local Jews together and rebut those few shrill voices who claim otherwise.

“While this is reassuring for community organisations, which can take some of the credit for these good findings – such attitudes would be impossible with bad leadership – leaders must equally take responsibility for the less favourable.

That Australian Jews are such fervent Zionists because of our leadership, is truly a bizarre assertion – and one which Searle does not even bother to defend with evidence.

Indeed, the Australian Jewish devotion to Israel quite comfortably coexists with leadership that is lacking, not only in mandate or transparency, but in any clear justification for its existence.

There are many Jews in Australia who work tirelessly on behalf of Israel. Most of these people are not in any leadership position. They do not volunteer their time and resources to gain plaudits or recognition; nor do they seek to take credit for the passionate connection between Australian Jewry and Israel.

They do it because they love Israel. And they love Israel for many reasons – none of which has anything to do with our leaders.

Searle might not be aware of the longing for Zion that has characterised our people for millennia.

Nor may he know that ours is a Holocaust survivor community. Our survivors, secularised by the camps, hiding with righteous Gentiles, or fighting with partisans, embraced Zionism as their new, redemptive religion that slotted easily into the narrative generated by the Holocaust.

In Australia, 2009, our community comprises myriad sub-communities and consequent internecine squabbles. We would be in danger of atomising further were it not for the Zionist adhesive which binds 80% of us together.

And while I proudly count myself among the 80% of committed Zionists, and object to a certain style of intellectually dishonest Israel bashing from the Loewenstinians, I object even more strongly to Searle’s self-appointed position as arbiter of whose voices deserve to be heard.

It is one thing for community members to engage in robust debate over the soundness of any position on Israel. It is another entirely for the head of the Victorian Jewish roof body to dismiss 20% of Australian Jews as “shrill” and unworthy of a hearing.

I ask the same questions over and over: who elected John Searle to such a position? From where does he derive his mandate to adjudicate on whose is a legitimate voice? Where are the mechanisms that ensure his actions and decision-making processes are transparent?

That John Searle, in a couple of short sentences can both dismiss 20% of our community, and claim credit for the remainder’s Zionism demonstrates a complete disregard for the realities of his position.

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20 Responses to “AJN 3 – John Searle: A Very Bizarre Suggestion”

  1. Princess says:

    Unbelievable, SJ, in a truly amazing way! You ask the really tough questions and analyse the community identity with such acuity that I hope John Searle is not tempted to fall on his sword upon completion of reading this particular post. I know I certainly didn’t vote for him and he has played no part whatsoever in my love of Israel. In fact, I would go so far as to say that I love Zion in spite of his very public, too frequent and profoundly embarrassing expressions of said leadership.

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  2. SJ,

    While I agree with much of your criticism of our leadership, I have to ask you this question: when are you doing to switch tactics and adopt a path that could lead to dialogue with our current leadership geared toward effecting real change, rather than repeated bashings from the sidelines like a feral Collingwood supporter?

    What sort of response can anyone expect from such a confrontational approach? “Sorry, SJ. You’re right and I’m wrong. Here is my resignation!”

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  3. Morry says:

    Hi SJ,

    I searched for the JCCV charter the other day, and it’s clearly not available at their site, which is a pity, as my opinion might then have been a little more informed, but I do feel that you’re misreading the role of the JCCV somewhat. It’s a roof body, which involves no real power or leadership. Its sole purpose is to present a single public face for a set of autonomous organisations. It is therefore involved in public statements that I assume represent the consensus amongst member groups, and in liaison, such as with the police in matters of antisemitic attacks.

    About two years ago the JCCV was going broke and likely to close down, yet it wasn’t seen as a particularly critical issue. It certainly didn’t reflect any of the angst that losing your leadership would imply … it seemed more a case of “well if the JCCV is gone, we’ll issue our own statements”, for clearly the 56 member organisations will continue as autonomously as they have always done.

