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A Democratic Model For Communal Governance

June 22, 2009 – 12:36 am34 Comments

By Yoram Symons

I am going to begin this post from the following assumption: The JCCV is not democratic nor is it representational.

Pages have already been filled on this blog debating this issue and it is an issue that can be argued back and forth ad infinitum. Whether it is or is not democratic or representational may ultimately come down to various definitions of what precisely constitutes democracy or representation. In my mind resorting to such arguments by definition is simply a way of avoiding genuine and substantive issues.

What is of far more interest to me are the following questions:

  1. What exactly should the mandate of communal governance be?
  2. Is the JCCV in its current form the best organisation to fulfil such a mandate?
  3. Is the JCCV’s constituency satisfied with both what the JCCV does and how it goes about achieving it?

The first question has thus far not been extensively discussed on this blog but  I will put forward the following:

  1. Strategic vision for the future of the community and activities to pursue these strategic aims.
  2. Coordination of all communal fundraising activities and then disbursement of those funds.
  3. Responsibility for the physical security of the community.
  4. Advocacy to government on the community’s behalf.
  5. Public relations between the community and the broader Australian community.
  6. Facilitation of greater interaction and involvement between different parts of the community.
  7. Hosting a number of major events every calendar year.
  8. Provision of key information to the community.
  9. A forum for the settlement of disputes between communal organisations and individuals.

The second question I would answer in the resounding negative. While the JCCV certainly performs some of the functions on my list, and indeed many others as well, its general lack of democracy, its inability to be genuinely representative and the lack of transparency surrounding so many facets of its general operation leave it as a body whose primary interest is the preservation of the status quo, not as a body that can drive positive growth and change.

As for the third question, the only way to arrive at an unequivocal answer would be to conduct a survey of every single Jewish person in Melbourne and ask them directly. As the mountains of anecdotal evidence referred to on this blog maintain, there is an unusually high degree of dissatisfaction with the JCCV and Communal leadership in general.

Thus, I propose the following:

  1. Abolish the JCCV in its current form entirely.
  2. Establish a new organisation that is not made up of affiliate organisations but one where members of the community can vote directly on matters.
  3. Establish a registry of every Jewish person in Melbourne above the age of 18 who wishes to participate. The registry would be stored securely online and operate very much like an online social community. The “Jewishness” of members would have to be verified by some process.
  4. This online registry would then become the constituency.
  5. The constituency would then vote once every term (lets say every two years) for the executive of the new body.
  6. The executive would be constituted of positions that address the aims described above. Hence there would be:
  • President /CEO – Strategic direction, ultimate arbiter
  • Treasurer/ CFO – Financial matters
  • Security Chief
  • Advocacy Director
  • PR and Communications Director
  • Events Coordinator
  • Director of Communal Affairs

7.    The Executive would use the online social community to communicate all substantive matters to the community. The community would be able to use the online social community to discuss relevant issues and create pressure groups around certain issues. As the affairs of the online community are easily trackable, verifiable and consistent metrics around communal attitudes can be gauged at all times.

8.    In addition to the online community, the Executive would meet in a public forum once a month where they would hear grievances, suggestions and debate from the community on any number of issues. The agenda of these meetings would be set by the online community by relevance and popularity of issues.

The establishment of such an online space for the community would have a number of significant benefits.

First, it would facilitate genuine democracy within the leadership structure. The actual will of individuals could be implemented as opposed to channelling their will through a number of dubiously representative organisations.

Second, it would bypass the need for surveys or other opinion gauging activities as the online community would be a living and dynamic gauge of communal attitudes at all times.

Third, by formalising avenues of information flow, both from and to the leadership, genuine transparency of the leadership’s actions can be maintained at all times, and the constituency will always have available channels for grievances and the like.

An approach like this, which utilises the internet’s unprecedented ability to enfranchise individuals is certainly the way forward for all governmental structures. Their ultimate implementation is more a question of “when” than one of “if”. There is no reason why the Jewish Community of Melbourne should not be a trailblazer in this regard.

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  • Liss says:

    Yoram – could you please expand on what you mean by: “Establish a new organisation that is not made up of affiliate organisations but one where members of the community can vote directly on matters”?

    I’m not really aware of how the current system works – are all the affiliate organisations that make up the JCCV currently voting on communal matters? Or just some? Are meetings attended by one representative from each group? Are the votes of all groups weighted equally? Or are things decided ‘unofficially’ by committee?

