Source: Prime 7 / AAP
Sydney Muslim and Arab leaders will boycott a Ramadan event hosted by Premier Mike Baird tonight over pro-Israeli comments by the state’s Community Relations Commission (CRC) chief.
Community groups have demanded the CRC’s Vic Alhadeff be sacked after he sent an email backing Israel’s efforts to “defend its citizens” in its fight against “terrorists in Gaza”.
The email included a “frequently asked questions” fact sheet from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs about its offensive in Gaza.
Critics say Mr Alhadeff’s role as the CRC chairman is now untenable and he must be sacked.
Mr Baird has acknowledged Mr Alhadeff’s comments were “inappropriate” but has so far resisted calls to dismiss him.
In a meeting hosted by Arab Council Australia on Tuesday, community leaders voiced outrage that Mr Baird had backed Mr Alhadeff.
They also vowed to boycott the premier’s Ramadan event on Thursday night, which is organised by the CRC.
“The premier’s dinner is the first of many events that will be shunned by the very people that it ostensibly targets,” the council said in a statement.
Former state ethnic affairs commissioner Ahmad Shboul said there was “no way” community members would break bread at the CRC event while the chair still sits at the head of the table.
“No faith would condone the position that he has taken, and it would be grossly hypocritical to pretend that we are celebrating harmony,” Dr Shboul said.
More than 600 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have died since fighting erupted on July 8. Israel has lost 27 soldiers and two civilians during the conflict.
Vic Alhadeff from his highly politicized and inflammatory comments on events in Palestine (copy pasted from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs), has shown that he is not a fit and proper person to be Chairing the NSW Community Relations Commission (CRC), a body that is supposed to be non political body with the goal of promoting community harmony.
His appointment from the start was a conflict of interest. The CRC Chairman should not also be an executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies when some of its stated strategic goals are to “represent and advocate on behalf of the NSW Jewish Community” and “increase understanding of Israel and its centrality to Jewish life”. This incident further highlighted why it is a conflict of interest and Alhadeff”s position is now clearly untenable.
Premier Baird and the Liberal NSW government he leads in continuing to support Alhadeff is making a sever judgement in error in backing such a divisive figure. They now risk losing all the unprecedented support the Liberal Party received from Arab and Muslim voters in the last state election when it goes to the polls next year.
As far as the Muslim community is concerned, everyone is free to act as they please. But shame on any Muslims who will have Iftar with a staunch pro Israeli lobbyist and the politicians that support him, whilst Israel is murdering innocent women and children in Palestine. Sitting down for a nice meal whilst a conflict is going on that has killed 600 Palestinians, mostly civilians – many of them children, is throwing their and our own dignity as Muslims in the gutter to be stepped on.
Randa Abdel-Fattah summed it up perfectly:
Personally I too think the iftar should be boycotted specifically because of the government’s endorsement of Aldaheff. There needs to be consequences to this attempt to normalise our leaders’ blatant support for Israel and racist disregard for Palestinian suffering. Those consequences should be punitive and precise and boycotting an iftar is an ideal opportunity at this time. It is timely and so the message is unambiguous: you cannot expect the community to work with one of the biggest mouthpieces for Israel in Australia. Ignore our legitimate concerns and there will be consequences. We have no interest in ‘breaking bread’ with people or institutions who blindly provide Israel with a license to kill.
Arab Council of Australia – Media Release
23 July 2014
WE CANNOT BREAK BREAD WHEN YOU BREAK YOUR OWN RULES
A public meeting has expanded calls to the NSW government to replace Mr Vic Alhadeff as the Chair of the Community Relations Commission (CRC).
The calls to suspend contact with the CRC have extended beyond the local Arab communities to others ‘on moral grounds’.
Many who had accepted the invitation to the Premier’s annual Iftar dinner, organised by the CRC for Thursday 24 July 2014, have now vowed to withdraw.
The public meeting was hosted by Arab Council Australia and attended by parliamentarians, councillors, former Ethnic Affairs Commissioners, community leaders, lawyers, academics, journalists and community members.
The speakers tabled the documents including the statement issued by Mr Alhadeff which was copy-pasted from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. His statement ‘justified’ the collective punishment and mass slaughter of over 600 Gazan civilians.
The Premier’s dinner is the first of many events that will be shunned by the very people that it ostensibly targets.
