Public Affairs Internship – Semester 2, 2019

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) represents and advocates for the Jewish community of NSW. It is tasked with ensuring a safe and vibrant Jewish community by protecting its physical and political security.
The JBD engages with all levels of government, its agencies, the media, other NGOs and the education sector.

Our voluntary PUBLIC AFFAIRS INTERNSHIP is now open and receiving applications.

Don’t miss this opportunity to gain experience within a respected public affairs organisation. We are seeking a university-aged individual with an interest in at least one of the following: politics, media, Israel and Jewish affairs. Candidates should have a can-do attitude and be willing to attempt a range of diverse tasks.

See what other interns have said:

Tasks may include

  • Research
  • Event coordination
  • Data entry and analysis
  • Speech writing
  • Input into political strategy
  • Correspondence

What you will gain

  • An understanding of the Australian political landscape and how the different levels of government operate.
  • Skills in research, writing and speaking.
  • Access to exclusive events.
  • Knowledge of the Jewish community and how it interacts with other communities.
  • Technical skills in Microsoft Excel, Word and Outlook.


  • One day per week (9am-5pm)
  • Lasting 7 weeks commencing the week of 9 September and finishing 4 November.
    Please email a cover letter and resume by COB Monday August 19 to:

William Nemesh
Jewish Community Relationship Manager
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies
Enquiries 9360 1600

Historic hatred of Jews reignited

JULY 29, 2019
The Australian

In the minutes and hours after Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people in two Christchurch mosques, the other users on 8Chan were busy replying on the thread he created on the website to announce the March 15 attack.

There was vitriol and violence and vile bigotry in the responses, and many cheered the killings.

But, in an environment where the actions were being celebrated as an attack on Muslims, a shift in opinion emerged.

Another anonymous user ­replied: “That’s a very good ­question.”

In the space of 90 minutes, the word Jew or various iterations of the word were mentioned 21 times in that thread, while Muslim appeared 16 times.

Swastika epidemic

Australia’s Jewish community has been watching on with fear as the online hatred seeps into the real world, with the far right, which has long targeted Muslims, slowly turning attention to them.

One Jewish leader labels a spike in anti-Semitic graffiti as a “swastika epidemic”, while the most authoritative record of the issue — the annual Anti-Semitism in Australia report from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry — found a 59 per cent increase in incidents last year.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff says the “online world” is partly behind the “alarming spike in anti-Semitic incidents”.

“The terrorists responsible for the attacks on the Pittsburgh and San Diego synagogues were active on social media platforms frequented by neo-Nazis and alt-right ideologues,” Alhadeff says.

“Clearly, these platforms are not nearly as vigilant as they should be in filtering content, enabling vile discourse to poison the public space and incite violence and even terrorism without ­accountability.”

He says extremists are exploiting overseas conflicts to promote hatred and there are local neo-Nazi groups openly calling “for the murder of Jews and gays”.

The shift to real-world action did not come about by accident, according to a prominent Melbourne community leader.

“The white supremacists and the neo-Nazis have made a conscious decision to take their online activity to the real world, whether it is distributing Holocaust denial flyers or putting up swastikas,” says Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, an organisation set up to fight anti-Semitism and hatred.

“People are now sensing that there’s some kind of legitimacy.”

Far left and right

But some Jewish organisations say the far left also has been feeding anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Julie Nathan, an ECAJ researcher who produces the annual anti-Semitism report, says there are signs that the far left and the far right are feeding off each other.

“Many of the principal themes in these expressions of anti-Semitism, especially online, involve a cross-fertilisation of concepts between the political left and right,” Nathan says.

“For example, left-wing rhetoric exaggerating the power of a so-called ‘Jewish lobby’ has helped to revive and stoke far-right myths about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”

Israel as the boxing bag

Although he is not named in last year’s report, repeated attacks on Canberra Rabbi Shmueli Feldman’s home and his Chabad ACT centre are detailed by Nathan.

