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The Jews Down Under … Roundup of Australian Jewish News

December 7, 2009 Leave a comment

By Garry Fabian
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Victorian church newspaper accused of bias

MELBOURNE—A Victorian church newspaper has come under fire for presenting “inaccuracy” and “malicious distortion” in a travel piece about Israel and the West Bank.

Crosslight, a Uniting  Church of Victoria and Tasmania community publication,  published an article by its executive editor, Kim Cain, in last month’s edition, under the headline, “A pilgrim’s regress in the Holy Land”.

In a 1400-word feature in the Melbourne-based magazine, Cain chronicled a tour of Bethlehem and commented on the Israeli government’s determination to “minimise any appearance or concept of political oppression of a people”.

He also lamented Palestinians “losing their houses, lands and hope . to the Jewish
extremists”, referred to Jesus as a Palestinian,  and described “peaceful protests” at the town of  Bil’in -­ without citing reports of 100 Israeli  soldiers having been injured during
demonstrations at the site earlier this year.

Zionist Council of Victoria (ZCV) president Dr Danny Lamm said the article was riddled with “inaccuracy, prejudice and malicious distortion”.

“We are extremely concerned that members of the Uniting Church reading material of this nature will be given a completely distorted view of the reality of life in Israel and the West Bank,” he said this week.

“The Jewish community has had formal dialogue with the Uniting Church over many years, and this is a particularly disappointing result,” Dr Lamm said.

When contacted by a Jewish community commentator however, Cain denied the article was one-sided.  “I believe it’s balanced,” he said. “The article was a reporting of my experience, and it’s more a look at what happens when tourists or pilgrims go to the Holy Land.”

Cain added he had been in contact with the ZCV and encouraged the organisation to make a written submission to the newspaper. In addition, he has also agreed to meet with them to discuss their grievances.

Milestones for progressive congregations

MELBOURNE – The Union for Progressive Judaism (UJP) has unveiled plans for the
celebration of a series of landmark anniversaries next year.

Among the milestones the movement will be  commemorating in 2010 are 80 years of Progressive Judaism in the region, 80 years since the  founding of St Kilda’s Temple Beth Israel, 60 years of the Leo Baeck Centre in Melbourne, 50 years of Sydney’s North Shore Temple Emanuel, 30 years of Temple Shalom on the Gold Coast, 25 years of Progressive worship in Canberra and, a bit further afield, “the 21st” of Hong Kong’s United Jewish Congregation.

The plans were one of the items addressed at the UPJ six-monthly gathering in Sydney earlier this month.

According to the movement’s executive director, Steve Denenberg, events will combine prayer, study and celebration throughout the region, including numerous scholars-in-residence, cantors, entertainers and visitors.

“The leadership of the World Union for Progressive Judaism will be joining our biennial
conference in Canberra in November 2010,” Denenberg said.

The UPJ gathering, one of a series that supplements the movement’s biennial conferences,
drew presidents, rabbis, shaliachs and executive committee members from across Australia, New Zealand and Asia.

Special guest at the event was Naomi Abelson, coordinator of Nothing but Nets -­ a North
American Union for Reform Judaism program sponsored by the United Nations Foundation -­ which seeks to eradicate malaria in Africa.

Speakers at the gathering included Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim, Shalom Institute head Dr Hilton Immerman and Zionist Federation of Australia technology specialist Andre Oboler.

Jewish bodybuilder shows winning form

SYDNEY- Joshua  Gersohn has claimed second spot at the Australian Natural
Bodybuilding titles in Sydney in the under-19 category.

Gersohn, 19, making his national debut in his third year of bodybuilding, claimed the silver placing after presenting a series of poses for the judges in the first round, before performing a one-minute routine to seal his result.

The teenager qualified for the eight-man field after nabbing another second spot in the Central Coast titles earlier this year, but with his time now up in the juniors, he will take some time off to bulk up and compete in the more senior divisions.

Gersohn’s work towards his statuesque physique was 15 weeks in the making -­ three sessions of cardio or weights a day, six days a week, on a restricted diet.

When bulking up, his weight peaked at 100 kilograms, but by competition, extra dieting had his chiselled, bronzed body down to 77 kilograms -­ an effort that does not faze him.