“In the true spirit of Ramadan and the dinner’s theme of ‘celebrating interfaith harmony’, there is no way community members can ‘break bread’ at the CRC Iftar while the chair still sits at the head of the table. No faith would condone the position that he has taken, and it would be grossly hypocritical to pretend that we are celebrating harmony,” explained former Commissioner Dr Ahmad Shboul (AM).
One of the speakers at the public meeting was former Commissioner and author Joseph Wakim who told the audience:
“These vilifying statements use the terrorist label and victim blaming to silence community voices. This shuts down dialogue and harmony which is the antithesis of what the CRC represents.
If we juxtapose the images of the children being slaughtered in Gaza with his statement that ‘Israel is operating with care to avoid civilian casualties’, how can there be any appetite to celebrate with those who stand by him?
There has been no apology and no solution. Mr Alhadeff has received a slap on the hand, and the communities have received a slap on the face,” stated Mr Wakim.
A show of hands during the two-hour meeting showed a clear commitment by people of various professions to take a moral stand: ‘one cannot serve two masters.’
“Mr Alhadeff chose to throw stones through his statement and his tweets. He has shattered something very fragile. You cannot be referee when you are throwing punches, explained former Commissioner Wakim.
It is such a shame that the commendable initiatives by CEO of the CRC, Hakan Harman, will be overshadowed by the tainted Chair.
When prejudices are peddled by people in positions of power, this is racism in a suit and tie. It is more despicable than the racism on trains and buses.
The message to those who appointed the Chair is clear: ignoring this untenable hypocrisy will not make it go away.
This is not about bringing a man to his knees, but about bringing a government to its senses. The impartiality of our Australian institutions is worth fighting for,” Mr Wakim told the assembly.
Ms Randa Kattan
Chief Executive Officer
+ 61 2 9709 4333
Please refer to spokespersons:
Dr Ahmad Shboul (AM) Mr Joseph Wakim
After his Gaza comments, Vic Alhadeff should step down
Comments by the chair of the NSW community relations commission have inflamed tensions between Arab and Jewish Australians at a sensitive time.
By: Joseph Wakim
Source: The Guardian
When former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell appointed the incumbent CEO of the NSW Jewish board of deputies, Vic Alhadeff, to the chair of the community relations commission (CRC) in December last year, did he think Alhadeff could straddle both roles?
Having been a commissioner myself, under both Labor and Liberal governments, I am acutely aware that this statutory body demands ambassadors of harmony. Yet a recent release, disseminated among his Jewish constituents, has achieved the opposite effect.
Wearing his CEO hat, Alhadeff issued a community update on 9 July, titled “Israel under Fire: Important points about Operation Protective Edge”. His statement reached the Arab Australian community and went viral.
In the post he condemned the “Hamas terror organisation” for its “attacks on Israeli civilians”, for “violating international law and engaging in war crimes as its militants launch rockets indiscriminately at civilians from civilian areas”.
His statement failed to condemn the collective punishment and indiscriminate attacks against Gaza. As chairman, his role is to prevent this kind of stone throwing, not engage in it.
Community relations commissioners are not appointed to advocate for foreign governments. We are tasked with bringing local leaders together, as neutral arbiters. A Jewish colleague of mine, from my time in Melbourne, is a lifelong friend; we were part-time commissioners but full-time ambassadors. Whatever our other roles, we worked together, cautiously, to extinguish sparks before they became fires.
When he accepted the chairman’s position, he declared that he was “passionate about the need to advance social harmony and combat racism”. The Jewish board of deputies espouses the same view; its goalsinclude combating all forms of racism. Alhadeff has spoken out in favour of retaining section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and opposes all forms of racial vilification. Yet he makes an exception, when Israel vilifies Arabs.
His statement copy-pastes the Frequently Asked Questions from Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs. The references to Israel as “we” and “our operation” under his name raises serious questions about whether he can truly be an ambassador for community harmony.
He refers to “self defence in response”, “operating with care” and “pinpoint technologies to hit targeted infrastructure”. Yet he fails to explain, or even mention, how Israeli strikes had already killed Gazan children and civilians by the time his release was published. The Gazan fatalities now exceed 160.
The release refers to the “recent kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers”, but not the recent burning alive of a 15 year old Palestinian student, even though Alhadeff personally tweeted his dismay. Neither did it mention the countless Palestinian children who are snatched from their beds, never to be seen again, and never to attract global condemnation.