“This anti-Semitism is from the far right, but it’s not just from the far right. It’s equally seen in the far left as well — and by religious extremists,” Feldman says.

“You see it, for example, with the Greens’ anti-Israel stance and that filters down to people now having Israel as the boxing bag for people with anti-Semitic views. A lot of them are ashamed to say that they’re anti-Semitic still, so they’re ‘anti-Israel’ or ‘anti-Zionist’ to an extreme degree.”

Little more than a week ago, Feldman was abused online when he took to a popular Canberra Facebook group to seek help to find the owner of a wallet found outside the centre. Within 16 minutes, someone replied: “A jew giving money back? Fkn stitch up.”

“I’m getting private messages from him calling me a ‘Zionist dog’,” Feldman says.

“This is the norm now, whereas people would hide behind fake profiles. But this is a real Facebook profile. There’s a Jew hatred there that’s resurfacing.”

Free speech as cover

For Abramovich, there are also links to the debate over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which became seen as a battle for free speech.

Amid that debate, in 2014, then attorney-general George Brandis declared: “People do have a right to be bigots. In a free country people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted.”

In some circles, the comments were seen as a reinforcement of liberal ideas and the highlighting of long-held rights.

For some, however, it was seen as an invitation.

“People have, in a way, been empowered to say the most nasty and ugly things under the guise of freedom of speech. That’s unleashed all these dark forces,” Abramovich says.

“I’m not saying people who express opinions are bigots, but it’s allowed those who are usually lingering in the dark corners of our society to come forward under the banner of free speech and attack — whether it is Jews, it is Muslims or it is minorities.”

Added to this is the rise of social media.

“We have the internet and social media, which has created this amazing tool — but, on the other hand, has provided a super-highway for the bigots and for the alt-right and the racists to create echo chambers,” Abramovich says. “But it has also given them a platform, with YouTube and Twitter and Facebook. With all these different platforms, suddenly they’re able to disseminate their ideology inexpensively, instantaneously and often anonymously. So we have these trolls who would never say it to your face but suddenly they’re able to spread their tentacles.”

The message boards of the notorious Daily Stormer website contained threads dedicated to Australia and Australian cities, allowing those with neo-Nazi interests not just to meet online but to also organise physical meetings.

On platforms such as Gab and 8Chan, derogatory language to describe Jews and pro-Nazi content have become commonplace.

“Many organisations and individuals use two or more online platforms, (like a) website and Facebook, Twitter/Gab, and videos,” Nathan wrote in her last report. Some of the rhetoric is now reaching the offline world.

“I’m receiving reports from children in Canberra’s public and private schools. Children as young as seven have been told by their classmates that they don’t want to be their friend because they are Jewish,” Feldman says.

“Children as young as 11 are being taunted in the playground by other children with slurs like ‘We love Hitler’, ‘Heil Hitler’ and things of that nature.”

For some, the issue at schools extends further than the attitudes of students.

After The Australian revealed this month that a Year 12 sample assessment claimed Israel persecuted Arab families and demolished their homes because of their Muslim faith, Australian Jewish Association president David Adler called on Victorian Education Minister James Merlino to “take action and ensure those respon­sible for such blatant anti-Israel activ­ism and anti-Semitism are ­removed from the education ­system”.

Concerns also have been raised about the creep of anti-Semitism into universities.

Alhadeff says there is evidence that anti-Semitism is rising “across the board, from the tertiary sector and schoolyard to the workplace and online space”.

“Just this week we received a call from a student looking to switch universities because she has copped relentless anti-Semitic abuse,” he says. “Two weeks ago I met with the pro vice-chancellor of one of our major universities to discuss the rise in incidents on that campus.”

Campus presence

Much of the increase in last year’s anti-Semitic incidents is attributed to the work of a group called Antipod­ean Resistance, which places stickers and posters showing anti-Jewish or neo-Nazi messages in public places, including university campuses.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, which advocates a boycott of Israeli products, has also had a strong presence on university campuses.