    I know the JCCV likes to talk about its “leadership role”, but much like the secretary who likes to call herself a PA (somebody I know), I think their role is far more secretarial, then actual boss. They undoubtedly bring things to members attention, liaise on behalf of members, and suggest activities … but all real power lies with the autonomous members. If nothing else, a clearly extremely limited budget makes anything beyond liaison and communications well nigh impossible. It’s less a case of what the JCCV can do for you, and more of what you can do for the JCCV. But they do speak for 56 largely vibrant powerful members who make up the community … it’s funny that they consider the power theirs.

    Anyway, that’s my take, but as I said, a singularly uninformed one. Having their charter available would have helped a lot, but perhaps it’s not available because it sets out the JCCV limits so clearly.

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  4. TheSadducee says:


    I think it might actually be counterproductive to try to engage with the community leadership. Without being too cheeky or childish, they are a little like the Borg from Star Trek – they will take on your best attributes and add them to the collective all the while suppressing your individuality.

    Seriously though, I’ve seen that engagement results in absorption – your ideas and dissenting opinions are tolerated for a short while (to show people that they are tolerant and inclusive) and then you get hit with the ultimatum – either tow the line or you are excluded gradually (it accelerates depending on how “difficult” you become). It even happens in the religious communities eg. Chabad – I’m sure you’ve seen it yourself.

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  5. SJ & Sadducee,

    Confrontational language does not disturb me at all (not even football metaphors); comment that does not lead to or promote action or change disturbs me. The famous quote from Ethics of the Fathers comes to mind: “say little and do a lot”.

    This blog and those who participated in it have said a lot and enjoyed some excellent debate on important issues, but it has led to precious little action, and that significantly diminishes the value of the whole exercise.

    Engagement is a starting point to effect change, possibly from within; if you can suggest some other pathways to achieve this, I’m all ears.

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  6. Morry says:

    Hope you’re having a great day SJ, and I don’t disagree with you at all. But you are looking at the mouthpiece when the real power lies with the 56 quite independent organisations using this mouthpiece. Your quite right that the messages coming from this mouthpiece can alienate, but as for accountability, like every spokesman they are accountable to the groups that huddle under that roof body. I assume that 56 major organisations represent a fair proportion of the community, which is why they claim to speak for the community, and if they are substantially out of step, then the only way to reel them in is what you are doing, in saying “not in my name”. Ultimately though, it is impossible for any elected body to represent everyone, as views do conflict, Whilst this government doesn’t represent so many of my views, they do represent a majority view, even if that majority is slim, and, like with the JCCV, I can only voice my concerns. I think that even if we had popularly elected representatives, rather than a roof body for organisations, there may still be 30% of the community unhappy with the results, and perhaps feeling that there is some lack of accountability where they are concerned.

    How do you view the leadership issue? I mean, if you had the choice to create something new, a way of organising this community from the ground up, what would you like to see?

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  7. eli says:

    We sit here quibble, prevaricate and try to make some sense of an antiquated, unrepresentative body. Perhaps we should look elsewhere and see what and how other similar Jewish bodies are determining the future of their respective communities.

    This little piece from the Jewish Journal of L.A

    “The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles will select its next President in the coming two weeks, and according to multiple sources, the choice is down to just three names.

    The new president will oversee the largest Jewish organization in the region, and one of the largest non-profits of any kind in Los Angeles. The Federation, with an annual campaign of some $50 million, funds social services and conducts its own outreach and programming efforts for both Jews and non-Jews locally, in Israel and elsewhere”

    Visit the Fed’s official site here http://www.jewishla.org/Home_Page.cfm

    It’s not the JCCV, but it seems to have a level of transparency that is missing here.

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  8. Morry says:

    Hi Eli,

    I think you’ll find it’s not all that diferent, and I’m not sure that this differences will suit Australians, and may, in many ways be just more of what is being complained about here.

    The Amercans got sick of various charities calling their homes with drives for donations, so they’ve done something simple. Everybody gives an annual donation, and “the Federation” allocates the money to various charities (Jewish schools, Israel etc). People don’t have the chore of being in touch with charities, they simply write a check once a year.

    I don’t know that taking people’s troubles and needs off the table and making them largely invisible is such a good thing. I don’t like it. $50million sounds like a lot, but I think, for LA and surrounds it may actually be bargain basement per capita, when compared with what somebody may give when faced by a picture or story of somebody in dire need or suffering. From my perspective both sides are losers in that system, one loses money, the other a little humanity.