“You feel fitter because you are lighter,” he said. “But in the last week you feel a bit down,
no energy and you have to go through carb depletion and water loading.”

So is the pain worth the gain? “It’s fun ­ great to get on stage; it’s a feeling you can’t
describe. There’s the thrill of seeing how good you can get yourself looking. You see your body’s changes from year to year.

“And there’s the thrill of seeing yourself on stage . it also gives you a lot of experience in
life . if you can manage the dedication needed, you can put up with other things in life and grow on that.”

Spike in the number of anti-Jewish incidents

SYDNEY – Australia has seen an alarming spike in the number of anti-Jewish
incidents during the past year, according to new research released this week.

The 144-page Anti-Semitism Report revealed 962 accounts of anti-Jewish violence, vandalism, harassment and intimidation in the past 12 months.

“That’s more than twice the annual average. [It’s] unprecedented,” said Australia/Israel &
Jewish Affairs Council’s director of international and community affairs and former
ECAJ president, Jeremy Jones, who compiled the report.

He released his findings at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) annual conference in Sydney on November 29.

“More than in any other 12-month period, Jewish-Australians walking to and from synagogue were abused by passing motorists, Jewish people were confronted with incitement against them in Australian cities, and abusive, offensive and intimidatory emails were received by Jewish-Australians at their homes and workplaces.”

Jones, who has been tracking anti-Semitic incidents in Australia for the past 20 years,
also noted that anti-Jewish propaganda in fringe publications and from extremist organisations remains an “ongoing concern”.

The results were backed by testimonies from heads of Jewish security groups in both Sydney and Melbourne, who said they have also noticed a surge of incidents in recent years.

David Rothman, head of Sydney’s Communal Security Group, said: “Since 2001, there has been a yearly increase in anti-Semitic incidents, verbal abuse and assault that we see on the ground, and reports from the community.”

Amit Bar-Giora, head of Melbourne’s Community Security Group, added: “Although most of these incidents are not of a violent nature, the fact that there has been an increase is of a great concern. We ask [the community] to be alert to any suspicious activity and report them accordingly.”

On a more positive note, Jones disclosed a marked decrease in reports of physical violence against Jewish individuals and property ­ with 27 incidents reported this year, compared with 58 and 46 in the previous two years.

Telephone threats, hate mail and graffiti were also reported at “below average rates”.

“It is important to emphasise that my research over 20 years indicates Australians are
fundamentally tolerant and opposed to discrimination, vilification or harassment of
Jews and other segments of the population, but that a relatively small number of fanatic and offensive individuals are increasingly active in trying to diminish the quality of life of Jewish-Australians,” he said.

“Internationally, Australia scores very well as a successful multicultural society,” he added.

Government funding for school chaplains

CANBERRA- Australian Prime Minster Kevin Rudd has confirmed that funding for school
chaplains would continue until 2011, pledging to invest an additional $42 million in the program.

The initiative was established by the previous government in 2007. Since then, the $115 million pumped into the program has seen around 2700 Australian schools receive funding of up to $20,000 a year towards their chaplaincy.

In a speech to the Australian Christian Lobby’s national conference in Canberra last month, Rudd stressed the importance of chaplains ­- including rabbis -­ in providing care that teachers often cannot offer.

He added: “We will guarantee funding for the next two years until December 2011 for schools currently funded under the National School Chaplaincy Program.

“This will involve a total additional investment of $42 million over the 2010 and 2011 school years.”

During that time, he said the Government would reconsider the program and would call on
community submissions to assess the best way to carry it forward.

“While there is no denying the success of the National School Chaplaincy Program, it could be improved to better accommodate schools in rural and regional areas, small schools and schools in disadvantaged communities,” he said.

Opposition education spokesperson Christopher Pyne had been encouraging the Government to commit to the chaplaincy program’s continuation for some time.

“This program was introduced by the Coalition government and enabled schools to employ a part-time school chaplain,” Pyne said last month.

“According to figures released during [Senate] estimates hearings last week, an extraordinary 97 per cent of participating school principals supported its continuation.”

Pyne, though, was critical of Rudd’s announcement, saying it only provided for the
continuation of current funding, and did not allow schools that were not already receiving funding to apply.