Feldman says there is a difference between being anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, but many people are both.

“You have people who are authentically anti-Israel, because of what they are fed on the news, who don’t hate Jews,” he says. “There are people in the community who are sympathetic to what they view as the underdog — the Palestinian cause — and it doesn’t cause them to hate me.

“But for the most part, the emboldening of hate is there and people are becoming much more vocal about it.”

A mural at Sydney’s Bondi Beach is defaced with swastikas.
A mural at Sydney’s Bondi Beach is defaced with swastikas.

Politicians targeted

Graffiti attacks also targeted Jewish political candidates during this year’s federal election.

Swastikas and Hitler moustaches were drawn on Liberal MP Julian Leeser’s campaign material. Two Labor candidates were forced to quit after being accused of anti-Semitism, while the Greens were also criticised for its stance on Israel.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg had a campaign billboard vandalised with Nazi symbols and now is having his eligibility to sit in parliament being questioned by a Labor member who authored a book called The Holocaust Denier.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison hit out this month.

“The scourge of anti-Semitic graffiti that we’ve seen in Melbourne just this year, it is absolutely sickening and disgraceful,” he said on July 18.

“And for a Holocaust denier and an anti-Semite to seek to ­progress that agenda by pretending to have some sort of con­stitutional purity on Josh Frydenberg, I’m just going to call it out for what it is.”

Gail Mason, a criminologist from the University of Sydney, has been researching hate crime in Australia for 20 years and is pleased that politicians, police and the public are beginning to see how much of a problem it is.

Although she does not focus on anti-Semitic crimes, Mason says little data exists to show whether hate crimes are becoming more common — but adds that she does not believe it is falling.

“I do think we are seeing greater recognition of the problem now,” Mason says.

“I don’t think it’s anywhere near the same understanding that you get in a country like the United Kingdom or the US.”

Yet the fear caused by hate crimes is still very real for some in our community.

In Melbourne, cafe owner Aliza Shuvaly, whose mother-in-law is a Holocaust survivor, found someone had scrawled the words “The Holocaust is a lie”, along with a swastika, on the fence outside her cafe in Chadstone.

Days later, she found the words “The Holocaust didn’t happen but it should have” spray painted. Again, a swastika was painted next to the words.

“It reminded me, just before World War II was starting, the Germans used to write on the shops and the homes of Jewish people,” she says.

“I couldn’t believe it connected me straight to the Holocaust, even though I wasn’t there.”

Calls for tough new laws as anti-Semitism rears its head in schools and unis

JULY 29, 2019
The Australian

Anti-Semitism is rearing its head in schools and universities across Australia, with one Jewish leader taking the issue up with a deputy vice-chancellor of a major university and another calling for the ­swastika to be banned.

Children in primary school are among those who have recently been targeted, and an outbreak of anti-Semitic graffiti has led ­the chair of the Melbourne-based Anti-Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, to call for the current “swastika epidemic” to be tackled by law.

In Sydney, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said legislative action was “vital”.

That meeting was in relation to incidents at the University of Sydney, he said.

He said TAFE NSW recently introduced protocols for staff and students in regard to racism, anti-Semitism and intimidation “and we’ve seen a rash of Nazi swastikas on Bondi beachfront — the symbol of the ultimate in race hatred”.

Dr Abramovich said the swastika should be banned across Australia, following a spate of graffiti attacks in Melbourne.

Similar incidents have occurred in Canberra, where rabbi Shmueli Feldman said his Chabad ACT centre had been egged and vandalised and he and his familyverbally abused. “Children as young as 11 are being taunted in the playground by other children with slurs like ‘We love Hitler’, ‘Heil Hitler’ and things of that nature,” he said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry recorded a 59 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents last year, and anecdotal evidence suggests there may be a rise in graffiti attacks this year.

In Melbourne, cafe owner Aliza Shuvaly, whose mother-in-law is a Holocaust survivor, found someone had scrawled the words “The Holocaust is a lie”, along with a swastika, on the fence outside her cafe in Chadstone.