    Don’t mean to interrogate, but I suspect there are others reading this post who are equally unenlightened as to how things are operating at the moment.

    Also – throwing this out to others too – at what age would community members be allowed to vote? 18? Or perhaps bar/bat-mitzvah age would make more sense, considering that that’s when we (supposedly) become ‘adult’ members of our community?
    Would allowing children to vote give them a great sense of enfranchisement/communal responsibility, and encourage ENDURING participation in communal structures from a young age? (Because as it stands, it appears that most young adults drop off the radar once the AUJS years have passed…)

  • The Goy Husband says:

    Dear Yoram,

    A few questions if I may:

    1. Is this a Victorian model that is to stand alone?
    2. Would a federal structure (bringing all jurisdictions – each State and the Territories – together) be viable if not possible?
    3. Is individual participatory membership somewhat dated in this era of shifting relationships and web-based allegiances (I offer the reality of many more people coming togetherfor campaigns versus management of assets or programs)?
    4. Would not a replacement body be superceded over time by fresh or newer bodies as splits occured over policy, control or pr expertise?
    5. How would any transitional provisions apply (today the old system , tomorrow the new)?
    6. Can you plausibly force organisations in a free civil society to just stop operating becuase they may not be as effective or as popular as they might have been (the fashionable replacing the unfashionable)?
    7. What momentum is required to make this happen (is it 2,000 people in a dingy Town Hall or is it a majority vote of the constitutent organisations)?
    8. What risk the power falling to an unrepresentative cadre of activists idelogically to the extreme of the great middle ground?
    9. Is there only one voice of Australian Jewry, if so, who says?
    10. After the small r revolution, when can we start to have the show trials (oh sorry, must be that online discussion thing), re-education (oh sorry, we must be re-assessing our policies) and a Politburo 7 (it is hard to say that a biennial elected set of 7 is better than the many dozens of office-bearers and authority figures in the numerous JCCV constituents).

    Apart from number 10 – merely pointing out some concerns – my questions are honestly seeking further detail or response.

    But I am happy that the bones have been fleshed out so to speak!

  • michael says:

    8. What risk the power falling to an unrepresentative cadre of activists idelogically to the extreme of the great middle ground?..GOy Husband

    Obviously GOy Husband this is what is intended ,you will have the extreme loud Minority trying to represent the mainstream community after all who are all the activists in the Jewish community..

  • Eli says:


    In respect to your proposal item #3

    For three thousand years we Jews have been debating “who is a Jew’ Israel has amended the Law of return 3 times. With all due respect, item 3 which should be Item 1, is never going to get the consensus you need. Oh an online list? Yeh sure! Jews are going to want to do that in a real hurry. If you can get over that just maybe you have a chance at the rest.
    Just as an aside why the age limit of 18? how is the voice of our youth going to achieve any relevance if they have to proxy their votes somehow through adults.

  • Manny Waks says:

    Congratulations Yoram on this long overdue post (& SJ for facilitating). Many of us have criticised the existing system but you have presented a forum from which a discussion and debate may ensue. Well done! I don’t believe you are suggesting that your proposal is necessarily flawless or that it must be adopted. Again, from how I read it, it’s an opportunity for individuals within our community to reflect and perhaps contribute constructive feedback so as to ultimately achieve a long overdue change.

    I agree with you regarding your vision for a proposed role for a JCCV. Some may say this is not an exhaustive list while others may argue that these tasks are currently being undertaken by the current JCCV. I don’t believe that this is/will be the issue that prevents us from moving forward.

    Regarding your response to your second question, I’m a little bit more optimistic than you are! I do believe that reform within the existing system is possible – although very challenging, to say the least. It’s a matter of how serious the leadership are willing to accept its (non)constituents’ views. There is plenty of evidence that community members want change (most recently through the AJN poll) – it is the responsibility of our (un)elected leaders to respect this wish. They claim to represent the views of the community – so it’s time to listen! Don’t hold on tenaciously to a leadership position for the sake of it – or worse, for the benefits you feel that may be gained.

    I do wholeheartedly agree with the direct vote concept – something which I have been advocating for quite some time. I’m open to any other practical solution that would empower communitymembers in electing its leaders. An online registry for 18+yo Jews could indeed be established. Of course there would be complications (as you rightly point out: who is a Jew?!). We must accept that not everyone is going to support every proposal! There would be many hurdles along the way, but the alternative is to sit back & do nothing – something the current leadership may indeed want (to maintain the status quo).

