The experience of LGBTQ+ members of the Sydney Jewish community has ranged from celebration to rejection. After the success of the marriage-equality vote in 2017, the movement for greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ people is growing. Yet a 2020 study showed that four out of five LGBTQ+ people felt worse than they did after the same-sex marriage vote. What further changes are needed?
This month’s NSW Jewish Board of Deputies plenum will feature a panel discussion moderated by Josh Kirsh, chair of the Board of Deputies LGBTQ+ Working Party.
The panellists will be: Dr Kerryn Phelps and Jackie Stricker-Phelps, both of whom campaigned for marriage equality, Jonathan David, president of the Jewish LGBTQ+ support group Dayenu, Danielle Meltzer, a transgender woman who grew up in Sydney, and Galit Taub, a graduate of Moriah College who aims to make religious Jewish spaces more inclusive for LGBTQ+ individuals. The plenum will be held both in person and online on Tuesday 16 March at 7:30pm.
In 2015, Dr Shimon Cowen, an alumni of Monash University (Monash) had held honorary positions with Monash for many years. Over the years he had undertaken specific tasks for payment. In 2015, he held an Adjunct Research Associate position with Monash’s Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation (the Centre).
Dr Cowen was also the Director of the Institute for Judaism and Civilisation (the Institute). The Institute has no affiliation with Monash University.
In early December 2015, Dr Cowen used his Monash email account to send to a group of municipal councillors a booklet which he described as, “a comprehensive briefing on [same-sex marriage] from the standpoint of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.”
Two local councillors raised issues with Monash via email.
One asked whether the Vice-Chancellor condoned the publication of what the councillor viewed as “blatant bigotry and homophobia” from a University email account (the Complaint). The Councillor copied the Complaint to Dr Cowen.
The other councillor advised Monash that Dr Cowen was “still using his” Monash “email address to lobby municipal councillors”. I refer to this below as ‘the Notification’. Dr Cowen does not seek the name of the ‘notifier’.
The University investigated the issue. The outcome for Dr Cowen was most serious. Monash’s Dean of the Faculty of Arts (the Dean) declined to continue his ongoing honorary appointment, in the context that at the time Monash was in the process of appointing him to an Associate position.
The Dean’s email advising Dr Cowen of the outcome said this action was taken because Monash had received “several complaints” concerning his use of his Monash email address to lobby members of the community concerning same-sex marriage in relation to his activities associated with his Institute, with the implication that the Institute is associated with Monash.
Dr Cowen appealed that decision to Monash’s Vice-Chancellor.1 In a short 12 January 2016 email she advised she had considered Dr Cowen’s letter of appeal and the broader issue. She confirmed the Dean’s decision, saying she was aware of and endorsed that decision at the time it was made.
Complaints received by the of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office and/or the Dean’s Office relating to his use of his Monash email account; and
Correspondence to and from the Dean’s Office, and to and from the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, relating to revocation of his appointment as affiliate of Monash’s Faculty of Arts.
Monash released to Dr Cowen a set of redacted documents. Dr Cowen sought review of that decision by the then Victorian Freedom of Information Commissioner. When the Commissioner did not make a decision within the requisite timeframe, Dr Cowen sought review at VCAT on the basis that his request was taken to be refused.
In March 2017, the issue came before me for hearing. Dr Cowen represented himself. Monash was legally represented. I heard the case and reserved my decision.
The offending email sent by Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen:
With the impending plebiscite on same-sex marriage, I thought it helpful to set out a comprehensive briefing on this matter from the standpoint of the Judeo-Christian tradition.
This took the form of a short booklet of talks which I, as a Jewish Rabbi (and son of a former Governor General of Australia, Sir Zelman Cowen), gave under the auspices of a Christian University, Campion College, in NSW. It sets out what I think is a shared perspective of the Abrahamic (Jewish-Christian-Islamic) faiths and perhaps wider yet.
I mailed the booklet to a number of Victorian Municipal Councillors. In the event that you did not receive a copy, or overlooked one which may have come in the mail, and would now like one please let me know. I received requests for some 100 copies from Councillors in NSW.
Even though you as a councillor may not be making statements on this matter, since you are close to networks of “grassroots” Australia, I thought you might be interested to see and share this material.
Please email me if you would like me to mail you a copy of this booklet at no charge. It is called “There is more than this…” I would be happy to send you more copies should you want them.
Yours Sincerely, Rabbi Dr Shimon Cowen, Director, Institute for Judaism and Civilization
An exploration of the transformation of attitudes toward LGBTIQ people within Melbourne’s Jewish community from the 1990s to current day. This session includes the screening of a 10 minute documentary “Aleph Melbourne – Celebrating 20 Years – 1995-2015”. It also includes an exploration of how the 2009 shooting at the Tel Aviv LGBT Youth Centre was the catalyst for a series of events that shattered the decade-long silence since the Victorian Jewish community leadership rejected the membership application of a gay men’s group to them endorsing marriage equality 8 years later.
Learning objectives/outcomes:A greater understanding and appreciation of the issues, sensitivities and nuances around LGBTIQ inclusion in Melbourne’s Jewish community.
“A decade of strong advocacy for LGBTI equality and inclusion! I am very proud to have volunteered for the JCCV for a decade and served on the board for almost 4 years. We have achieved great things together! #lgbti #lgbtiinclusion #mentalhealthmatters #socialinclusion #lgbtijews Big shout out to John Searle, Anton Block, Nina Bassat, Jennifer Huppert, Original Reference Group members Julie Leder, Nathan Rose, Andrew Rajcher, Sally Goldner, Immediate part Executive Director David Marlow and the community for welcoming change.” — Doron Abramovici
CONCERNS OVER SECRECY OF RUDDOCK RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REVIEW
Aleph Melbourne is deeply concerned with the announcement that all public submissions to the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review will be kept secret.
There is a lot at stake for the respect and dignity of LGBTIQ people alongside that of members of religious communities. Any review of freedom of speech requires a full, frank and honest exchange of views.
The notion that submissions to an inquiry should be kept secret flies in the face of the very intention to investigate the freedoms that are under threat.
It would be better for the Turnbull Government to provide full transparency rather than create a tension in our communities. There should be no freedom that is so important that the decision-making process needs to be hidden from view.
The Jewish community is well aware of the risk that discrimination carries. For decades we have been at the forefront of ensuring that people of all backgrounds are free to go about their lives with minimal impact to their personal liberties.
The potential is that the Ruddock Review will see the introduction of new rights giving faith-based organisations greater freedom to discriminate. It may well be that a Christian business that could refuse to provide goods or services for a same-sex wedding, because of their sincerely held religious beliefs, could also refuse to serve a Jewish wedding based on the same sincerely held beliefs.
For further comment contact Michael Barnett – 0417-595-541
Maccabi Victoria is delighted that marriage equality has now been legislated and that all Australians regardless of their sexual orientation will be treated equally under Australian law.
Maccabi Victoria President Brian Swersky stated, “I am both a proud member of the Jewish community and a proud ally of the LGBTIQ community. At a community level, I think it is of utmost importance that all people, no matter their gender, sexuality or orientation are welcome to each and every Maccabi club or program. On a personal level, I have seen the hurt this debate has caused, as my daughter and her wife have been called hurtful things because of their love for each other.
May every child of every Maccabi Victoria club always know that they have a place in our clubs and our hearts no matter who they are or who they love. No matter the colour of their skin or the language that they speak. No matter their physical or cognitive ability.
We recognise the impact that the debate and survey has had on some members of our community and hope that anyone facing mental health concerns as a result will seek appropriate support and assistance.”
Anyone seeking support and assistance can download a copy of the JCCV LGBTI Services Directory at www.jccv.org.au to seek support from an appropriate service provider.
Passed unanimously at the ECAJ Annual Conference in Melbourne on Sunday November 26 2017.
Add a new Policy Item 54 as follows:
Same Sex civil marriage
54.1NOTES the high response rate to the survey on same sex marriage conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in 2017, participation in which was entirely voluntary;
54.2NOTES FURTHER that there was a strong majority in favour of same sex marriage being recognised in Australia’s civil law;
54.3RECOGNISES that the survey did not relate in any way to religious marriages;
54.4CALLS ON the Federal government to:
enact an amendment to the civil law definition of marriage in the Marriage Act as soon as is practicable in order to give effect to the clear result of the survey;
ensure that members of the clergy will continue to have the right to refuse to perform or participate in any marriage ceremony at their discretion, as is provided for at present under section 47 of the Marriage Act;
ensure that religious institutions and religious schools will continue to have the same rights they currently enjoy under the law to practice, teach and preach their religious beliefs, including their beliefs about the institution of marriage being between a man and a woman; and
ensure that parents and legal guardians will continue to have the same freedoms they currently enjoy to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
54.5REJECTS any proposal that would permit businesses to refuse to provide goods, services and facilities on the basis that these are to be used in connection with a same-sex marriage ceremony; and
54.6AFFIRMS that in matters of ordinary trade and commerce, as distinct from matters of religious practice and belief, all people are entitled to be protected from adverse discriminatory treatment on the basis of their race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.
On Monday November 14 2017 the Australia Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) distanced itself from Isi Leibler’s intolerant views of LGBTIQ people and marriage equality by way of an unrestrained apology sent to their mailing list:
Disclaimer and apology regarding Update 11/17 #03
Nov. 14, 2017
Earlier today, as part of the “Update from AIJAC” email newsletter, a link was included to Isi Leibler’s latest column, in which he stated his opinions on same sex marriage. Isi Leibler’s columns are routinely linked in the Update newsletter, and the decision to include this column was taken without the input of senior AIJAC management. Given the nature of this column, linking it at this time was clearly an error, for which AIJAC apologises. AIJAC did not intend to and does not endorse Isi Leibler’s opposition to same sex marriage, which does not reflect AIJAC’s views.
A response to Isi Leibler’s column can be found here.