Board of Deputies plenum hosts child protection planel

Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO

Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO, Chair of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Taskforce on Child Protection and Chair of the ECAJ National Working Group on Child Protection, arranged and moderated a high-level panel of experts, including the NSW Children’s Guardian Janet Schorer, to discuss Child protection in the Jewish community: Awareness, Prevention, Redress at the July plenum.

Janet Schorer and Julianna Demetrius

Each panelist brought their expertise to the topic, covering: the legal framework, government assistance, child-safe standards, community training, the National Redress Scheme, reporting to police and ethical issues.

Jewish House CEO and National Mental Heath Commissioner Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM gave a moving address, describing how he’s witnessed survivors of child abuse break down in tears when offending organisations provided an apology. He also urged Jewish community organisations to join the National Redress Scheme. Rabbi Kastel’s notes can be read [HERE].

Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM

Bettina Cass writes:

After the Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the introduction of the National Redress Scheme, the over-arching responsibilities to maintain child-safe spaces have changed and we must adapt to ensure that all of our organisations comply.

The strong message is that child protection is a communal responsibility, involving religious and lay leaders, teachers, parents and all who have any responsibility for children. The special panel of five distinguished experts covered the ways in which institutions can embed and ensure child-safe spaces, through well-understood, preventative child-centered practices.

The overarching message is that our community needs the information, confidence and resolve to respond effectively to the statutory requirements and ethical procedures essential for child safety. The morally compelling issue of signing on to the National Redress Scheme to ensure institutional apology, counselling and financial redress for past survivors of child sexual abuse was also well-covered.

The expert speakers were Janet Schorer, the NSW Children’s Guardian whose office has responsibility for all aspects of child protection; Julianna Demetrius, Assistant Ombudsman in the NSW Ombudsman’s Office, who is preparing on-line information for faith-based organisations on Child Protection;  Deborah Blackman,  Director of Educare, Protecting our Children Together who conducts regular training sessions for schools, synagogues and youth movements; Rabbi Mendel Kastel, CEO of Jewish House, who led Jewish House to be the first Jewish organisation in NSW to sign up to the National Redress Scheme;  and Peter Wertheim, co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, who reported on Jewish community organisations’ responses to the National Redress Scheme.

Dr Michelle Meyer, CEO of Tzedek, Australia’s support and advocacy group for Jewish survivors of child sexual abuse, was invited to join the panel but was unable to be in Sydney. Her paper was tabled and referred to.

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies strongly encourages all community organisations and members to play an active role in reinforcing the Jewish community’s commitment to child protection, the establishment and maintenance of child-safe institutions and signing on to the National Redress Scheme.

Julianna Demetrius, Deborah Blackman, Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO, Janet Schorer

Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM on child protection

On July 16 the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum hosted a high-level panel at the Sydney Jewish Museum on the topic ‘Child protection in the Jewish community: Awareness, Prevention, Redress‘.

Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM

One of the panelists was Rabbi Mendel Kastel OAM, CEO of Jewish House and National Mental Health Commissioner. Below are the notes on which he based his address to the plenum.

Trigger warning.

Acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eorah nation its elders past present and emerging.

Thanks to Bettina and all on the panel.

I stand before you today as a Chabad rabbi who has served the Sydney Jewish community for more than 30 years.

As someone who has run many camps and youth programs within synagogues and other religious institutions and as a Jew in this wonderful community.

I stand here knowing that over the years there were children who were abused in our community –  in synagogues, schools and youth programs.

I have in some cases reported cases to the police.

I have sat with victims/survivors who did not want to go to the police.

I have seen firsthand the devastation for the person who has been sexually abused.

Whether it’s the person who says I wake up every day and wish I was dead or supporting others to survive their pain.

Whether it is trying to help the person who turns to drugs to survive or the person who talks about the number of friends who have taken their lives because they could not cope – I have seen it all.

Some would ask does this really happen in our Jewish community, in our schools, synagogues and youth institutions.

