Community unites for 18C

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim.

THE NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) have united in support of keeping Sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) in their present form.

Plenary meetings of the state roof bodies late last month unanimously passed identical resolutions backing the retention of the existing sections of the RDA, which prohibit the public promotion of racial hatred.

The moves come in response to a bill that was recently reintroduced into the Senate seeking to omit the words “offend” and “insult” from Section 18C of the Act.

The resolutions affirm that Sections 18C and 18D strike an “appropriate balance between freedom of expression and freedom from racial vilification”, and endorse the continuing efforts of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), in concert with its state constituent organisations and also organisations in the wider community, to defend the current legislation against attempts to repeal or water down its protections.

ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim said these resolutions leave “no doubt” that there is “overwhelming support” in the Jewish community for the current legislation.

“That legislation is one of an array of tools used by Jewish organisations to combat all forms of anti-Semitism, including Holocaust denial, blood libels, conspiracy theories and other forms of misrepresentation and denigration of the Jewish people,” Wertheim said.

“Although it is rare for us to take a case all the way to court, the legislation gives us a basis upon which we can negotiate fair outcomes with ISPs, social media platform providers and corporate and other owners of conventional media.

“Without that legal back-up we would be reduced to approaching these powerful entities with cap in hand and begging them to do the right thing, often in direct opposition to their commercial interests.”

Wertheim stressed that the RDA was only one of several means used to combat racism.

“Of course formal and informal education are another key to fighting prejudice, but legislative and educative tools are not mutually exclusive. They are mutually -reinforcing.

“The law too serves an educative purpose by declaring the standards of conduct that society deems to be acceptable and unacceptable,” he said.

JBOD CEO Vic Alhadeff commented: “We continue to support the ECAJ’s position because Section 18C provides valuable protection for our community.

“We fight anti-Semitism in many different ways and it is important to have Section 18C available to our community for the extremely serious cases where the methods we regularly use are insufficient.”

JCCV president Jennifer Huppert said the roof body acknowledges that freedom of speech is a “basic right in any democracy, however that right is not absolute, and should not include the right to the expression of racial vilification”.

“Sections 18C and 18D send a strong message to members of the Australian community that racial vilification is not acceptable,” Huppert said.

“These provisions make people accountable for their actions, and speech, as well as providing a means of redress for those who are affected by the publication of racist material.”