Discrimination Under the Cover of Corona | Alastair Lawrie

The third potential outbreak which concerns me is anti-LGBT vilification. That is, attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals – and the LGBT community more broadly – claiming that we are somehow responsible for promulgating the coronavirus, or deserving of infection because of our supposed ‘sinful lifestyles’.

This is not a hypothetical fear, either. At the start of April, Melbourne Jewish radio station J-AIR broadcast the following homophobic and transphobic comments from a Rabbi Kessin:

But there is also no anti-LGBT vilification coverage in Victoria[iii] (meaning the earlier comments on a Melbourne Jewish radio station were likely lawful), or in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory.

“Discrimination Under the Cover of Corona” by Alastair Lawrie; May 16 2020

Melbourne Jewish radio J-AIR finds March 30 broadcast was “contrary to Australian law” and “vilified members of the homosexual (and LGBTIQ+) community”

On May 5 2020 Melbourne’s Jewish radio station J-AIR published the findings of their inquiry into the March 30 2020 incident where they aired an interview stating “the pandemic is an exact designer drug … that will remove … problems … in the form of homosexuality and gays”.

The publication of these findings follow an unreserved apology from the station on April 2 2020.


Approved Committee of Management on May 1 2020

Published results of J-AIR inquiry (forwarded to Michael Barnett via email on 5 May 2020).

1) The J-AIR complaints resolution committee, comprising J-AIR radio’s executive committtee, inquired into comments by Rabbi Mendel Kessin on The Tamar Yonah Show (30 March 2020) broadcast and podcast by J-AIR. Rabbi Kessin’s comment were originally aired on 24 March on the INTR program The Mystical Meaning of the Coronavirus with Rabbi Mendel Kessin. The complaints resolution committee found Rabbi Kassin’s comments were contrary to Australian law in that they vilified members of the homosexual (and LGBTIQ+) community.
2) An unreserved apology was issued immediately to the homosexual (and LGBTIQ+) community via Michael Barnett, who wrote about the TYS broadcast on the Aleph.org website on 4 April. The apology was distributed to The Australian Jewish News, J-Wire, JMedia and J-AIR’s Facebook group and page.
3) The apology was posted on the landing page of J-AIR’s website (j-air.com.au) and the apology in audio form was broadcast for several days following the original broadcast.
4) Michael Barnett, who brought the TYS broadcast to J-AIR’s attention, was engaged by telephone by the J-AIR assistant station manager.
5) Tamar Yonah was contacted for her comment. She noted in part: “Israel News Talk Radio is an Israeli Jewish station based on Torah values. We have on a variety of guests including rabbis who express different opinions on current or historical/biblical issues. Guests and listeners may, and do, hold very diverse views. Our live shows offer listeners to call in and agree, disagree, ask a question, or make a comment. Live talk-radio is very dynamic and is not a closed forum, and knowing that people express very diverse views, we have a disclaimer on our site stating that the many different views and opinions expressed on INTR do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Israel News Talk Radio or its staff.”
J-AIR carries a similar disclaimer hourly.
6) J-AIR will begin an updated education program for all presenters about Australian vilification laws, and advise them to remind guests before interviews to be wary of what they say.
7) Tamar Yonah has requested her program be replaced by other programs from INTR. J-AIR’s programming committee is looking into replacement programs.

Aleph Melbourne is pleased to hear that J-AIR are reinforcing anti-vilification requirements to their presenters, and also that the station is replacing the problematic Tamar Yonah Show syndication with alternative content.

Related coverage

Melbourne radio station J-AIR replaces program after homophobic broadcast | OUTinPerth

J-AIR issues apology for broadcasting interview claiming the coronavirus pandemic was designed to eradicate homosexuality and gays

Radio station J-AIR has responded to our April 2 article Jewish broadcaster J-AIR airs interview stating “the pandemic is an exact designer drug … that will remove … problems … in the form of homosexuality and gays” by issuing the following apology on the front page of their web site:

J-AIR unreservedly apologises for broadcasting and podcasting comments that vilified the gay community in one of its regular programs.