The answer is unfortunately yes.

Today, standing in front of the formally elected members of our communal roof body I believe it is an appropriate time to say – I am deeply and sincerely sorry.

We let these children down.

It is our communal duty to commit to doing everything in our power to make sure that children are safe in our institutions and that those who have been abused are provided with appropriate redress which includes an apology, compensation and funding for their treatment.

While we could talk about what people thought 20-30 years ago on how to report etc. today there is no question.

If there is a suspicion of such a matter it must be immediately reported to the police and then guidance must be sought as to how to handle it within your institution.

As part of my work at Jewish house where we have seen and supported a number of survivors, I believe strongly that we as a community must show leadership and address these issues in our institutions and community.

I will highlight some of the work already done but there is much more to do.

We have facilitated the training rabbis with the NSW Ombudsman and Children’s Guardian, Cathy Kezelman, FACS.

We have advocated for synagogues and religious institutions to be included in the reportable conduct scheme and have been part of the reference group to help standardise best practice across all religious institutions with the ombudsman’s office.

We have worked with a number of camps and other organisations including Synagogues to implement and standardise procedures for reporting.

We have worked closely with the board of deputies and ECAJ to see that this is put on the agenda as well as working with Tzedek to share with them how to help the communities around Australia.

We have participated in a number of community forums and conferences to discuss child safety.

All of the above is important and is a good start, but we need to stay vigilant and ensure the safety of our children as our number one priority.

I think its important that organisation sign up or have a redress program in place.

We need to hold organisation to the highest standard and ask them if they have their policies in place and up to date, their Venue Audit and signage, latest training for their staff, appropriate communication with their members.

Together we will make sure our kids are safe and supported.

Thank you

Now hiring: Public Affairs Administration Assistant

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies is the elected representative roof body and voice of the Jewish Community of NSW.

Our vision is to maintain and enhance a united NSW Jewish community, adequately resourced, enjoying physical and political security as part of a harmonious, inclusive, democratic Australian society.

We are currently recruiting for the new full-time role of Public Affairs Administration Assistant which provides admin support to the Public Affairs team. This includes ensuring the efficiency and reliability of the database as it relates to the membership of the JBD, Jewish community and sectors related to the work of the Public Affairs team.

Key Responsibilities

  • Provide administrative assistance to the Public Affairs team, including research and correspondence
  • Assist with all NSW JBD events as required
  • Assist with all aspects of monthly plenum meetings, including registration and attendance.
  • Keep database up to date for relevant areas for the Public Affairs team
  • Research and contact constituent and communal organisations to ensure that information in the database is up to date.
  • Process membership forms, invoices, prepare mail-outs and prepare the logistics needed for the NSW JBD to run recruitment drives and follow up lapsed members. In addition the PA assistant will help with the logistics involved with JBD elections.
  • Assist with intern recruitment and management
  • Assist with the leadership course
  • Ensure that meetings for the Public Affairs team and committee are set up and cleaned afterwards and assist with other needed logistics for these meetings.

Key Performance Indicators
Under the direction of the Public Affairs Manager:

  • Maintain an up-to-date database of all members, Constituent and Communal Organisations.
  • Membership processes are streamlined and membership numbers are increased.
  • Correspondence is prepared in a timely and professional manner.
  • Ensure daily office needs for the Public Affairs team are met.

Professional Experience and Qualifications

  • Experience in the use of CRM/database systems,
  • Strong experience in office systems.
  • Knowledge of the NSW political landscape and the Jewish community
  • Experience in a similar role.

Personal attributes for success in the role

  • Ability to focus and complete tasks and projects within the agreed time-frame
  • Proven ability to work well under pressure and problem-solve
  • A high level of self-motivation, attention to detail and the ability to multi-task
  • Communication and team skills
  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills
  • Ability to deal with the changing priorities of the Public Affairs team and CEO.

To apply, email your resume and and cover letter to Public Affairs Manager Byron Danby by July 31:


Board of Deputies letter to Channel 10

Paul Anderson, Chief Executive Officer
Beverley McGarvey, Chief Content Officer

Network Ten

Dear Paul and Beverley

If one harboured any doubt about the inflammatory tone of Todd Sampson’s Body Hack program on Gaza on June 25, 2019, I invite you to read the brief selection of Facebook comments on the show’s Facebook page Todd Sampson’s Body Hack post 10:06pm June 25; (please see below).

The egregious lack of balance – despite Mr Sampson declaring during the program that he was “not taking sides” – has predictably led to an outpouring of hate mail against Israel, and by extension against the Jewish community, to the extent of members of the public drawing analogies between Israel and Nazi Germany. We understand the importance of ratings for a commercial network, but the lack of context or balance – or indeed, of  journalistic or ethical responsibility – for what the network put to air on this occasion was appalling.

Mr Sampson lamented the lack of medical supplies and electricity experienced by Gaza’s major hospital; yet did not deem it relevant to mention that Hamas – which controls Gaza – has diverted untold millions of dollars of international aid building sophisticated tunnels to be used to abduct and murder Israelis. He depicted heartbreaking scenes of Palestinian children who had sustained injuries in the so-called peaceful protests at the Gaza-Israel fence; yet did not deem it relevant to ask any Palestinian parent why they would take children to what was – according to Mr Sampson’s own apt description – a war zone. The litany of such examples of his “taking sides” – to borrow his own expression – and of a consequent lack of context or balance is damning, flying in the face of his repeated expressions of grief and sorrow at Palestinian suffering, as against his fleeting and heavily qualified reference to Israeli civilian suffering.

The film has been screened, the damage has been done. The purpose of this letter is to respectfully urge you to be mindful on future such occasions of the imperative to ensure balance and context when depicting such fraught and complex situations. In fact, I wrote to Network Ten a fortnight before the program was screened to urge that the voice-over accompanying the footage be measured and balanced. Very unfortunately, the opposite occurred.

Kind regards

Vic Alhadeff
CEO, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies

Child protection panel discussion at July plenum

Child protection in community organisations is a collective responsibility.

Acting together with full knowledge and awareness, we must promote child safe cultures and best-practices.

After the Report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and the introduction of the National Redress Scheme, the over-arching responsibilities to maintain and sustain child safe spaces and practices in our community have changed and we must adapt.

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies is hosting a panel of experts on Tuesday July 16 at 7.30pm on Awareness, Prevention and Redress: Child protection in the Jewish Community. All deputies, Board members and community members are encouraged to hear from topic experts and take part in the Q&A discussion.


Janet Schorer, NSW Children’s Guardian whose office has responsibility for all aspects of child protection, including checks of paid staff and volunteers, and all reportable conduct with respect to suspected child abuse.
Julianna Demetrius, Assistant Ombudsman in the NSW Ombudsman’s Office, who is preparing published information on child protection for faith-based organisations.
Dr Michelle Meyer, CEO of Tzedek, Australia’s support and advocacy group for Jewish victims/survivors of child sexual abuse.
Rabbi Mendel Kastel, CEO of Jewish House, the first Jewish organisation in NSW to sign up to the National Redress Scheme
Deborah Blackman, Director of EduCARE, Protecting our Children Together, who conducts regular training and workshops in schools, synagogues and youth movements
Peter Wertheim AM, co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, will report on nation-wide Jewish community organisations’ responses to ensuring child safe organisations and responses to the National Redress Scheme.
Emeritus Professor Bettina Cass AO (moderator), Chair of the ECAJ National Working Group on Child Protection

Speech by Rabbi Shua Solomon on Religious Freedom

Delivered on June 18 at the Sydney Jewish Museum Education Centre to the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum.

Rabbi Shua Solomon

Ladies and Gentlemen, before anything else tonight I must make mention of a person whom I think epitomizes more then anyone else what this topic is about. You see, the question of Freedom of Religion is really asking whether someone can live a full life as a contributing member of society and Australian Citizen and at the same time live a fully observant life as a Religious Person, in our case as a Jewish Person.