    I’m no technical wiz but in this contemporary era utilising online resources in a safe, secure & accurate environment seems like an achievable proposition.

    It’s important (though at the initial stage not essential) that other states follow suit. Besides from the direct benefit the respective communities would gain, a consistent approach would facilitate a legitimate elected national body by the democratically elected state bodies. They would be mandated to elect this national body (in the form of the existing Executive Council of Australian Jewry or an alternative).

    Michael: Why are you so obsessed with this Right/Left issue?! Why do you assume that those behind this site are “Leftists”? Why do you assume that those seeking change are “Leftists”? I for one have publicly sought systemic change for quite some time now. If you wish to know my credentials in this whole Right/Left parochial worldview of yours: I was born in Israel & raised in Australia. Due to my strong Zionist passion I returned to Israel specifically to serve in an elite infantry unit in the IDF. Following my military service I remained in Israel where I worked in security within East Jerusalem protecting its relatively few Jewish inhabitants. For years I have contributed to the public debate, staunchly defending Israel. This was through my capacity as a B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission leader as well as in my personal capacity. I do so at every opportunity where appropriate (though this does not mean that I necessarily support all Israeli policies). By some Leftists I may be perceived as a Rightist & vice versa. I try to look at each issue individually (this does not necessarily mean that I’d criticise Israel if I don’t agree with a particular policy!).


  • yoramsymons says:

    Hey Everyone,

    Apologies for taking so long to reply to some of these comments but I will do my best. I will break the answers into different posts so it doesn’t get too long to read in one chunk.

    Liss: You asked, in essence, how the current system works. TO the best of my understanding it is in the following manner. Victoria has two Jewish roof bodies, the Zionist Council of Victoria (ZCV) and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV).

    The ZCV is the roof body for all Zionist organisations in Victoria. This includes the Youth Movements, JNF, UIA, most of the schools and a number of other organisations that have a Zionist mission statement. The ZCV receives its funding from two primary sources, the first being the Sochnot (i.e. the Israeli Government) and the second being revenue streams from investments here in Victoria. The most prominent of these being the Beth Weizmann Centre that it owns and then leases out to other organisations that occupy it.

    The JCCV is the roof body for all local Jewish organisations, whether they are Zionist or not. As far as I m aware they are funded through community contributions and fees paid by affiliate organisations. I will admit right now I am not 100% certain of this. The JCCV is made up of affiliate organisations, of which there are somewhere between 50 and 60, as well as an Executive that handles the day-to-day running of the organisation.

    The governance of the organisation is essentially controlled by the Executive. However, there are plenums, ie forums for all affiliate organisations and these currently take place at bi-monthly intervals. The agenda for the plenums is set by the Executive but it is possible for affiliate organisations to have items put on the agenda. Affiliation entitles an organisation to a vote at these plenums. As far as I understand, it is one organisation, one vote, ie so whether your organisation represents ten people or a thousand people, the voting power is the same.

    The issues that affiliates vote on are essentially admission of new organisations to the JCCV, and elections for the Executive positions. I am sure there are other issues as well but at the present I am not fully aware of them all.

    As for the actual democracy of the institution, it will depend on who you ask. Some might say that the elections are open and fair but in practice, the majority of the time there is a clear succession plan and generally speaking a pre-appointed candidate is the only person running for any given position.

    To the question of what exactly the JCCV is there for and what it actually does, the answer is seemingly less obvious. The JCCV acts as a voice of the Jewish Community. However, there are other voices, namely the ZCV as well as AIJAC (Australia Israel and Jewish Affairs Council), which is an entirely private body. It should be noted that at the present time there is an unprecedented level of cooperation between the JCCV and the ZCV.

    I hope this answers your question.

  • yoramsymons says:

    To Liss and Eli

    Re: Voting age at 18

    I am not committed to the age of 18. I certainly think there is worthwhile debate around what the age of eligibility for voting within this system should be. I can personally see arguments on both sides for this but as I said, a position I am not firmly committed to either way at the present.

  • yoramsymons says:

    To the Goy Husband,

    You raise some great points. I will do my best to provide a response to all of them.

    1. Is this a Victorian model etc?

    For now, yes. Could it be duplicated? Definitely. Could it be expanded to become a national model? Also yes. For now, however, I am proposing something for Victoria because transformational change is more easily managed in small doses and Victoria is where I come from and the community I know the best.

    2. Would a federal structure be viable if not possible?

    As per above, I think so, but my aim is to begin transformational change at a local level.