The comments were made by Rabbi Mendel Kessin on the Tamar Yonah Show on Monday, 30 March 2020. Yonah hosts her own show on J-AIR’s sister station in Israel, Israel News Talk Radio (INTR), and Rabbi Kessin’s comment were originally aired on 24 March on the INTR program The Mystical Meaning of the Coronavirus with Rabbi Mendel Kessin. They were re-broadcast on J-AIR on 30 March.

J-AIR president George Banky said Rabbi Kessin’s views were totally unacceptable.

“J-AIR has initiated its complaints procedure in line with ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) and CBAA (Community Broadcasting Association of Australia) requirements,” Dr Banky said.

“We have taken the podcast off line, and the complaints’ committee has started to review the show’s contents. The outcome of this process will be announced within 30 days, if not sooner. J-AIR is seeking an explanation from Tamar Yonah.

“J-AIR is very aware of its role as a community broadcaster and strictly adheres to the laws of this country, particularly the ones referring to broadcasting as mandated by ACMA.

On-air apology – April 6 2020 (immediately after 3pm news)
J-AIR-apology April 3 2020 fullscreen

Aleph Melbourne acknowledge that J-AIR are taking this matter seriously and responding appropriately, and look forward to seeing what further steps are put in place to ensure they do not broadcast content that vilifies LGBTIQ+ people again.

Media coverage

April 2

[J-Wire] J-Air broadcast invokes homosexuality as partly to blame for the pandemic
[Lost Messiah] Melbourne’s J-AIR Blaming the Homosexual Community for Covid-19

April 3

[J-wire] J-AIR apologies for homophobic content
[Lost Messiah] J-Air Apology for Bashing LGBTQ Members, Covid-19

April 4

[PinkNews] Jewish radio station apologises for claims that coronavirus is a ‘designer drug’ to eradicate gays before Messiah comes
[OUTinPerth] Melbourne’s Jewish radio station apologises for homophobic broadcast

April 6

[QNews] Jewish radio station sorry for rabbi’s homophobic coronavirus rant

Jewish broadcaster J-AIR airs interview stating “the pandemic is an exact designer drug … that will remove … problems … in the form of homosexuality and gays”

Jewish radio station J-AIR, dedicated to combating hate, broadcasts an interview that vilifies gay men.

Tamar Yonah

On Monday March 30 2020 Melbourne’s Jewish radio station J-AIR 87.8FM broadcast their regular syndication of the Tamar Yonah Show, which included an interview with Rabbi Mendel Kessin.

The full episode of the March 30 Tamar Yonah Show was first posted here* but has since been taken down. An archive of the podcast is here and a backup copy of the podcast can be heard here.

The description of this episode of the Tamar Yonah Show states (in part):

Internationally known lecturer on current events and the Bible, Rabbi Mendel Kessin, joins Tamar Yonah and talks about the meaning behind this worldwide pandemic, what we are supposed to learn, and DO, in order to merit seeing the coming of the Messiah. He talks about the fear of death, atonement, suffering, and the world-wide economic collapse, and tells us how we can protect ourselves, as we enter into the Messianic era. 

Aleph Melbourne has transcribed Rabbi Kessin’s interview commentary from time point 12:46 to time point 14:06:

And basically he’s 98% finished, that’s how close we are to the redemption. Therefore what god wants to do is bring the redemption. However, there are certain problems that must be addressed by god in order for the redemption to actually happen. And what we begin to see is that the pandemic is an exact designer drug, if you want to use that expression, that will remove these problems. Ah, in other words the plague itself is a vehicle, is an instrument, to accelerate the messianic process by removing these major problems. What are they? You see. So therefore what we see is the following. The first major problem is that man has corrupted his nature. There is a tremendous amount of, ah, what’s called immorality in the world today. It’s widespread. There’s, in Hebrew it’s called “prichus” (פְּרִיצוּת). We want, we could say it’s also in the form of homosexuality, and gays and so on and so forth, where all of a sudden the gender differentiation is, is tremendously blurred. So that is an incredible corruption of man’s nature.

Listen to the relevant audio here:

The Tamah Yonah Show – March 30 2020 – 12:46 to 14:06 – Rabbi Mendel Kessin
Rabbi Mendel Kessin

Rabbi Kessin is saying that his god is using the coronavirus pandemic to bring on the coming of the messiah by cleansing society of immorality caused in part by the scourge of homosexual sex between gay men.

