Every so often the mainstream press 'treats' us to a homily by Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies. This time around it's The Australian's turn. In Respect for the faiths of others is the Aussie way (24/12/16), Vic lectures us on Aussie values. The only problem is that Vic, as a prominent Israel lobbyist, is also a supporter of Israeli values, which sort of cruels his pitch, know what I mean? He begins with the following anecdote:
"Some time ago I was asked to get involved in a dispute that had arisen at a public school over the prominent placement of a Christmas tree in the school foyer. The pupils were encouraged to place beneath the tree a small gift that would be forwarded to Bear Cottage, a hospice that provides palliative care to children... The parent of one of many non-Christian pupils at the school objected vehemently to the prominence accorded to the tree and what she regarded as undue and inappropriate celebration of Christmas, given that the school was made up of families of numerous ethnic and faith traditions. I was invited to participate in a meeting with the school principal, the Department of Education and the aggrieved parent. My role was to facilitate a compromise that would ideally satisfy the policies and practices of the school while mollifying the parent and answering her concerns. The meeting was convened in the school office, with the parent setting out her objections to a Christmas tree being given pride of place in the entrance, requiring the non-Christian pupils to walk past it on arrival at school every day, which she argued was an affront to their respective faiths... My response to the impasse was that the hallmark of this greatest of countries is that we overwhelmingly embrace differences and respect diversity. We are a robust and healthy democracy that enshrines such principles as equality for all, the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a free press, equality for men and women and multiculturalism."
Needless to say, I had problems with this anecdote on several levels:
1) If Alhadeff's account is correct, the Christmas tree was really nothing more than a worthy attempt by the school principal and staff to encourage the students to think about other kids less fortunate than themselves, nothing more, nothing less.
2) As for the parent who "objected vehemently," I found myself wondering why the principal didn't simply inform her that Christmas trees have no particular religious significance, and that charity, not religion, was the object of the exercise. (He/she might also have asked her whether she avoided taking her children to the local mall for the entire duration of the silly season.)
3) The objecting parent is coyly described as "non-Christian." Although she might conceivably have been an Anglo with an atheist bee in her bonnet, Alhadeff's silence on the matter will have had the paper's readers jumping to the conclusion that she was in fact a Muslim, in which case, he leaves himself open to an accusation of dog-whistling.
4) Why was Vic Alhadeff involved in the matter?
Although he has been CEO of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies for as long as I can remember, for a brief period (December 2013 - July 2014) Alhadeff wore another hat, having been appointed chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission (CRC) by former NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell. (O'Farrell, you'll recall, lost his job in April 2014 after misleading an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) investigation, when he claimed that he simply couldn't remember receiving a $3,000 bottle of Penfold Grange Hermitage from a business associate - despite having written him a thank you note.) Alhadeff's appointment, incidentally, was preceded by O'Farrell's presentation, at an Israeli Independence Day function in May 2013 of "an effigy of himself bearing the name Baruch O'Farrell" to the then Israeli ambassador, Yuval Rotem.*
Alhadeff himself came unstuck as Community Relations Commissioner during Israel's last major bout of bloodletting in the Gaza Strip in July-August 2014. Casting his CRC cap aside, he fired off an incendiary email to his Jewish 'constituents' headed Israel Under Fire. After accusing Hamas of "violating international law and engaging in war crimes as its militants launch rockets indiscriminately at civilians from civilian areas," he wrote that "Israel has made it clear that it is not interested in further escalation, but will do whatever is needed to defend its citizens. All options are on the table."**
Two weeks later, after coming under fire from the Arab community leaders, he resigned, claiming the matter had become "a distraction to the work of the CRC."
5) Most likely, no one involved in Alhadeff's intervention was aware of his typically liberal Zionist habit of running with the multicultural Australian hare while hunting with the monocultural Israeli hounds. Still, for the proverbial (but politically conscious) fly-on-the-wall, the spectacle of a leading apologist for the ethnocratic, apartheid state of Israel, babbling on about diversity, equality and multiculturalism, must have been quite something.
[*See my 9/5/13 post Barry to Baruch in 60 Seconds; See my 28/7/14 post Vic Alhadeff: Multicultural in NSW, Monocultural in Israel.]