Sandilands, The Holocaust, and our Leaders’ Response:The Smart, The Stupid, and The Very, Very Ugly

Kyle Sandilands is the product of a commercial media environment that has abandoned even the pretence of caring about public decency. Only the threat of advertising dollar withdrawal seems to have any power to influence his management.

The appalling treatment on air of a teenage rape victim should have been indication enough that this was a man without any ethical constraints.  No less culpable, however, has been his lovely offsider, Jackie O, who feigns horror at some of Sandilands antics, while offering giggles and snide remarks that reveal she is no unwitting bystander.

Among other repulsive stunts, these people have delighted in the emotional torture of a refugee family that had been separated by continents and years.

Morally repugnant shock tactics are this pair’s hallmark. In hindsight, the Holocaust was always going to emerge as a reference Sandilands could use – and Jackie O could simper at – precisely because it would disgust people.

Sandilands’s suggestion yesterday, that Magda Szubanski would benefit from a stretch in a concentration camp in her battle to lose weight, is profoundly offensive. It is important, however, to bear in mind that Jews are not the only group to be affronted.

It’s worth having a read of the comments section on the Herald Sun website to see how unanimous Melbourne opinion is on the subject. Almost everyone agrees: there is no way to justify Sandilands’s comments.

So how have our leaders responded?

Vic Alhadeff, of the Sydney Board of Deputies, actually does a superb job of stating a position that not only reflects broad Jewish sentiment, but also places Australian Jews firmly within the broader Australian moral framework. By universalising the horror of the concentration camp – as opposed to making this issue only about the Jewish experience – Alhadeff deftly avoids the appearance that Jews are only interested in their own suffering.

This is precisely what is needed to engage non-Jewish Australia with our community on an empathic level.

Unfortunately, AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones undermines Alhadeff’s approach.

First and foremost, what is AIJAC doing commenting on a domestic, Australian cultural issue that has nothing to do with Israel?

As a private lobbying organisation with no formal ties to any communal institution, AIJAC has even less of a mandate than other bodies to speak on our behalf.

Any interested non-Jew knows AIJAC as a rightist advocate for Israel that has access to the upper echelons of government. The interested non-Jew must wonder why Jeremy Jones of AIJAC is opining on such a matter, and why he’s weighing in on what constitutes acceptable free speech.

The less interested non-Jew will likely dismiss his tired rhetoric of knee-jerk outrage as something they’ve read and heard far too many times before.

Let’s compare the two approaches (emphases are mine):

In The Age:  “The chief executive of the Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said the Jewish community would be outraged with Sandilands’s comments, ‘as there would be outrage amongst all people of good will.

‘Millions of people have been killed in concentration camps in recent history, such as Cambodia and Bosnia – and the Holocaust - and there is no place to make light of an incident of such inhumanity and of such grotesque proportions,”’

In The Herald Sun: ” ‘Why would you want to have anything to do with somebody like this?’ said Australian/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council spokesman Jeremy Jones.

‘To joke about the experience of people who are being starved to death or murdered . . . is quite horrendous.

‘There are people who confuse freedom of speech with gratuitous, insulting, offensive behaviour. They’re two quite different things.‘”

The key difference between the approaches, is that Alhadeff succeeds in humanising his people’s response of horror to Sandilands’s foul joke, while Jones takes on the free speech issue, and confirms every prejudice about the so-called, “Jewish Lobby,” that is determined to crush dissent.

Does Mr Jones feel up to the task of defining exactly what constitutes legitimate discourse? What, exactly, qualifies him for this task? From where does he derive the mandate to undertake it?

Even if Jones is under the gross misapprehension that he could establish such parameters, does he believe that publicly stating this belief to Australian society on behalf of Jews and a right-wing Zionist lobby group (that is genuinely accountable to no one), could ever do any good?

Or did he once again speak to the media utterly ill-prepared, as was the case with his response to the play, “Seven Jewish children?”

If Victorians want a lesson in how to deal with the media with consummate dignity, we need look no further than Magda Szubanski herself, the daughter of a partisan fighter, and granddaughter of a righteous Gentile who hid Jews during the Holocaust:

“”I couldn’t give two hoots about what Kyle says about me, but to trivialise what happened to people in concentration camps is abhorrent.”"

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  3. Reader Response 5: Israel, Kangaroo Courts, Unity, Speaking Out, and Subheadings
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10 Responses to “Sandilands, The Holocaust, and our Leaders’ Response:The Smart, The Stupid, and The Very, Very Ugly”

  1. There’s going to be a response from the community leadership to something nasty that’s happened?

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  2. Sisu says:

    I was quite impressed by both Szubanski and Alhadeff’s comments, actually. Both recognised the import of their commentary and were appropriately stately in their responses.

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  3. You gotta love how the community leaders snap into action when someone dares tread on forbidden topics such as the Holocaust, but when it comes to a bit of jew-boy poofter-bashing, well everyone runs for cover.

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  4. eli says:

    SJ, I haven’t read all of Jeramy Jones’s response, but the portion you quote here to me does not seem out of place, nor excessive. That he represents a private group in no way should preclude him form commenting on what was a repugnant outburst by Sandilands. That you have a issue with him is obvious. Feels like your swinging a baseball bat to kill an ant.