This amounts to hate speech that vilifies gay (and also bisexual) men. It squarely lays blame for the coronavirus pandemic at the feet of sexually active gay men.

Broadcasting this language could be problematic for J-AIR as it may fall foul of at least the narrowcasting Codes of Practice, which states:

1.3 Narrowcasters will not broadcast programs which are likely to incite or perpetuate hatred against or vilify any person or group on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, sexual preference, religion, age, colour, physical or mental disability, transgender status or HIV/AIDS status…

Significantly for J-AIR, who are currently seeking a community broadcasting licence, this shocking lapse of editorial judgement reflects terribly on the integrity and good character of the station.

Tim Wilson MP

In Parliament on March 2 2020, Tim Wilson MP described J-AIR as “an outstanding broadcasting service …” that “… has begun working closely with the Community Security Group (CSG) to combat the rise of anti-Semitism and ensure the safety and security of the Jewish community in Victoria…”.

It’s entirely disappointing to see a radio station so dedicated to being both an outstanding broadcasting service and wanting to combat hate, find itself in a position where it is fuelling the fires of hate.

Next time J-AIR supporter Tim Wilson is mid-shtup he might want to take a moment to reflect on how he is, according to Rabbi Kessin, contributing to the kind of immorality that is causing the coronavirus pandemic. At the same time he might also want to reflect on how his praise for an “outstanding broadcasting service” dedicated to combating hate accurately describes a radio station that allows vilification of gay men like himself to go to air.

J-AIR must offer an unqualified and sincere apology, both on air and in writing, for this grave mistake and also provide air time for an in-depth interview covering the harms of intolerance of LGBTIQ+ people.

More importantly, while it still has a licence, J-AIR must comply with broadcasting standards, set the highest standard, and never again broadcast hate speech.

* https://omny.fm/shows/tamar-yonah-show/3-05pm-the-tamar-yonah-show-march-30-2020

Media coverage

April 2

Melbourne’s J-AIR Blaming the Homosexual Community for Covid-19 | Lost Messiah

April 3

J-Air Apology for Bashing LGBTQ Members, Covid-19 | Lost Messiah

April 4

Jewish radio station apologises for claims that coronavirus is a ‘designer drug’ to eradicate gays before Messiah comes | PinkNews

April 6

Jewish radio station sorry for rabbi’s homophobic coronavirus rant| QNews

May 15

JCCV marks decade of “strong advocacy”


2009 – formation of the LGBT (at the time) Reference Group.

2011 – release of report into discrimination and vilification of LGBT Jews in Victoria.

2014 – JCCV supports and encourages affiliates to support No to Homophobia.

2014 – JCCV wins Hey Grant from the Victorian Government.

2015 – JCCV 1st ever LGBTI Symposium held with approximately 80 attendees with panels from the LGBTI Jewish spectrum. Attendees were cross-denominational.

2015 – Keshet Australia admitted to JCCV as an affiliate – the first Jewish LGBTI organisation affiliate.

2016 – Launched JCCV LGBTI service directory https://bit.ly/2mviycZ

2016 – Youth video winner announced form previous year’s completion.

2017 – Mental Health Forum in light of RCV’s statement to the government’s plebiscite

2017 – JCCV supports civil marriage equality with motion moved by National Council of Jewish Women and seconded by AUJS.

Doron Abramovici comment on JCCV LGBTI achievements - Jul 20 2018.png

“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

JCCV GLBT Reference Group report into vilification and discrimination

Following the August 2011 Call for Submissions, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) announced on October 31, 2011 the release of their report into vilification and discrimination of GLBT people in the Melbourne Jewish community.  Read the report here.

Transcript of Oct 7 2011 interview with John Searle on JOY 94.9

(Podcast of interview here)


Transcript of interview between Doug Pollard, Tim Newton and John Searle
Recorded at the JOY 94.9 studios in Melbourne
October 7 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 Newton.

