Vic Alhadeff, Borderline Blood Libels, and Jews who Cry Wolf

Sometimes, there really is a wolf and someone needs to cry out.

In Australia, many Jewish leaders and spokespeople have spent the past few years diminishing the gravity of the charge of anti-Semitism, by jumping on every single instance and raising hell in any media outlet that would have them.

Unfortunately, our community has suffered from a bad case of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.

So when the wolf does appear – in the guise of a slathering compendium of falsehoods and libel to be taught to NSW HSC students (see page 3 in today’s AJN) – we need an assured and effective response from our representatives.

While we cannot undo the damage of past “scares,” that have made us seem collectively unable to tolerate any unpleasantness, occasionally to the extent that we have seemed uncomfortable with free speech, we can begin to repair some of the damage by employing the Alhadeff Method.

The Alhadeff Method – named for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO, Vic Alhadeff – seems to employ a two pronged approach to combatting the dissemination of anti-Semitic ideas.

The first is to hold one’s fire on issues that are of negligible importance, while speaking temperately about moderately harmful incidents, such as the 60 Minutes piece on Israel a few weeks back.

Alhadeff is highly skilled in framing issues of Jewish concern in universal language that resonates with wider Australian society. He avoids stridency and adversarial discourse that would pit Jews against everyone else, instead speaking from a familiar and unassailable moral standpoint with which no reasonable person would disagree.

Alhadeff’s skills were invaluable in the Jewish response to the publication and use of the horrendous text – published by Cambridge University Press – Cambridge Studies of Religion 6.

Unfortunately, the book has already taught thousands of NSW HSC students such gems as, Jews’ smearing the blood of sacrificed sheep on their doors at Pesach (Passover), or that Jewish men may marry multiple women in Israel.

While Alhadeff’s language was never aggressive, he did not hesitate in condemning the book, and was clear that the section dealing with Judaism was likely in breach of racial vilification legislation.

But rather than create a climate of high pitched, adversarial acrimony, Alhadeff instead approached Cambridge University Press with the offer of assistance in rewriting the the offending section. This show of good faith provides an invaluable foundation for future engagement with the publishing house.

In addition, Alhadeff – with inter-faith relations proponent, Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence of Sydney’s Great Synagogue – used what had been a potentially incendiary situation to advocate for more interfaith activities and dialogue.

That Alhadeff extracted two such positive outcomes from a stark example of anti-Semitism, is a clear indication that the difference between effective and ineffective leadership has profound consequences for all Australian Jews.

It is also a crucial reminder to us all that crying wolf can undermine the efficacy of even the most skilled representative, when the real wolf actually comes.

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