I must therefore make mention of my grandfather of Blessed Memory, The Hon Joseph Max Berinson QC, a Minister in both Federal and State Politics who was always held up as an example of how one could serve Australia at the highest level and at the same time live a full Jewish Life. On becoming the Western Australian Attorney General in the early 80’s my grandfather gathered his staff together and told them he would not be contactable from late Friday afternoon until Saturday night and that if he was ever at a function where food was to be served, they should arrange for him to be served a plain undressed salad and that if anyone asked they were to state unequivocally that it was not because he was vegetarian but because he was Jewish. Tonights plenum falls out just a few days from his first Yartzeit, a year since his passing and I am honoured to be speaking here tonight with Mr Ruddock who served in Federal Parliament with my grandfather.

My grandfather’s life is of course a story about a wonderful man with extraordinary talent who used everything he was given to benefit his community and society at large. But it is also a story about the amazing country that we live in. My grandfather was born in Australia to penniless immigrants from Tzfat in Northern Israel.  He grew up in a country that, despite the challenges his parents faced, gave him every opportunity to succeed and at the same time live an observant Jewish life as an Orthodox Jew. Before anything else, it is important that we take a moment to reflect, not just about the achievements of my grandfather but on what that means about the country we live in and how fortunate we are to be citizens of this great country.

I have been asked to address this topic as a Religious leader and person of faith and therefore I would like to begin by talking about a principle in Jewish Law that might not be familiar to everyone. That is the prohibition of what is called in Hebrew Ona’at Devarim, which could be loosely translated as harmful or abusive language.  In Judaism we are instructed that even or maybe especially when dealing with sensitive topics one must be very careful in the way we transmit these messages. It is always important to find the balance between giving over religious instruction as a Rabbi or teacher and doing it in a way which is not offensive or harmful to individuals or groups of people. I acknowledge that at times that balance can be difficult or even impossible to get right but we must make every effort to embrace all parts of our community as individuals. Therefore, I am not here to give an opinion about whether Israel Folau’s contract should or should not have been terminated, I will leave that to the legal professionals. But I can tell you that when looking at the prohibition of Ona’at devarim and the obligation that we have to be sensitive and caring to all members of our community and society at large, it is clear that his language was regrettable.  For me as a Rabbi this is not an issue of religious freedom.  I believe passionately that a person should be able to believe, express and teach with freedom.  But as a Rabbi I believe with equal passion that all teachings, especially religious teachings should be conveyed with empathy and sensitivity.  So my concern is not so much how to frame legislation and regulations.  My concern is to appeal to all people – to secular people to understand the critical importance of faith to the hearts, minds and souls to people of faith, but equally to people of faith to speak and teach with sensitivity and care.

Having said that I do want to say a few words on the notion of discrimination. Discrimination has become something of a dirty word in society and for the most part I believe that is largely a good thing. However, there are times when exemptions to anti discrimination laws can be a necessary and indeed positive thing, when it is used to confer benefits on a particular person, or class of persons, for the betterment of society and in my particular case to enhance Jewish Religion and continuity. I don’t think anyone here would argue that setting up a group of talented science students in a school or University is something that would not be for the betterment of society at large, despite the fact that it would mean that many students  would not be allowed entry into such a group.  This is really exclusivity for a greater good, rather than what we think of, negatively, as “discrimination”. In the case of Jewish Religion, this “exclusivity” takes place, and this is with both regards to a Synagogue and Jewish schools, in order to enhance, foster and ensure the continuity of the Jewish Religion.  In other words, there can be no sensible criticism of exemptions from anti-discrimination law when it is practiced in order to enhance and foster a good cause – and it will come as no surprise for you to hear that I regard Judaism as a pretty good cause.  And that means that Jewish Schools and shules should be able to advance the cause of Judaism by being ‘exclusive’ in favour of those who share those values.  So, membership and privileges should be reserved for those who share those values and are committed to their advancement.