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  9. Eli, thank you for bringing to our attention the Jewish Federation of (Greater) Los Angeles. I wasn’t previously aware of its existence.

    I was curious to see if they had any representation of GLBT Jews in their organisation and alas a scan of their web site revealed precious little aside from a passing mention of Jerusalem Open House (for GLBT Jews). There doesn’t even appear to be a list on their web site of the organisations they represent

    However, and more importantly, a further search (9th entry on the search results) revealed something quite interesting on the Jewish Mosaic web site:

    Standing in Solidarity – Vigil for the Victims of Tel Aviv Hate Crime
    Aug 05, 2009

    The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, its Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership, and The Board of Rabbis of Southern California join together in expressing their grief and outrage in response to Saturday’s senseless attack at the Agudah LGBT Center in Tel Aviv which left two dead and at least eleven others injured. We extend our sympathy and prayers to our friends and colleagues in Tel Aviv and condemn these murders in the strongest possible sense.

    We invite the local Jewish and LGBT community to join us Wednesday, August 5 at 6:30 p.m. at Beth Chayim Chadashim. We will gather together to memorialize Liz Trubeshi, 16, and Nir Katz, 26, and demonstrate our solidarity with the victims, their families, and all who have been shaken by this violence.

    The Jewish Federation’s Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership has brought together hundreds of individuals and institutions in the fields of education, culture, and health and human services. The connection between Los Angeles and Tel Aviv runs deep, and we in Los Angeles have a special bond with the community that has been in shock and mourning since Saturday night.

    Wednesday night’s memorial is open to members of all faiths and backgrounds. See below for more details. Beth Chayim Chadashim is located at 6000 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles 90035.

    May the families of the victims be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem and may the names of the victims be forever as a blessing.

    I can’t find a reference to this in the JFLA web site’s media releases, but if nothing else, this organisation has got my respect for acknowledging the devastation of the shooting in Tel Aviv, for working with the GLBT community in Los Angeles and for giving a damn.

    To date, unless I am mistaken, the JCCV hasn’t acknowledged the massacre even occurred. This is despite there being a Melbourne family connection to Nir Katz, one of the two killed in the attack.


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  10. Malki Rose says:

    I fervently agree with both your stance on Collingwood supporters AND this most imperative point about talk and no action.

    And since the inception of SJ, I and several others have suggested taking this discussion to a “table” (to speak WITH the current leaders of the community) or to a “hall” (to speak of new activity)… Either action would be for the purposes of taking all this hot air to a new and very real Madreigah. “Effecting real change”.. and you and I, and several others have used this very phrase in recent months so many times that it is losing all meaning.

    Everytime this course of action is brought up it is disregarded, with bloggers seemingly choosing to continue with more talk, more argument, more futile kvetching and still NO ACTION.

    We get it, We didnt vote for them, they dont represent our views, they leave thousands of members of the community unrepresented, allege to try their darndest to get it right and yet continue to disappoint.

    If these are our leaders and we are so aggrieved about them and so fractured in helping ourselves, then how in G-d’s green earth do we expect to get through tougher times than these under this current “system”.

    So what on earth is everyone waiting for? A miracle? An announcement? A full moon? A terrorist attack? A sign from G-d? A letter from the Queen? A Carlton premiership cup?

    They say that a people get the leaders they deserve. Perhaps this is what we deserve?

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  11. Malki Rose says:

    I am by no means the former. As you know I of course view analysis of our leaders as imperative as you do.

    But i also view analysis without ends as potentially futile. There can be a thousand analysts, but somewhere, someone/s have to decide to progress things forward. Peacefully, graciously, patiently and constructively.

    I do not march, scream, rant, rave, or stampede.

    But there is no reason we cannot begin dialogue.

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  12. Malki Rose says:

    I wasnt trying to imply that YOU should do both.

    “Analysts” is a loose term I am using to describe the 50,000 or so members of the Jewish Community who are “Shabbat table analysts”.

    Amongst them is also people partaking of this Blog, and thankfully so. The analysis in a public forum and in free print is sorely needed.

