Major organisations combine to submit a multi-cultural policy

November 23, 2009 by J-Wire Staff
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The Anti-Defamation Commission and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria have jointly submitted a report on multi-cultural policy to the Government.

John Searle

John Searle

John Searle, the president of the JCCV, has acknowledged “the similarity of views” with the ADC. They have presented their joint submission via the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council to the Government. A new Federal cultural diversity policy is in early stages of development.

Searle said: “Multiculturism has not been without its difficulties and our paper recognises that the cohesiveness of our society has at times been strained.”

He warns of the “need to strike a judicious balance between the social cohesion and acceptance of difference and the best way to achieve this is mobilising all Australians to work together for the common good.”

J-Wire publishes the joint submission in full. It begins with the mission statements of the two organisations.

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1. Jewish Community Organisations

1.1 This paper is a joint submission by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) and the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) on behalf of the Jewish community of Victoria. We thank the Australian Multicultural Advisory Council for providing the opportunity for this submission.

1.2 The JCCV is the roof body of Victorian Jewry, Australia’s largest Jewish community. With fifty-six major communal organisations as its affiliates the JCCV represents the mosaic of Jewish religious, political, cultural, welfare, educational, religious and social associations operating in Victoria. The Victorian and Federal Governments, their agencies, the media and ethnic and religious groups have long recognised the JCCV as the representative body of the Victorian Jewish community, speaking on its behalf on all matters affecting its status, welfare and interests. As such, the JCCV provides leadership and a voice for Victorian Jewry’s 60,000 members to the wider Victorian community. Through consultation, advocacy and working with government, other faith and ethnic communities, the media, service providers and the general public, the JCCV seeks to achieve the following goals:

  • A better society by promoting understanding and cooperation between all faiths
  • Facilitation of harmony and positive relationships between the various elements of the Victorian Jewish community and between our community and the larger community
  • A positive perception of Jewish people in Victorian society
  • Greater understanding of and respect for the Jewish way of life
  • A thriving local Jewish community
  • A safer local Jewish community
  • Zero community tolerance of racism in general and antisemitism in particular
  • Continuing and enhancing the Victorian Jewish community’s contribution to social justice
  • Wider knowledge of the Shoah (Holocaust) and its lessons for humanity.

adc1.3 The ADC is a Jewish community organisation dedicated to increasing tolerance and understanding within Australian society. It works to combat racism and antisemitism and to promote positive relationships between ethnic and religious communities. The ADC is the human rights arm of B’nai B’rith Australia/New Zealand and in Victoria it is the body responsible for the Anti-Defamation work of the JCCV. Established in 1979 with its headquarters in Melbourne, it is widely recognized as a leading authority on the various manifestations of racism in Australia, including racist groups and their activities and ideologies. B’nai B’rith is the world’s largest Jewish human rights organisation, with almost 200,000 members in over 50 countries. The ADC seeks to support a tolerant and multicultural society in which minorities are able to live openly and free of fear or discrimination. To this end, it:

  • Conducts research including monitoring the activities, publications and websites of extremist groups that disseminate white-supremacist, antisemitic or pro-terrorist material
  • Provides reliable information to governments and the media on relevant issues
  • Participates in multicultural and positive interfaith activities
  • Publishes reports and newsletters which are distributed to more than 2000 politicians, community leaders, media representatives and supporters
  • Supports anti-racism education.

2. Executive Summary

2.1 The Jewish community of Victoria recognises the benefits of both multiculturalism and social cohesion.

2.2 It must always be borne in mind that at some point multiculturalism may detract from social cohesion. When there is a conflict, social cohesion is a more important value, particularly in this era of political, cultural and financial instability.

2.3 To this end there is a need to examine whether current multicultural policy is meeting the needs of Australian society.

2.4 Greater resources should be devoted to creating a sense of and commitment to belonging and working together with others towards an Australian identity with emphasis on a common good, while maintaining respect for individual differences.

3. Principles

3.1 Australia is a successful democracy measured by social, economic, political and cultural indicators.

3.2 Multiculturalism has benefited Australia by contributing to that success.

3.3 Migrants who peacefully espouse their own culture should be made welcome and should be encouraged to practise their particular lifestyles, as long as these lifestyles are compatible with commonly accepted Australian values.

3.4 Social cohesion is of great benefit for Australia.

3.5 Acceptance of core values, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion and equality before the law, and the ability to communicate in a common language are essential for full participation in Australian society.

4. A time to revisit multiculturalism

4.1 This is what the Lord Almighty, the G-d of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’ Jeremiah (29:4-7)

4.2 The ancient wisdom embodied in the message of the great Jewish prophet Jeremiah can be translated into modern terms: If you change your home, you may stay true to your essence; however simultaneously be a blessing to the society in which you now live. Its welfare is yours and that of everyone else who lives there.

