A Video Message to the Ultra-Orthodox: ‘It Gets Besser’ – The Shmooze – Forward.com

A Video Message to the Ultra-Orthodox: ‘It Gets Besser’ – The Shmooze – Forward.com.

Transcript of interview with ADC chairman Anton Block on Gay & Lesbian radio JOY 94.9


Transcript of interview between Doug Pollard, Tim Wilson and Anton Block
Recorded at the JOY 94.9 studios in Melbourne
July 1 2011


VOICEOVER: You’re listening to a JOYcast from GLBTIQ community radio station JOY 94.9.

DOUG POLLARD: And this is Doug Pollard bringing it to you with the able assistance of Tim Wilson from the Institute of Public Affairs.  Now, according to their website the Anti Defamation Commission quote “fights anti-Semitism and racism, educates against hate and promotes good interfaith relations”.  And now according to an article in the community newspaper Southern Star, a motion was recently passed at a board meeting to include GLBT issues as part of their overall agenda to stand up for human rights.  Now this piqued my interest so I have invited to join us on the line now to explain what the ADC does generally and what this latest move means is Anton Block, the chair of the Association.

DOUG: Good afternoon Anton.

ANTON BLOCK: Good afternoon Doug, how are you going?

DOUG: I’m going really well.  So for people who don’t know can you just give us an outline of what the Anti-Defamation Commission does?

ANTON: Yeah sure.  So we’re an organisation whose primary role is to combat racism with a focus on anti-Semitism.  And we do that in a number of ways.  We deal with incidents when they arise from time to time.  We engage in education programmes specifically aimed at building relationships and bridges with other ethnic communities so you know, taking that to the pro-active approach to demonstrate that as Jews we are people who share common values and common purposes in life as other ethnic mainstream communities.  And in addition to that, from time to time, when there are matters before Parliament or issues out in the community which require some advocacy type issues to be done on their behalf, to be advocated say for example matters relate to the Jewish community well then what we will do is in partnership with organisations such as the Jewish Community Council of Victoria or the Ethnic sorry or the Executive Council of Australian Jewry we will submit submissions or advocate on behalf of that particular issue.

DOUG: Now this addition of GLBTI to the remit, um does that mean that you are now going to be engaging with gay community groups in the same way that you have been engaging with ethnic community groups?

ANTON: I don’t think so?  Um, the way this issue has sort of evolved in terms of coming within our remit, it’s always sort of been there in the background and what the Board has recognised is that it is an issue which needs to be more included, that’s a poor expression, needs to be more um, we need to be more aware of it in terms of how we approach vilification issues um so in fulfilling our objective of minimising vilification of people and groups in our society um vilification of GLBT members, if can I use that word, are something at we should just be conscious of and be aware of.

TIM WILSON: Anton, Tim Wilson from the Institute of Public Affairs here.  You were talking before about how this isn’t your first time.  Can you give us a few examples of how you’ve engaged with other identity groups or community groups or people from different ethnic backgrounds, how you’ve worked in that space in the past?

ANTON: So for example one of our main projects is an event or a thing called the Multi-faith Leaders Programme and what we do is um we run a leadership camp um for 3 or 4 days a year where we invite members of a whole lot of different religious groups whether they be the Baha’i community or the Buddhists or um Hindu Islamic community and so on and there are members there of the Jewish community and Christian communities and it’s sort of targeted at the sort of 20-30 something age group and it’s a facilitated programme whereby we try and build those relationships and bridges and so on between members of the respective ethnic and religious groups.  Then throughout the year we run a series of activities where we build upon um the programmes and the things that we’ve done at the camp.  So it’s very much a focus programme in terms of building those bridges with people who are in their sort of 20 ah.

TIM: So what it sounds like is you’re trying to drive, we were talking about this before, cultural change within the Jewish community as well as other communities.  Will… will the issues you’ve addressed… raised about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people be included in those types of, ah, ah, programmes now?

ANTON: Um don’t know.  We haven’t yet sort of started talking about how the programme is going to be run next year.  Um the camp itself happens in February so obviously for this year it’s completed already, um and certainly I think it’ll be something that we will be putting on the agenda in terms of expanding the reach of the issues that we cover at the camp.

DOUG: You know one thing that’s intrigued me a little about this is that um you have a bit of a problem within your own community within the Jewish community about homophobia, I think it’s fair to say, in that there are some very strong anti-gay statements coming out of the ah orthodox end of the Jewish community and there is a very big divide between for example the approach that orthodox people take and the approach of the reform branch who have actually sort of come out in favour of same-sex marriage.  How are you gonna, that’s going to be a bit of a sensitive thing for you to get involved in isn’t it?

ANTON: It depends what issue you are going to get involved in.  If the issue is dealing with vilification of gay and lesbian people then that’s one issue. If you are going to try and tackle the issue about that homosexuality is against what it says in the bible and so on that’s something completely different.  We won’t be dealing with that issue, that’s an issue of what’s called halacha, of orthodox law, and that’s not something that we can change or influence or have any role in respect of.  What we’re about is ensuring that all people whether they be black, white, gay, straight, whatever, are respected as being human beings and that’s the focus of our activities.