    But once everyone has agreed and disagreed, argued and kvetched (and again this doesnt refer to YOU), and given their valuable opinions, at what point does the decisive move forward start to take shape.

    In other words, I am saying that although there seems a great deal many individuals who are dissatisfied, there are very few interesting, capable or keen to effect change.

    And the ones who have tried have been labelled ‘trouble makers’ and asked to come back when they ’speak on behalf of an organisation’.

    Apparently Jews are not sufficiently organised for them to be labelled an “organisation”.

    Oh well.

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  13. Malki,

    They say that a people get the leaders they deserve.. Too right! Our leaders are a reflection of us, and of the malaise of communal apathy. Perhaps our poor leadership is a symptom, not the cause? In which case the “cure” is to encourage/train the next wave of leadership.


    Perhaps I’m getting confused because you write like an activist but say you are only a commentator.

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  14. Ron O says:

    I have now read many comments on these pages about the makeup of the Jewish community leadership. If our politicians were elected the same way our so called community representatives are elected, we would all be up in arms.

    Lets look at the facts. The JCCV is simply a communal roof body made up of representatives of many organisations. If you are not a member of any of these organisations, you are unrepresented. The JCCV leaders are elected by the representatives appointed by each organisation. They are the only people who get to vote for our so called community leaders. Further, not all the represented organisations have democratically elected leaders. Only people that turn up to the AGM of the organisation get to vote. There are no proxies, no compulsory voting, nothing that makes any of this process in any way democratic.

    If we want truly representative community leadership, then lets give everyone an opportunity to vote for our leaders. Lets register all eligible voters (hey, this would cause a stir and could you image the fight between the orthodox and all the others as to who should be able to register). Lets have community representatives elected by the entire community sit on the JCCV. Lets ensure these community representatives have a majority of votes at the JCCV so they determine who our leaders are – not the political hacks that currently represent the various organisations.

    Just some thoughts

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  15. Malki Rose says:

    … and the sentiments of thousands of others!!!

    we’ve all said it.

    now what?

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  16. sensiblejew says:

    David, reread your comment. If confrontational language disturbs you, you might want to consider the tone of your next post.

    And who says any of this blog is for our leadership’s benefit? Cajoling the unreformable to reform is not something I ever intended.

    Possibly you misunderstand my intent – though its been stated numerous times and you have been reading this blog since its beginning.

    I analyse and comment. People who are interested, read what I write and some choose to comment.

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  17. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Morry.

    I think the absence of a communal roof body’s charter anywhere online is quite telling in terms of transparency.

    As for the JCCV’s role: it may not do an awful lot in terms of communal hard work, but its executives are the ones representing us to secular leaders and the outside world. They mislead both sectors inasmuch as they never talk about whether they have a mandate to speak on the community’s behalf, or through what processes they derive such a mandate.

    When they get it wrong, they are simply not accountable to anyone.

    They do damage internally as well: when Searle writes a piece like the one that I have written about, it isn’t just the 20% of non-Zionists that shake their heads in disgust: whole swathes of people who feel alienated from the cultural and power millieu from which the JCCV derives its leaders wonder what possible connection they could have with the organised elements of the community.

    Please project 20 years ahead in your mind. What sorts of people do you envisage running this community? What sort of a community do you envisage?

    I see crippling apathy among our young people, as well as disillusionment with organised Judaism. We’re not going to disappear overnight, but as the older generations recede, so too will the drive to volunteer time and energy to this community.

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  18. sensiblejew says:

    Malki, I stand by what I’ve said in the past: there is a difference between a political activist and a commentator. I consider myself the latter. Analysis of what our leaeders do is valuable in and of itself.

    If you are the former, you are welcome to use the comments section of this blog to set uo such a town hall meeting.

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  19. sensiblejew says:

    Malki, there is no one else asking these questions. So there are not 1000 analysts. We need both types: people who process, interpret and comment on information, and people who plan concrete action. There is no logical reason that one person must be both. It is not even necessarily desirable.

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  20. sensiblejew says:

    Ron, hi and welcome.

    Thank you for your comment. You articulate my sentiments on the matter of our leadership precisely!

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