Waks answers his critics
After much consideration, I have decided to respond to some of the reaction to the Capital Jewish Forum’s (CJF) inaugural Melbourne event featuring the Palestinian Authority Head of Delegation, Mr Izzat Abdulhadi.
Although criticism that has been raised is largely associated with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), it is clearly not universally supported within its membership.
The issues are apparently directed at “turf”, an alleged “conflict of interest”, and the efficacy of a “platform” that is provided to the de facto Palestinian Ambassador.
Turf: I have been told, unequivocally, that Victoria is the “turf” of the Victorian roof bodies. Indeed, a leader of a prominent Victorian organisation informed me that Victoria is “my turf”. Reluctantly, I must say that this is at best a parochial, and at worst an immature issue to be raised by representative bodies.
There should be no territorial claims within the Jewish community, nor justification for claim to territorial sovereignty. Of course local issues are best dealt with by local representatives, but that is not relevant in this case. In fact the CJF is effectively a national group; currently with over 550 national email subscribers. The CJF is not in “competition” with other groups. Holding an event in Melbourne is a natural progression for the CJF from its Canberra-based activities and this vision has been articulated publicly in various forums, including directly to some within the Jewish community leadership group. It should be noted that the CJF has a national (and international) Board of Advisors. The provision of events beyond Canberra has been largely driven by the subscribers in other States.
Conflict of interest: Subsequent to the announcement of the inaugural CJF Melbourne event with the Palestinian representative, the ECAJ has stated that my roles as Vice President of ECAJ and Executive Director of CJF are in conflict. This is disingenuous. I have held these dual roles since September 2010, and during that time coordinated numerous CJF events in Canberra. During this period the ECAJ has never suggested any conflict of interest. On the contrary, there have been supportive affirmations for the CJF. Further, many in the Jewish leadership group have dual roles in a plethora of organisations.
Palestinian representative: The CJF has previously hosted Mr Abdulhadi in Canberra, in November 2009, which elicited no criticism whatsoever. As an important part of its mission, the CJF offers a platform for a vigorous exchange of differing views; it is certainly not intended to endorse the views of speakers, nor is it perceived as such by any participant. For example, the CJF has hosted in Canberra ambassadors from Israel, the US, France, Jordan, Pakistan, Turkey, Hungary and the EU, among others. It has also hosted senior Federal politicians on both sides, as well as senior public servants. In July the CJF will again be hosting the US Ambassador, this time in Melbourne.
Other groups operate according to a similar model. For instance, the American Jewish Committee (AJC), a staunchly pro-Israel US group, regularly engages representatives of countries whose State policy is anti-Israel. For instance, the AJC recently met with the Foreign minister of Bahrain and had planned a meeting with a senior Lebanese delegation.
In undertaking this event, the CJF adheres to its mission to promote “discussion and engagement with intellectuals, dignitaries and leaders on topics which are relevant to Jewish academic, policy, business and other professionals.” The CJF is non-partisan and offers a unique, alternative communal model based on personal empowerment, aiming to enrich the existing communal structures. Through regular events, the CJF not only exposes Jewish academic, policy, business and other professionals to a diversity of views within the Jewish community, but also provides direct engagement and interaction with intellectuals, dignitaries and leaders on topics of importance to the Jewish community. The culture of inclusiveness that defines the CJF model is also particularly attractive to Jewish professionals who may be otherwise disengaged from and/or unaffiliated with existing communal institutions.
The CJF provides an opportunity for our community to ask the “tough questions” of the Distinguished Guests who represent their respective countries or organisations. Moreover, this form of direct engagement is consistent with the developing model within the global Jewish community, particularly desired by and attractive to the younger age demographic.
It is important to emphasise that the CJF does not claim to represent anyone within the Jewish community – it merely acts as a facilitator. This matter is brought to the attention of all Distinguished Guests, whom I also make aware of my own pro-Israel views where appropriate.
I have been pleased to receive explicit support from the ACT Jewish Community Board of Management, and appreciate their unanimous motion conveying their support in response to the recent criticism.
I look forward to seeing many in the Melbourne Jewish community at the CJF event with Mr Abdulhadi, as well as at the event with the US Ambassador, His Excellency Jeffrey Bleich. Hopefully the CJF will facilitate many additional future events throughout Australia.
This opinion piece was originally published in the 29 June 2011 edition of J-Wire.