Local shopping centre to light up for Chanukah

MELBOURNE- Chanukah decorations will be on display at the Melbourne suburban Malvern Central Shopping Centre, despite initial concerns that the festival would not be acknowledged.

Chabad House of Malvern’s Rabbi Reuvi Cooper approached the mall with plans to erect a
chanukiah and arrange a candle-lighting ceremony and activities at the venue, but management initially delayed a decision, citing a lack of space.

“We have a totally different floor plan to past years with new tenants . more active casual
leasing and practically every square inch leased out,” Malvern Central’s marketing manager, Rachel Armstrong, said. “We wanted to have decorations, but literally didn’t have the space.”

Armstrong said Rabbi Cooper’s plan to arrange a candle-lighting ceremony and activities could not be realistically accommodated, but that the centre was “delighted” by the prospect of erecting a prominent chanukiah on level three of the complex.

Following an initially hesitant response from Malvern Central, Rabbi Cooper approached the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) who, with the support of the Victorian Multicultural Commission (VMC), discussed the matter with senior management to ensure a suitable outcome  was reached. They agreed to place Chanukah decorations alongside the centre’s Christmas paraphernalia.

“This result is a win-win for all parties and a powerful affirmation of multiculturalism and
religious freedom in Victoria,” JCCV executive director Geoffrey Zygier said.

George Lekakis, chairperson of the Victorian Multi-Cultural Commission (VMC), said most
councils and centres are “accommodating” of other faith and cultures and, in particular, of “a host of festivals and events that denote specific holidays and days of religious importance”.

“It’s about getting the right balance between accommodating old and new,” Lekakis told The AJN. “Sense, accommodation and mutual respect is the way forward.”

Armstrong said she hoped the Jewish festival could be “integrated” into the centre’s
celebrations next year, pointing to the Rosh Hashanah programs that the mall ran this year.

She said approaching the shopping centre earlier in the year would allow for a more extensive display in the future, adding that Christmas plans are organised months in advance. Armstrong continued that the centre had not been formally approached to display Chanukah decorations in the past few years, with centre management putting up
its own ornaments, alongside Christmas trimmings.

In other Chanukah news, Prahran Market this week erected a 15-foot chanukiah to mark the Festival of Lights.

Prime Minister and Opposition leader attend leadership forum

SYDNEY-  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the newly elected Opposition Leader Tony
Abbot came head-to-head for the first time at the Australia Israel Leadership Forum gala luncheon on Thursday in Sydney.

A gathering of who’s who in Australian politics and the Jewish community, the lunch was also attended by a delegation of senior Israeli politicians, including Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom.

The envoy is in Australia this week for a series of meetings with government officials aimed at building relations between the two countries.

Sharing the same stage with Rudd for the first time since being voted in as Liberal leader on Tuesday, Abbot declared: “Australia’s new era of political partisanship could hardly have had a more convivial start.”

He also used the platform to reaffirm his unwavering support for Israel: “I’d like to think
that nowhere in the world [does Israel] have more stauncher friends than us.”

Shalom also spoke to the 500-strong crowd, stressing Israel’s desire to resume peace
negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, as well as the Jewish state’s concern over Iran’s nuclear capabilities.

“The sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council [on Iran] were too light,” Shalom said. “Maybe the time has come has come to take a lateral move by the US, the European Union, Australia, Canada and Japan and others to impose sanctions on Iran.”

Outside the venue in inner-city Sydney, about 40 pro-Palestinian activists took to Martin Place to protest the forum.

Community leaders honour Doc Evatt

SYDNEYr – The pivotal role played by Australia ­ and one Australian in particular ­ in
the establishment of the State of Israel was celebrated at a gala event in Sydney on November 29.

The Tribute to Doc Evatt dinner, hosted by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA) and the Zionist Federation of Australia, was held on the 62nd anniversary of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s adoption of the partition resolution that led to the creation of the Jewish homeland.

Chairman of the Ad-Hoc Committee on Palestine, Dr H V Evatt was responsible for steering the proposal through. As president of the assembly in May 1949, he also presided over the historic vote that saw Israel admitted to the UN.

The dinner, held at Moriah College, was attended by more than 160 communal leaders, as well as Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem, Attorney-General Robert McClelland and Evatt’s daughter, Rosalind Carrodus.

Hailing Evatt as “a shining example of the power of the human spirit, the strength of the will and a commitment to justice that all people should aspire to”, Ambassador Rotem quoted the Doc’s private secretary, who wrote: “The tiny republic, which embodies the age-old dreams of world Jewry and Zionism, was born in 1948 with this man as midwife.”

The sentiment was echoed by McClelland, who also spoke of Australia’s continued commitment to Israel, as well as his own role in addressing communal concerns over security and laws relating to incitement of violence on the basis of race and religion, and the online dissemination of race-hate material.

Mrs Carrodus, who was actually in the General Assembly on the occasion of the May 1949 vote, recalled the historic event. She said: “My mother and I cried, it was so emotional.”

Reflecting on the tribute dinner to her father, she added: “The other night was magical. I was so moved. Everyone loved him and had such high regard for him.”

Expressing her delight with the evening, NCJWA president Dalia Sinclair said: “It was one of my dreams to hold this event.”

She added: “I’d like to see November 29 integrated into the education system and to make
people more aware of its importance. Every day we have to justify why Israel is there, but we shouldn’t have to because we have been given this legitimate right to exist.”

Anti-Israel protesters try to disrupt function

MELBOURNE – Capsicum spray was used on pro-Palestinian demonstrators who tried to storm a hotel where Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke on Sunday.

About 200 demonstrators holding flags and placards tried to force their way into a side
entrance to the Park Hyatt Hotel in East Melbourne.

Guests at a dinner whose guest speakers included Ms Gillard and Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister, Silvan Shalom, were being directed to use the entrance because about 200 of the protesters had blocked the main entrance.

A large group of the protesters came around to the side entrance and suddenly rushed the glass door, trying to force their way in.

Federal and state police already in the hotel foyer and hotel security rushed to block them
getting in, as the demonstrators pounded on the door and shouted ”Free Palestine”.

The spray was used as one protester tried to force the door open, but three protesters still
managed to break through the wall of police to get inside the foyer, where punches were thrown and three protesters were wrestled to the ground.

Uniformed police on duty at other parts of the building formed a line in front of the glass door and police horses were brought in to force back the crowd, which included women and children.

The dinner was organised by the Australia-Israel Leadership Forum, which aims to strengthen ties between Israel and Australia.

Michael Shaik, public advocate for Australians for Palestine, said the group was outraged by ”the hosting of an Israeli delegation at a time when Israel is coming under huge pressure from the rest of the international community to investigate war crime charges regarding its conduct in Gaza and to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem”.

Acting Senior Sergeant Steve Burke said the protest was held under an agreement with
organisers and had been largely peaceful, but he was disappointed the agreement was broken.

Ms Gillard made no reference to the protest but said ”Australia’s support for Israel remains
strong and remains bipartisan in this country”.

Mr Shalom said Australia was considering a request from Israel to help it rehabilitate the Jordan River.

JCCV supports new anti-discrimination laws

MELBOURNE–The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) is delighted to see that the proposed amendments to the Sentencing Act recently announced by Victoria’s Attorney General Rob Hulls MP have now passed through both Houses of Parliament and have received Royal Assent.

The new laws allow harsher sentences to be given to offenders who have been motivated to commit a crime by the victim’s race, religion or sexual orientation.

JCCV president John Searle said that, “Since my assuming the presidency the JCCV has been increasingly active regarding antisemitism, Hate Crimes and crimes against, or vilification of, minority groups. I am delighted to see that the work we have done in presenting submissions to the State Government has been rewarded. I am extremely pleased to see that the legislation received support from both houses of Parliament.

“I believe and hope that this legislation will help to minimise the abuse of minority
groups.  In many respects it reiterates the right of all Victorians to be able to live securely in their own identity.

“These amendments reinforce the government’s commitment and the commitment of all Victorians to live in a harmonious, multicultural society free from vilification or hatred based on a person’s background, race, religion or sexual orientation”.

Searle noted that “The amendments are in line with the work of the JCCV Executive which has been particularly diligent in attempting to combat vilification of all types and ensure that representatives of all groups within the Jewish community are included in community/JCCV events.  It is vital that all members of our own and the wider community are made to feel welcome and that no individuals or sections are excluded”.

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Fabian is Australia bureau chief of  San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted at fabiang@sandiegojewishworld.com

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