    I think your condemnation of his statement is excessive, if not aggressive. Yep maybe your not his favorite fan and i have no opinion on him either way, but perhaps it didn’t need to be so obvious.

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  5. Morry says:

    Hi SJ,

    I agree entirely about the difference in responses and their effectiveness, but the way people respond to things is more a function of their personalities than their programming. Vic Alhadeff’s response was impressive, well thought out and well considered. But then he would have prepared that as a media statement and put a lot of thought into preparing it.

    Jeremy Jones tone is far more strident and abrasive, but I don’t believe that he would have been rushing to issue any press statements on behalf of AIJAC on the subject. I’m more inclined to believe the the paper chased him up for a comment in the wake of his prosecution of Frederick Tobin for Holocaust denial. He probably saw himself as making that comment as a private citizen, because, as you say, it really isn’t part of the AIJAC brief, whatever that is.

    I do think that we need to become a little more nuanced and not come out swinging every time the word “concentration camp” appears. That Vic Alhadeff instantly recognised that concentration camps are a general issue and don’t necessarily relate to Holocaust or Jews is very much to his credit. I also agree with you entirely that the image that all you need do is say the word “Holocaust” and you’ll get Jews into a frothing fury, is so incredibly counterproductive as to be dangerous, for it means that like the boy who cried wolf, when a serious case of Holocaust denial or Jewbaiting comes up, people will simply put it down to Jewish hysteria, and so many do … at least, that has been my experience on the various blogs. The Hanan Ashrawi peace prize springs to mind. The excellent case that Ashrawi had consistently voted against peace was lost amid a sea of claims of Jewish oversensitivity. The issue of “the powerful Jewish lobby” that also surfaced at the time (and almost any time any public issue the Jewish community concerns itself with comes up) is one that we need to find a way to address, because it’s little more than a rewrite of The Protocols, and laughable when you consider actual Jewish power, and the precious few issues this community has succeeded in changing.

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  6. Morry says:

    Just as an aside: as a lobbying organisation, why does AIJAC not employ spokespeople who have at least a semblance of media savvy?

    You certainly have a way with nails and heads, SJ *grin*. I suspect the problem goes to certain Jewish failing where it comes to issues of self-importance and getting credit, which may make some loathe to vacate the more public benches … nor could you be any closer to the mark without it being considered an act of obscenity. Spot on.

    As to Jones response to “Seven Jewish Children” if I read it I don’t remember it. I did read the play itself and consider it an abhorrent case of bigoted vilification couched in apealing terms. But then, neither the play nor Churchill, nor the various producers make any excuses for its one-eyed unreal and untrue view. It doesn’t pretend to be anything but the product of anger and prejudice that it is.

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  7. melina says:

    From Alex (aka: The Sensible Jew blogger):

    Hi Melina.

    I’m sorry, but I could not allow your post through.

    While it contained extremely interesting information, I am concerned that some of it may have been defamatory. Could you please email me at sensiblejew – at – gmail dot com whenever you get a chance and let me know a bit of background on this story. If there is enough evidence to support it, it is potentially an important matter, and we can work out the best way to deal with it.

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  8. sensiblejew says:

    Michael, ha!

    Sisu, Magda’s been a class act in all this, but it’s particularly important to look at effective Jewish leadership in communicating with the outside world – particularly because it’s been so rare.

    The way I think it works for most non-Jews, is that they don’t so much remember specific events (like this one), but they accrue a sense of the community from an accumulation of messages and the tone in which they’re couched. The more our leaders follow Alhadeff’s lead, the better things will be for us in wider society.

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  9. sensiblejew says:

    Hi Eli.

    Had Jeremy Jones made that comment at a private dinner, I may have disagreed, but I wouldn’t have found it particularly objectionable.

    In this case – a very delicate case – context is everything.

    Jeremy Jones isn’t speaking on his own behalf. He is speaking on behalf of AIJAC. AIJAC is a private, rightist Zionist lobby group that has no mandate to speak on behalf of AUstralian Jewry.

    AIJAC’s own interests are not necessarily the same as the community’s. By speaking on our behalf, Jones conflates the AIJAC agenda with the broader Jewish agenda.

    His specific words will not be remembered by non-Jewish audiences. His tone will.

    The association many non-Jews have with Jews and clamping down on free speech is a significant PR hurdle our community has yet to tackle.

    This is not the first time that Jones has mishandled communal PR. Jones receives harsh criticism from me, not because I think he made an outrageous statement, but because his – and some other leaders’ – approach to PR is compromising our position in broader Australian society.

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  10. sensiblejew says:

    Morry, thank you for yet another wonderful, considered comment.

    What disturbs me about Jones’s response is that he seems incapable of asking the media to get back to him.

    The last time he got us into a mess, during the Seven Jewish Children pantomime, he was also contacted by the media. The first thing he should have done then – as now, if the media once again contacted him – was to direct them to the appropriate body: the JCCV or ECAJ. As problematic as they are, the roof bodies at least theoretically represent Australian Jewish interests, as distinct from AIJAC which represents no one because it is a partisan, private, political lobbying organisation.

    Why Jones feels he needs to answer every media question – let alone answer them in such a strident manner – is a mystery.

    Just as an aside: as a lobbying organisation, why does AIJAC not employ spokespeople who have at least a semblance of media savvy?

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