What message does his statement send to half a million Australian citizens of Arab ancestry, many with relatives cowering under beds in Gaza? Would such statements build bridges and community relations, or build a wall between us and them?
Alhadeff has neither retracted nor apologised for his statement. Instead, Yair Miller, the president of the Jewish board of deputies, added insult to injury when he criticised Sunday’s pro-Palestinian rally as activists bringing “foreign conflicts to the streets of Sydney”. So it’s permissible to justify a foreign war on the Jewish board of deputies letterhead, but not to protest against war in the streets of your own city?
A spokesperson for Mike Baird, the NSW premier, gently rebuked Alhadeff in a statement, saying that while he “was not writing in his capacity as CRC chair … “He has acknowledged the need to focus on issues in NSW and avoid using inappropriate language regarding overseas conflicts”.
Baird is not responsible for appointments made by his predecessor. Asking Alhadeff politely to resign for his comments, made at such a tense time, would be the moral thing to do. It would be pro-harmony. To avoid escalating tensions, it would be wise to announce a date for Alhadeff to step down – for him to essentially “give notice”.
Honest dialogue may result from what has been a painful experience. It should go beyond exercising restraint about public statements, but on educating both parties about their impact on fellow human beings. Ironically, this what the chair of the community relations commission should have done in the first place.
Minister backs Alhadeff
BY: Gareth Narunsky
Source: Australian Jewish News
JULY 21, 2014 ·
MINISTER for Citizenship and Communities Victor Dominello has backed NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff to remain as chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission (CRC) amid calls for his resignation by leaders of the local Arab community.
A letter sent to the minister this week, which was endorsed by a number of organisations, asked for Alhadeff be terminated as head of the CRC on the basis that he was not “capable of exercising sound judgment on community relations” after he sent a community update about Operation Protective Edge to Jewish community members last week.
In that update, Alhadeff said Hamas had committed “war crimes” and used civilian launching sites for its rocket attacks on Israel. He wrote that “all options are on the table” for Israel to defend its citizens but it was operating with care to avoid civilian casualties.
Signatories to the letter sent to Dominello charged Alhadeff with “making divisive and one-sided comments that only serve to alienate a large section of the community, incite disharmony and intolerance”.
“His statement … is about disseminating the justification of violence by the armed forces of another country against an occupied and besieged people,” they wrote.
“Alhadeff’s one-sided statement contradicts the ethos of the CRC and its charter and highlights the inherent conflict of interest between the two roles he currently occupies.”
But Dominello confirmed to The AJN that Alhadeff, who he said “is doing an outstanding job” as CRC chair, would remain in the post.
“We all bring different perspectives to international issues and he has conceded the language used has offended some members of the Muslim community,” he said.
“We must not overlook Mr Alhadeff’s substantial achievements in promoting inter-faith understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities.” He said he would meet with the authors of the letter to discuss their concerns.
Alhadeff told The AJN: “Despite occasionally differing views on issues, we all share a determination to live peacefully and harmoniously together in a tolerant and inclusive NSW.”
“The role of the CRC Chair is to fight racism, promote multiculturalism and ensure community harmony. This is what I have done passionately and will continue to do,” he said.
“The Board of Deputies and CRC both work to enhance communal harmony, and while there may be subtle differences on occasions, the roles are compatible in that both organisations are committed to harmony and inclusion.
“The Premier, numerous MPs and several communities have publicly supported my work with the CRC, and I stand on my record in terms of sowing harmony in NSW.”
The Sydney Morning Herald reported last Friday that Premier Mike Baird had “publicly reprimanded” Alhadeff.
However the Premier’s full statement to the Herald suggested otherwise.
“Few people have done more to promote interfaith engagement and understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities in NSW than Mr Alhadeff. He has done an excellent job since his appointment as CRC Chair,” the statement read.
“The Premier expects Mr Alhadeff to use his position to bring together multicultural communities and promote community harmony.
“While Mr Alhadeff was not writing in his capacity as CRC chair, his statements may be considered inconsistent with these objectives.
“He has acknowledged the need to focus on issues in NSW and avoid using inappropriate language regarding overseas conflicts.”
Vic Alhadeff will remain as chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission.