Brawling, bickering and backstabbing

Photo: Joseph Golby/Dreamstime

THE latest series of Game of Thrones may have come to an end but for fans of intrigue, in-fighting and general jockeying for power, our own Jewish community is serving up almost daily episodes of discord and disharmony.

Nothing new there, you may say. After all, the saying “two Jews, three opinions” probably dates back to the days of Moses.

And the rows between those at polar opposites of the political and religious spectrum are the bread and butter of The AJN letters page.

But in recent weeks, the brawling, bickering and backstabbing seems to have risen to a whole new level.

Take the statement put out last month by the Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) criticising former High Court judge Michael Kirby for invoking the memory of the Holocaust in discussing the same-sex marriage survey.

Right or wrong, such condemnation is what the ADC does.

Firing out emails on such matters is what we’ve come to expect from them in their quest to preserve the sanctity of the Shoah from those who might abuse its legacy for political ends.

So what was special about this episode? The fact that our communal roof body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) weighed into the debate.

Rather than let it slide, they fired a shot across the bow of the ADC, lambasting it for its statement and springing to Kirby’s defence.

Of course, not everyone in the community believes the ECAJ represents their views, which leads us to the launch of the Australian Jewish Association (AJA).

Or rather its stumbling launch, after the Beth Weizmann community centre issued a statement refusing to host its inaugural event, followed by Mizrachi in Melbourne also pulling the plug on the launch.

But it gets even better. Even within the ranks of the AJA there are clashes. Poster boy for the right Avi Yemini, who claims to have actually founded the group, fires off an email stating he’s quitting the board after his name and photo are removed from its website.

For its part, the AJA says he was never an office bearer or spokesman. Yemini accuses them of “absolute cowardice”.

Meanwhile, ECAJ weighs in again, taking a shot at all those groups that give themselves “grandiloquent names and titles, and misrepresenting themselves as leaders and spokespeople of the Jewish community”.

Having asserted its authority twice, ECAJ obviously had a taste for it and was about to do so for a third time. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

For the next episode of Community Conflict, the stars of the cast are the Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV).

The RCV puts out a statement advocating a no vote in the forthcoming same-sex marriage survey. But a lot of people are upset with what they’ve said … and the fact they’ve said anything at all.

The upshot? The RCV president apologises for the statement, one rabbi quits the RCV executive in protest at the statement, two other rabbis distance themselves from the statement, the president of the Rabbinic Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ) condemns the statement, and then protesting that condemnation, another rabbi quits the RCANZ.

And just when you thought the rabbis rowing publicly was bad enough, in come our old friends from ECAJ again, slamming the statement as “alarmist” and stating it was “wrong for the RCV to use its authority in religious matters in this way”.

I’m reminded of the story of the yeshivah rowing team who challenge the Oxford boat crew to a race.

They lose dramatically, but can’t understand why until one bright spark observes, “They have eight guys rowing and one yelling orders. We have one guy rowing and eight yelling orders.”

The head of the yeshivah thinks for a moment, before nodding his head and declaring, “You’re right … We need a stronger rower.”

With Rosh Hashanah around the corner, here’s hoping for a harmonious new year.

Whatever our differences, may there be a little less need for shouting and may we all row in roughly the same direction.


National editor of The AJN