It was not what was said, and not even the way it was said. It was who it was said to, and the context under which the whole event was arranged that made the Statement.
The Statement was “The Perth Jewish community is concerned about anti-Semitism”. The event was a community forum held tonight, organised by the State Zionist Council in conjunction with Bnei Akiva and AUJS. Several hundred people attended, all of whom had an interest in recent events, and a communal response.
The first speaker was Steve Leibleich, whose relentless, respected, highly effective and diligent efforts to lead the public relations of the Jewish Community Council were again on show. Steve provided an honest and articulate account of what confronts our community, and particularly drew on Natan Sharensky’s 3d formula to identify anti-semitism
Rabbi Marcus Solomon then spoke about the legal definitions applied to the recent O’Connell case, and demonstrated how Jewish scripture could be taken out of context to be presented as anti-Semitic hate material. In particular Rabbi Solomon noted that the Australian judicial system and societal standards have always provided freedom of religious expression to the Jewish community, and that we are truely privileged to live in a community that both protects and asserts these rights, and responds to the delegitimisation of Judaism.
Tal Dror, the Federal AUJS shaliach, ably presented some of the counter-demonstrations that the movement has arranged to combat anti-Semitism on Campus. He was also a valuable addition to the program and gave a good overview of what coordinated activism can achieve. I was disappointed that he used photos from Sydney and Melbourne, when plenty of similar scenes that have taken place on our doorstep could have been used as examples. Many in the Perth community would have felt sheltered from these images and remain unaware that these same scenes can be photographed locally.
The discussion that ensued was constructive, with the common themes being a call to action, a willingness to speak out, emphasising the need to respond, promoting grassroots advocacy, and being informed.
It would be easy to be cynical about the discussion that took place tonight. It is not a new discussion, and the scene around us tomorrow will be little different to what it was today. We could also note that it is a shame that several hundred people are motivated to come and talk about a response to hatred towards Judaism, but those same numbers would not show up to an event that showed the love of/observance of/learning of Judaism itself. However the evening did not lend itself towards cynical conclusions. There was no mob-hysteria about anti-semitic sentiment, no radical suggestions towards the elevation of response mechanisms to crisis level. There was however consensus on being more active, and being more community minded, and in this sense the evening acheived a tremendous amount.
It was great to see this blog referred to as part of the discussion, and also a number of other initiatives to support the visability of the Perth Jewish community being profiled. It is often frustrating to see so many people in the Jewish community repond with a timid uneasiness towards public displays of Jewish identity. The Jewish community needs a greater presence and profile within greater Perth, and tonights discussion demonstrated this with great effect.
Rabbi Freilich has said that the best response to anti-Semitism is to be more Semitic. This is absolutely so, and if all those who attended tonights event went home feeling proud to be a member (or supporter) of the Perth Jewish community, then the effort to organise this event was time well invested.