In fact this is best illustrated by what is really the only court case in Australia about discrimination in a Jewish School.  And it happened at the School at which I was a student at that very time.  And it was decided on legislation that my late grandfather had supervised as the Attorney General when the Equal Opportunity Act in WA was passed in the 1980’s.

IN that case the School’s conduct was held to be completely lawful.  That is because the statute allowed for an exemption that was practiced in good faith, in favour of adherents to advance the cause or ethos of the School.

And in my humble opinion, so it should be.  Every faith or indeed every club must be able to advance its own cause by favouring those who commit to its values.

So in broad terms may I summarise by referring to what I think are 3 important things:

  1. There should be protection to allow people to believe, teach, and express their religious faith;
  2. The price of that protection is that religious people must use it with sensitivity, care and respect;
  3. Society should permit and indeed encourage exemptions from anti-discrimination laws undertaken in good faith to advance a good cause.

I would now like to turn my attention to the Religious Freedom Review put together by an expert panel of which Mr Ruddock was chair.

First may I thank and congratulate Mr Ruddock on his team for a thoughtful and thorough consideration of the matter which reflects a deep respect for and understanding of the needs and aspirations of people of religious faith.

I noticed that among the recommendations the report seeks to balance the tensions between the various sensitivities in a comprehensive and thoughtful way.  One of those ways is to permit religious institutions to implement their religious beliefs without constraint but to have an available policy that sets out the practice so that it can clearly accessed and understood.

I think that is a fair and appropriate solution to a difficult problem.

But can I just make this observation as a religious practitioner:  Yes I am a Rabbi and Rabbis are trained to deal in rules.  But in reality most of my energy is invested in people, not in rules.  Often that requires balancing tensions and sensitivities in a way that requires common sense and almost always, compromise.  In my experience, most tensions and problems in real life are not solved by the application of hard and fast policies, but by thoughtful compromise, decency and common sense.

So while I accept that the policy-based solution is fair and appropriate, and perhaps the only sensible solution, as a practitioner I hope that such policies do not actually become a barrier to solving real life problems by appealing to people’s decency and the need to sometimes compromise on rules and policies to achieve harmony and get on with life.  At the end of the day, you can have every policy under the sun; but unless people are prepared to prioritise common sense and harmony where that is reasonably possible, policies may well not put an end to disputes.

And may I conclude with one final observation.  I am often asked if I feel discriminated against as a religious person.  The truth is that in the environment in which I operate the answer is ‘no’.  This is a great country that does not discriminate against Jews or any other religious minority.

But I am very often told that people with religious faith feel marginalised and often ridiculed in public discourse.  They are made to feel morally or intellectually inferior.  They feel embarrassed to take a position based on their religious believes or that it is simply not socially acceptable.

I think this a really tragic development in our society.  Sadly, no  report, policy or law can reverse this.  Only creating an environment and culture where religious beliefs are respected and valued can alter these sorts of attitudes.  And again, that cuts both ways.  Secular Australia must learn to respect and value that which millions of religious Australians share.  But at the same time, religious leaders and representative’s must communicate and reach out in a way that engenders respect for the values they represent.  Those beliefs and values do not need to be accepted – but they can surely be communicated in a way that fosters respect.

Ladies and Gentleman, I began this speech by talking about my grandfather and therefore think that it is appropriate to conclude with a sentence that has been used by everyone from the then Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition down, to sum up his life.  It is from the Bible from the Book of Micha the Prophet where we are told

“What is good and what does the Lrd require of you except to be just and to love and to diligently practice kindness and walk humbly with your g-d.” Legislation is required and is critical in ensuring that we continue to be able to practice our religion freely in this great country. But what is equally as critical is the ability of all Australians to be a little bit more humble, kind and tolerant in their dealings with others. As a person of faith, I have an obligation to be sensitive and embracing of all parts of our society and in return I am confident that those who do not share my beliefs will be equally so.