14 Jewish groups numbered among a multicultural 18c submission

December 8, 2016 by J-Wire Staff
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Fourteen Jewish organisations are among the 68 Victorian multicultural, faith and community groups which have sent a submission to the Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Speech arguing that the controversial 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act should remain intact.

The Andrews Labor Government has welcomed a joint submission by more than 60 local community groups that calls for existing federal racial discrimination laws to be protected.

In their submission, the organisations wrote: “We have come together in common cause to defend the integrity of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) to ensure that the vulnerable are protected from hate speech and vilification based on race.

We believe that any watering down or perceived dilution of the RDA would send the wrong message to potential offenders that hate speech was becoming more acceptable in our society, opening the door to more abuse, and to potential victims that their right to live free from racial or religious vilification, abuse and intolerance was diminished.

Perceptions are important, and there is a danger in even proposing to change the RDA, especially in light of the heightened racial intolerance fuelled by Donald Trump’s election victory in the USA, and the previously stated proposition that “people have the right to be bigots”, that this increases the risks to the community of increased racial intolerance, vilification and abuse.

JCCV Executive Director David Marlow speaking on behalf of Victoria’s multicultural and faith communities in defence of the Racial Discrimination Act at media conference with Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs Robin David Scott and Victorian Multicultural Commission Chair Helen Kapalos. “Thanks to all 68 community organisations from diverse faith and multicultural communities who have endorsed the joint submission on 18C. And thank you to the State Government for the support for our submission.” – David Marlow

Freedom of speech is a very important right but not an absolute right. It is limited for good reason in several areas, such as in cases of defamation, libel and sexual discrimination, as well as racial discrimination.

Hate speech based on race, ethnicity or religion should be deplored and all members of society should be protected from it.  Just as freedom of speech should be valued, so should the right of people to be part of a free and fair society without suffering the emotional and mental harm caused by hate speech, which can often have physical and life threatening implications.

We believe that the RDA as it stands has been working well and is effective in creating an environment that supports multiculturalism and a harmonious Victorian community.  We also believe that the protections it provides and the avenues it opens to conciliation are critical to a society that can see things from the perspective of the vulnerable and less powerful. The current legislation forms a good foundation to create a civilised civic society for all.

The legislation is not about mild insults, as Justice Kiefel found, the prohibitions in s.18C are limited to cases which have “profound and serious effects not to be likened to mere slights.” (Creek v. Cairns Post Pty Ltd [2001] FCA 1007 [16])

The burden of proof bar for the existing legislation is already very difficult to reach, so any proposed watering down would be a serious problem, though we recognise there may be opportunities to improve the practicalities of the complaint handling processes at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Particular communities may be perceived as strong or weak, united or fragmented, but any individual within any of those communities may feel threatened, harassed, fearful or disempowered when confronted with racially vilifying graffiti, incitement of racial or religious hatred in the media, religious or racial abuse hurled from a passing car, people calling for the death or elimination of a race on the sporting field or when confronted by hate speech on public transport.

The current legislation has also been very useful in helping to remove the online presence of hate speech, which can cultivate fear and animosity towards targeted groups, and creates serious mental and psychological health concerns.  History shows that hate speech can often lead to physical attacks.  We fear the repercussions associated with removing the protections of 18C, and urge the Government to acknowledge the societal damage associated with its removal or watering down.

We would not like to see s.18C or s.18D of the RDA changed, except to strengthen it by explicitly adding religion into the protections.  We believe that s.18D already provides an adequate and very reasonable protection of free speech.  It sets out a wide range of defences which is one of the key reasons why there are so few established contraventions of s.18C.

We understand that being a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) gives the Commonwealth power to extend the RDA to include religion.
By adding ‘religion’ into the list in s.18B(b) and s.18C(1)(b) of the RDA – “race, religion, colour or national or ethnic origin’’, we believe that many people of various religious affiliations and faiths would feel better protected, accepted and respected as members of society.

For many people, wearing a hijab, turban, yarmulke, cross or other symbol of religious observance can make them feel like they are target for abuse.  In a free and just society, this should not be the case. For effective freedom of religion, people should be able to practice their faith without fear, intolerance or vilification.

Jennifer Huppert, President, Jewish Community Council of Victoria said: “Racial and religious intolerance, vilification, incitement of hatred and intimidation are lines that should not be crossed.  We must defend and celebrate diversity in Victoria, not just tolerate it.”

Rabbi Yaakov Glasman, President of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand added: “The notion that a society should tolerate speech intended to insult or offend people is anathema to everything we hold dear. Free speech is critically important but, like all human rights, has parameters. We feel that 18C is that parameter having served us well since being legislated.”

“Racism is still a pervasive problem in our community and legal protections against racial vilification are essential in combatting bigotry and protecting individuals.  We know through our work that strong and effective racial vilification laws such as section 18C of the RDA are a vital and necessary tool in addressing and countering the unique harm caused by bias-motivated hate speech”, said Dr Dvir Abramovich, Chair of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission

Dr Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute added: “Mental and emotional harm can cause physical harm through substance abuse, self-harm and potentially suicide: these outcomes also need to be avoided.  This has serious implications for the individual and the community.”

“Racial vilification and religious intolerance, incitement of hatred and intimidation threaten the core of our multicultural and democratic society.  Section 18C is tempered by Section 18D and together protect and celebrate freedom of speech and a harmonious multicultural society,” said Miriam Bass, President National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (Victoria)

The Jewish signatories on the submission are:

Australasian Union of Jewish Students
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission
B’nai B’rith Australia/New Zealand
B’nai B’rith Victoria
Council of Orthodox Synagogues of Victoria (COSV)
Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV)
Jewish Taskforce Against Family Violence Inc (JTAFV)
Keshet Australia
National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (Victoria) Inc
National Council of Jewish Women of Australia NSW Division
Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI)
Progressive Judaism Victoria (PJV)
Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ)
Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV)


3 Responses to “14 Jewish groups numbered among a multicultural 18c submission”
  1. Rabbi Chaim Ingram says:

    As I have suggested before, 18C is not a black and white issue. Regarding the appearance of the Rabbinical Council of Australia and New Zealand (RCANZ) among the signatories lobbying for the retention of 18C, this is a total surprise to me as a member of RCANZ as the membership was neither advised nor consulted. At no time has any sort of discussion of this issue taken place among the national rabbinate let alone a consensus reached.

  2. Henry Herzog says:

    My goodness me: look at all those nasty politically correct leftie Jewish organizations opposing free speech, a complete disgrace. They’re probably the same ones who deprived the all accepting Pauline Hanson and the very learned Malcom Roberts of their right to free speech: To enlighten the Jewish community on the merits of bigotry and how NASA,the CSIRO and international bankers(used to be international Jewish bankers)are plotting to take over the world, using compelling empirical evidence of the trickery and deceit of the politically correct lefties.

    • Henry Herzog says:

      But seriously, good job all those Jewish organizations for saying no to racism.

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