16 years of community leadership

May 24, 2021 by Henry Benjamin
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On May 14, Vic Alhadeff closed his office door at The New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies where he had served its CEO for 16 years.

Vic Alhadeff with NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who recently presented him with the Premier’s Award in recognition of his work advancing harmony across civil society.

J-Wire’s Henry Benjamin had a few questions for Vic.

HB: What do you consider the high point of your career with JBOD?
VA: Two issues stand out – one of them a specific achievement, the other a deeper issue.
The specific achievement was the passage of Section 93Z of the NSW Crimes Act. I spearheaded what turned out to be a three-year campaign that resulted in legislative reform, outlawing incitement to violence on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual preference. Not many communities anywhere in the world can claim legislative reform, and this campaign necessitated about 150 political meetings and media interviews.
It was triggered by an incendiary speech by an extremist leader inciting violence against Jews. When it became clear that the law was powerless to take action, the Board of Deputies reached two conclusions – that the ineffectiveness of the law put everyone and every demographic at risk and that this should be a whole-of-society issue.
We put together the Keep NSW Safe coalition – an unprecedented alliance of about 35 ethnic communities – and I served as its spokesperson. On June 27, 2018, the new law came into being.
The other – deeper – achievement was relationships. With politicians, media, other ethnic communities. This issue lay at the heart of my work. Building mutually respectful relationships and advancing social harmony to the advantage of civil society through the prism of the Jewish experience.
HB:..and the lowest?
VA: The lowest point, sadly and inevitably, was what historian Robert Wistrich accurately referred to as the longest hatred – antisemitism. I counselled countless advocacy groups not to look for logic in bigotry. There is none. And I found myself dealing with an ever-escalating degree of antisemitic incidents – in the education sector, on the sports field, in the workplace. That ultimately insoluble issue was the lowest point of my tenure. As I was known to say more than once if I allowed it, the job could be extremely depressing.
HB:  Sixteen years is a long time. Looking at the Board today and reflecting on it 16 years ago can you give tell me some of the changes.
VA: The most significant changes related to the reach and scope of the organisation. This was evidenced in its vastly increased work in the political space, in the multicultural space – as in the We Are All Sydney program, which represented greater engagement with other communities – and in proactively responding to antisemitic incidents in a range of constructive ways, one of which, for example, resulted in landmark protocols being implemented at TAFE NSW regarding standards of conduct where bigotry and bullying were concerned.
HB: You have had a very high profile within the community helped by media coverage of major events and situations.
Can you list those tasks you carried out without the community’s awareness?
VA: There was a great deal of engagement with key stakeholders in multiple sectors which advanced civil society and social inclusion and social harmony. I of course will continue to respect those confidences and those deeply-valued relationships.
HB: You have met many dignitaries over the years.  Can you provide me a list of the outstanding ones?
Did anyone leave a lasting impression on you?
VA: It is always injudicious to name names because you inevitably cause offence by omitting equally worthy ones. But those who, without a shadow of a doubt, did create the most lasting impressions were those who demonstrated leadership. I saw the benefits of this, and the detrimental side of the dearth of leadership, whenever antisemitic incidents occurred.
The stark difference between handling the issues in a productive and constructive way, and abdicating responsibility and sometimes declining to even acknowledge that there was a problem, came down to this one factor – leadership.
Those were the people who created the lasting impressions – those who had the courage, vision and backbone to demonstrate leadership.
HB: What is in store for VA?
VA: I have resigned, not retired. That means I intend to continue to make a contribution wherever I can. Because you exit the building doesn’t mean you stop caring about the issues. It has been an honour to have served and represented this organisation and this community. The community will always be in my DNA; after 18 years on the Australian Jewish News and 16 years on the Board of Deputies, how could it not be?

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