(off-topic discussion)

Now, um, a little while back there was a move by the Victoria’s peak Jewish body, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, to reach out to the GLBTI Jewish community, um, and to find out, to try and get some handle on the level of discrimination, homophobia, whatever else, in the, ah, Jewish community – particularly the gay Jewish communities.  And the man who headed that up is the surely to be departing head of the Council, John Searle.  Welcome back yet again to …

JOHN: Doug thank you very much for having me.

DOUG: … the Rainbow Report.  We’ll have to get you a permanent seat here I think.

JOHN: It’d be a pleasure.

DOUG: OK, umm, what’s happened? What’s happened to this review, this enquiry? Where are you at with it now?

JOHN: We’ve by and larged finished making all the enquiries within our community, having previously made enquiries outside of the community, and we’re in the process of finalising the report, er which I’m delighted to say should be released within the er next two to three weeks I would have thought.

DOUG: Hmm.  How many submissions did you get?

JOHN: Not very many.  Ah, if I said between four and six that would probably be an accurate number.

DOUG: Ooh, that’s a, that’s rather a small sample on which to base the report on isn’t it?

JOHN: Well look it’s a very small sample and I’m disappointed about that because ah … my, my initial reaction was that there would be plenty of people who’d wish to provide submissions but that appeared not to be the case.  But thankfully we’ve also been able to speak to a lot of people within some of our relevant community organisations to try to get a feel for their perspective on the issues and what’s going on in schools and other places, to provide a useful report that I think more than anything else, will open members of the community’s eyes to these issues.

DOUG: OK.  Um now there was an issue we spoke about with Rod Mitchell on this program about some length about the confidentiality issue.  Um, there’s a two-fold problem with that one.  One was that you were not allowing anonymous submissions at that stage, and the other one was that nobody knew, nobody knows who is on that reference group.  Now, have you moved to address those issues?

JOHN: We did er take steps to have the submissions put to another organisation such as the er Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission, or perhaps the La Trobe.  Er, neither of those organisations were able to assist at the time, which was a pity.  Ah, so therefore we had to maintain it as it was because we couldn’t find a third party who we would er be comfortable with to receive the submissions.  In relation to the identity of the people who were on the reference group, my expectation is most if not all of those people will sign the report with their names, but ah, they’ve been (pause) they’ve confided to me they’ve been reluctant at this stage to put their names out in the public domain for fear of, er frankly, some vilification and discrimination, strangely not from the non-gay communities but rather from the gay communities and other people who perhaps haven’t yet appreciated the extent of the work we’re doing.

DOUG: OK, well one of the people who raised these issues with me and was particularly concerned about um the anonymity of the board members, was, um, the veteran gay campaigner, Mannie de Saxe and he joins us on the line now.  Good afternoon Mannie.

MANNIE DE SAXE: Good afternoon Doug.  How are you?

DOUG: I’m very well.  Now, ah, we have John Searle here with us, did you hear what he just said, about …


DOUG: How do you react to that?

MANNIE: Ah, well one of the main points that I wish to answer, to have answered is, are people like ALEPH on, represented in the group? And are people, groups like Jewish Lesbian Group of Victoria represented on that reference, ah, group? And if not, why not?

DOUG: Well there you are John, straight to the …

JOHN: Well the short answer to the question is ah yes, there are representatives from people who are affiliated with each of those organisations on the reference group.

MANNIE: Well then why are they not wanting to have their names in the public arena?

JOHN: The reluctance to put their name in the pubic arena has come about predominantly because there’s been some people within the GLBT communities who, perhaps through lack of understanding of what we’re doing, have been exceedingly critical and, ah, vilifying of the work of the reference group and whilst we’ve been undertaking that work, they’ve not, er, relished the prospect of being vilified or discriminated against.

DOUG: Can I come in here John and add another question in? You said earlier on that you only had very, very few submissions, and that you hadn’t been able to use any kind of anonymising service to receive those submissions, and as I said until now the members of the reference group have also been anonymous.  Do you think those things taken together account for the reluctance of people to make submissions, one that they didn’t want to put their names to things in case they too got some come-back? And secondly, because they didn’t know who was going to be reading them?

