Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Michael Barnett (left) and Shaun Miller.

OLD wounds were scratched at the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) plenum on Monday when it failed to formally apologise for denying affiliation to gay advocacy and support group Aleph Melbourne 20 years ago.

On May 10, 1999, the JCCV plenum rejected 46-39 with three abstentions a proposal by its own executive to invite Aleph to affiliate. But 20 years on, a motion calling for today’s JCCV to apologise has been taken back to the drawing board, after it became clear the plenum would not pass it without modifications.

Sivan Barak of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) proposed the apology motion, on which the JCCV had first been approached late last year, condemning the roof body’s 1999 spurning of Aleph.

The motion described responses of some delegates at that time as “hurtful, shameful and homophobic, including remarks from some leading Melbourne rabbis”.

It proposed the JCCV “apologises to Aleph Melbourne … and to all LGBTIQ Jews for the denial of a safe space at the JCCV plenum on the day of that vote, as well as the subsequent distress, further marginalisation and stigmatisation caused by the rejection of membership of the JCCV and for the subsequent decade of inaction by the JCCV in terms of any outreach to LGBTIQ Jews”.

It also called on the JCCV to acknowledge it did not actively support LGBTIQ Jews until after a 2009 attack on an LGBTIQ youth centre in Tel Aviv.

Various views were aired, from supporting an apology to drafting a compromise deleting references to the JCCV’s “decade of inaction” and the role of the Tel Aviv attack, which some delegates said were factually incorrect, to simply acknowledging the damage caused in 1999 and belatedly inviting Aleph into the JCCV.

Some delegates spoke of the very different track record in the past decade, with the affiliation of LGBTIQ support group Keshet to the JCCV, and formation of the JCCV’s LGBTIQ reference group.

After that, the apology motion was withdrawn by Barak – and Aleph’s Michael Barnett and Shaun Miller declared that without an apology, mere acknowledgment would be pointless.

John Searle, a former JCCV president, who founded its LGBTIQ reference group, described the 1999 decision as “an absolute disgrace” and proposed a meeting to demonstrate that in 2019 “the doors here are open to everybody”.

The proposal was accepted and a meeting with Aleph and AJDS – to be spearheaded by Doron Abramovici, JCCV executive member for social inclusion and community engagement – hopes to formulate a revised motion for next month’s plenum, or in May, exactly 20 years after Aleph’s rejection.

After Monday’s plenum, JCCV president Jennifer Huppert told The AJN the session provided Aleph members and others “an opportunity to express how they feel”, and the process now underway is “a good outcome”.

The plenum was themed “A Decade of Advocacy” and guest Ro Allen, Victoria’s commissioner for gender and sexuality, detailed proposed reforms by the state government to simplify altering gender status in birth, death and marriage records, and plans to ban gay conversion therapy.

Jewish Care CEO Bill Appleby spoke about his organisation’s process towards achieving Rainbow Tick accreditation, which demonstrates LGBTIQ-inclusive practice and service delivery.

The LGBTIQ-themed plenum preceded the 25th Jewish LGBT+ World Congress, to be held in Sydney from March 21-24, and the Australian visit of Rabbi Abby Stein, an American Jewish educator, writer, speaker and activist, who attended yeshivah in the US, has a rabbinical degree, and came out three years ago as “a woman of trans experience”.

PETER KOHN