4.3 This is a wise, decent and productive principle to guide the Victorian Jewish community in its views on multicultural policy for Australia. And inspired by our prophets of old, our community also sounds a warning on the potential and undesirable excesses of multicultural policy, namely those which are fundamentally divisive.

4.4 The JCCV has recently redrafted its policy on cultural diversity/multiculturalism as follows:

This Council:

  • AFFIRMS its support for Federal and Victorian policies of cultural diversity, which have benefited all citizens as a building block of social cohesion
  • CALLS ON Federal and Victorian governments to confirm their commitment to cultural diversity as a policy which respects the right of all Australians to express their individual cultural identity, and to maintain and share their cultural heritage, within the framework of an overriding commitment to Australia, the basic values of Australian democracy and the rule of law
  • COMMENDS government policy of ensuring access and equity in the provision of government services, including the provision of mechanisms to address the barriers faced by immigrants not yet familiar with Australian culture and language

4.5 This policy seeks to acknowledge two values: multiculturalism and social cohesion.

The Victorian Jewish community has been an ardent supporter of multiculturalism since the introduction of this policy. We have long believed that multiculturalism has been politically, culturally, socially and economically beneficial for Victorian and Australian society. We also believe that minority groups, including Jews, are safer in multicultural societies which are generally more respectful of and accepting of difference.

The Victorian Jewish community is also deeply committed to the social cohesion of Victoria and Australia. Judith Maxwell, the recognised authority on this area, expresses this value: Social cohesion involves building shared values and communities of interpretation, reducing disparities in wealth and income, and generally enabling people to have a sense that they are engaged in a common enterprise, facing shared challenges, and that they are members of the same community.

4.6 The Victorian Jewish community considers that there can be tension between multiculturalism and social cohesion.  There is a very fine line between multiculturalism and the ‘ghettoisation’ of society, which disrupts social cohesion. Our policy seeks the balance and moderation that we consider essential for the proper functioning of a liberal democratic society.

4.7 In providing our views on Australia’s next Multicultural Affairs policy, our community believes that serious questions have to be considered. These include:

  • Is the pendulum swinging from a socially cohesive society to a society of parallel lives where people of different backgrounds or beliefs are disconnected from one another?
  • Is multiculturalism, an important component of identity politics, contributing to increased competition between distinct factions at the expense of the common good?
  • Has identity politics resulted in the favouring of individual and group rights at the expense of responsibilities?
  • Does multiculturalism make us feel more Hindu or Croatian or Muslim or Jewish or Tamil than Australian?
  • Are there sufficient incentives and supports for immigrants to make the transition to identify as Australian?
  • How safe is the liberal democracy which has attracted so many people to this country?

4.8 These are difficult and confronting questions, not least for the Jewish community which has benefited from multiculturalism. But despite the challenges, we believe there is a real danger in ignoring these underlying issues.

4.9 Global political, demographic and economic trends make it imperative that we address the tests and limits of multiculturalism. The world is experiencing what some have described as a clash of civilisations, where old religious hatreds have resurfaced. This has been compounded by financial crises, a fertile ground for dissension and scapegoating. At such a time, the Victorian Jewish community believes it would be wiser for Government to emphasise what might bring the diverse elements of society together, the commonalities we share and the projects we might undertake together, rather than concentrating on catering to difference.

4.10 The time is ripe for what Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, has termed integrated diversity, respect for difference within a framework of shared political and social values.

5. Integrated Diversity

5.1 Integrated diversity does not mean discarding multiculturalism. Rather, it shifts the emphasis from difference to commonality: the primary value is belonging to the whole, the second is diversity within that whole. The pressing need for unity in our times demands that we re-position multiculturalism within the context of social cohesion.

5.2 Social cohesion is clearly a larger issue than multicultural policy and beyond the scope of this submission. In brief, however, we suggest that there is a very real need to define what it means to be Australian. We need to consider a new approach to Australian identity that entails a responsibility-based as well as a rights-based model of citizenship. We need to emphasise that belonging requires working together, contributing, connecting and respect.  While all of these actions are crucial, we believe that the first, working together, will inevitably result in the others.

5.3 Acquiring the necessary understanding and acceptance of core values should be the focus of becoming a citizen. Intending citizens would be expected to aspire to become Australian and must receive every possible support in this. This would include free English language classes and civics education and resourcing of other necessary services.

5.4 Established migrant communities should be resourced to enable them to help in the acculturation of new migrants through mentoring and support programs. Established migrants are ideally placed to show the techniques and systems that make it possible to retain one’s distinctive culture while being fully committed to shared Australian values.

5.5 Migrants should be specifically encouraged to become Australian citizens when they are eligible, thereby ensuring that a high proportion of Australian residents have both a declared and symbolic commitment to shared values.

6. Conclusion

Multicultural policy is a valuable and powerful tool in the maintenance of a successful, social cohesive and democratic Australia. In an age of global uncertainty and conflict, it is essential that we act together to ensure that respect for diversity exists within the context of a unified and integrated society

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