DOUG: Yeah, as I say I think that’s going to be a bit of a difficult one for you.

TIM: [indistinct] I think you’re being unfair there, I think you can see a clear distinction about the focus on principle and recognising there is religious diversity and how people interpret that.  I think Anton this is an admirable programme and I think what we should do is wish you luck.

ANTON: Thank you.

DOUG: We certainly do wish you luck, we wish luck anybody who is fighting on our side and wish luck to anyone who’s fighting discrimination.  As I say I was just a little concerned about where you draw that particular line.  I mean it’s something the Christian community has a problem with as well because we have people who take a very fundamentalist line um I think it would be called…

ANTON: Sorry you are floating in and out a little bit of….

DOUG: Sorry it would be called doctrine in Christian terms and who stick very closely to the literal word of the bible and there are other people who have an interpretation of the bible which is rather different and I think probably it’s something very similar in your community.

ANTON: Yeah, look I agree with that and um I suppose how one approaches these issues is sometimes you’ve got to um take on the event as it presents itself and sometimes it’s discussions to be had quietly with people involved and sometimes it’s a far more broader approach that’s sort of appropriate in terms of some sort of educational approach so it is a little bit of um consider each time it might happen or does happen and say well what’s the best way of moving this forward.

DOUG: Mmm hmm.  And say “perhaps you know you might have put that a bit more tactfully” to people from time to time.

ANTON: Sorry I didn’t hear what you said.

DOUG: I said perhaps remind people that they need to be a little more tactful about things sometimes.

ANTON: Oh yes, absolutely.

TIM: I think respectful.

ANTON: Yeah, people need to respect each other’s differences and um

DOUG: Because I’ve heard some fairly extreme language being used in the past from fundamentalists of all stripe whether they’re Muslim, Christian or Jew and I think that’s where the respect thing is kind of missing.

TIM: But the respect thing also goes both ways Doug and one of the frustrations I’d say I continually have is the open hostility to people in, who are religious because there are some people within their community who hold different views and it requires gay people to be respectful of religious people as well.

DOUG: I’m sure Anton agrees with that one.

TIM: [laughter]

ANTON: Sorry I might have but I’m only hearing every third word so I don’t know what you said.

TIM: We are you giving your thumbs up Anton.

ANTON: Oh good!  Well I do agree with that!

ALL: [laughter]

DOUG: Tim was basically just saying that sometimes gay and lesbian people aren’t as respectful of religious people as they might be

ANTON: Yes well…

DOUG: And it is in fact a two-way street.

ANTON: Look that’s right and unfortunately there are intolerances on both sides and I suppose one of the questions that might flow from that is “well what are the sources of their intolerances” and often it’s reactive, someone’s made to feel inferior and so on and so they lash out.  So it’s all about an educational approach and it’s about respecting each other, and sometimes one has to work harder in um advocating that because um you are starting from a position of um negativity.

DOUG: Yup, yup.  Well ah we wish you the best of luck with this Anton.

ANTON: Thank you.

DOUG: And we look forward to catching up with you perhaps in a little while to see how it’s all been going.

ANTON: Only with pleasure.

DOUG: Particularly if you are have any particular story about this where you’ve dealt with something we’d love to let the world know about it.

ANTON: Not a problem.

DOUG: Alright.  Thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.

ANTON: Thanks Doug.  Thanks Tim.

DOUG: That was Anton Block there, the chair of the Anti Defamation Commission.  I still think it’s a difficult position he’s put himself in, in many respects, because there is this huge difference of opinion within the Jewish community particularly and particularly the orthodox are very very trenchant and very unpleasant in the way they push their view at times.

TIM: Well but I think there is a diversity of opinion in all communities Doug and there are people who I find who are gay who have a position which I find quite intolerable, don’t show respect in the way they should from time to time an…

DOUG: Oh you shouldn’t be such a right-winger.

TIM AND DOUG: [laughter]

TIM: No, I’m all about respect and making sure we engage in a civil discourse.  That’s what I do for a living and so I don’t think they’ve put themselves in a position. I think we should be congratulating them.

DOUG: Oh I agree with you there.

TIM: But the flipside of that is they’ve clearly also got an agenda which is within the Jewish community and driving a position of respect um in that community as well so I think their contribution is going to be incredibly valuable. I think we should be very appreciative of the fact that they’ve taken this as part of their broad… and they clearly have influence in other religious communities and ethnic communities as well.

DOUG: Oh I entirely agree that any effort in this direction has got to be encouraged and has got to be applauded and um as I say I think they’ve taken on a difficult one but I’m glad they’re doing it.

TIM: Yeah well.

DOUG: I’m very glad they’re doing it.

TIM: You’ve got to bite the bullet…

DOUG: This is Tim Wilson and Doug Pollard.