JOHN: I don’t think, er (pause), the lack of knowledge as to who compromised the, or, sorry, who comprised the, er, reference group would have been a significant issue.  I can understand there may have been some people who were a bit reluctant to put submissions in to the JCCV.  Ah, there wasn’t very much we could do about that, as I said we tried to have them received by the Human Rights & Equal Opportu … or, Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission.  They weren’t at the time able to assist.  Neither was the La Trobe University unit so they had to stay with us.  But I think also of importance is the fact that this report is the beginning of the Jewish community dealing with these issues.  I would hope it’s not going to be the end of the Jewish community dealing with these issues, and there may well be further opportunities to advance these issues as we go through the years.

DOUG: Um, you were talking about um (chuckles) some trenchant criticism that you’d had from certain members of the Jewish community; that certain member of the Jewish community has just messaged, who says ah BS there is NO official representation from ALEPH on the reference group.  That’s from Michael Barnett.

JOHN: All I can say is I have people sitting in that room who tell me they are involved with ALEPH.  Er, I have no reason to disbelieve them.

MANNIE: What is their level of expertise, that they can sit in judgment on, ah, some of the submissions, I mean there are only four to six submissions so there’s not an awful lot of judgment to be made…

TIM NEWTON: They’re Jewish!  That’s their expertise.

DOUG: (chuckles)

MANNIE: That is not a judgment.  That is not someone who can sit in ah judgment on, on gay Jewish issues.  The fact that they’re Jewish – I mean, we’re Jewish.  So?

JOHN: Mannie, I think the critical issue here is it’s not a matter of sitting in judgment.  My concern in establishing this reference group was that there was serious issues involving er the GLBT communities of vilification, of discrimination, mental health issues, and we as a community had never seriously looked at these issues …

MANNIE: That is true.

JOHN: … and said we have to do something about it.  So the job that I took upon myself was to start doing something about these issues and to say we in the Jewish community are really in many respects no different to the rest of the community.  There are issues here, they cannot be swept under the carpet, they cannot be ignored.  If we have students in our schools who are struggling with their sexual identity, who are having trouble with these issues, we need as a community, if they are in our community schools, to develop strategies to assist these people, to make sure that they are provided with a safe and secure environment, regardless of their sexual identity.

MANNIE: Well shouldn’t there have been some link on the JCCV web pages to the reference group, and there is no link.

JOHN: Well there’s certainly an opportunity for people to contact the JCCV, as you did Mannie and, er, ask questions about it.

MANNIE: Right …

JOHN: I think all questions that have been submitted or all emails that have come in to me, I’ve very promptly responded to.  You will know that from the quick response you received from me to your email.  The critical point here I think – there are different ways of dealing with issues, and knowing that our community has never looked at this issue before, meant I think that we had to deal with it in a very sensible way rather than ruffling feathers, produce something that we can put to our community that will open people’s eyes, that will educate them and will be a starting point to make sure that these issues are dealt with on an on-going basis for the betterment of everybody.

DOUG: OK gentlemen, I’m going to have to call time now because, ah, we are running towards the end of the program.  There’s a couple of SMS’s here.  Mannie, thank you very much for joining us and putting your questions …

MANNIE: Thank you …

DOUG: … and ah …

JOHN: Thank you Mannie.

DOG: … whilst you’re on line, thank you for still being out there carrying the rainbow flag.

MANNIE: (laughs) Thank you.

DOUG: (laughs) OK that was Mannie de Saxe there, I think probably the oldest gay activist in Australia, he’s in his eighties, which is wonderful.  Ah message …

TIM: You’re number two.

DOUG: … ah message … Yeah thank you … message here from Richard ah who says could it be that the reason you got so few submissions is that many in the Jewish community generally are accepting on this issue? As a secular Jewish man my friends and family are loving and accepting, ignoring the strongly religious of course, who have too much say in the community anyway.

JOHN: Look it’s possible.  I think the feedback we’re getting is that the younger generations are far more accepting than previous generations.  Interestingly, not all of the submissions were received from members of the GLBT communities.  Two were from, er, heterosexual people.

DOUG: OK.  We’re going to have to cut it off here.  Thank you John for joining us today yet again.

JOHN: Thank you for having me.

DOUG: Good luck with your report.  We look forward to ah seeing the results.

VOICEOVER: This JOYcast is a free service brought to you by JOY 94.9

[ Thanks to Fiona Jones for providing this transcript. ]