    3. Is individual participatory membership somewhat dated in this era of shifting relationships and web-based allegiances. (I offer the reality of many more people coming together for campaigns versus management of assets or programs)?

    This is an interesting point.

    I am not entirely sure what you mean in the first instance. I would say that the internet empowers individuals in unprecedented ways. The internet is perhaps the greatest tool for mobilising individuals by being able to easily aggregate individual voices into large pressure groups, an aggregation that was extremely difficult and costly to achieve before.

    As for the second point, I would argue the opposite though. In the past pressure groups were formed around issues because only a small number of key issues could motivate a significant section of a constituency to do anything about it. Because process moved slowly there was only a limited amount of participation that a community could afford to have.

    An online system means that there is a living, dynamic pressure group active all the time with clear channels for communication.

    4. Would not a replacement body be superceded over time etc

    Possibly. I don’t know. The idea behind my proposal is to create a system that is truly representational of the constituency. So long as this system was representational and it fulfilled its mandate it would be viable. Should it fail to do these things then eventually it would probably be superceded.

    5. How would any transitional provisions apply (today the old system , tomorrow the new)?

    What I have proposed is not a manifesto for revolution, it is a starting point for a discussion. When I say abolish the JCCV I mean only in its current form of operation and mandate. Ideally a transition would be managed by all key stakeholders in the community, especially the incumbent leadership bodies.

    6. Can you plausibly force organisations in a free civil society to just stop operating becuase they may not be as effective or as popular as they might have been (the fashionable replacing the unfashionable)?

    See answer to 5.

    7. What momentum is required to make this happen (is it 2,000 people in a dingy Town Hall or is it a majority vote of the constitutent organisations)?

    Good question. I don’t know what the magic number is. But lets say someone were to begin the online registry and community. Assuming it will never be universally adopted, at what point would you say that there are enough members on it to give it the legitimacy of being the true representation of the Jewish Community. I am not sure but here are a few interesting numbers. According to the 2006 census there are 35, 963 people in Victoria who affiliate as Jews. If we subtract from that total the 0-14 age group we are left with 28, 882. The AJN goes to press with 8000 copies per edition. I imagine some number between those two would be an appropriate figure to say that this new body now has legitimacy.

    8. What risk the power falling to an unrepresentative cadre of activists idelogically to the extreme of the great middle ground?

    I will deal with this in a separate post responding to both yourself and to Michael.

    9. Is there only one voice of Australian Jewry, if so, who says?

    No, there are multiple voices with varying levels of coordination.

    I am glad you liked the bones of it. As I said above, this is not a manifesto for revolution, but simply a starting point for a discussion.

  • michael says:

    Manny surely you can’t seriously believe this blog site is not run by left leaning Jews and the majority of contributors are not left leaning Jews .
    What is the relevance that you served in the IDF and about being a lefty are you saying Left wing Israeli Jews haven’t served in the Army, come on i.e Amos Oz, Benny Morris ,Yosi Belin I presume they served in the IDF.
    I don’t know why you have to be so defensive you have the perfect right to your political views. I’m sure if you criticize Israeli policies in the media we can also read your unequivocal criticisms of Palestinian and Arab policies in the media , can’t we ?

    I would be curious to hear some examples where Leftists have accused you of being Rightist.

    I guess some people may get the similar impression that the SJ bloggers are lefty’s when they only criticize Nonleft wing Jews , Non left wing Jewish Organizations and groups and promote the views of the very left wing Jewish academics at Monash.

  • michael says:

    The Far left wing Socialist Group AJDS are affiliates of JCCV, its Editor and Palestinian activist Sol Salbe is on record as claiming he has been fighting for Palestinian rights for 35 Years.

    Any body can join JCCV what is the problem ?

  • sensiblejew says:

    Yoram, you should be heartily congratulated for this proposal. It makes provision for the sort of representation and transparency that really would make our community a “light unto the nations.”

    A general comment to our readers: Yoram has not presented a manifesto or doctrine that cannot be debated or altered according to needs or circumstances. This is not not about a small cadre of leftists taking anything over, as some of our more conspiracy-minded readers might suggest.

    Governance starts to fail when its institutions become labyrinthine to the extent that an internal logic – obscure to all outsiders – begins to dictate actions and policy. What Yoram’s proposal does is put forward a model that demonstrates that governance need not be distant from, or impenetrable to, the ordinary Jew.

    Democracy itself stopped being a radical idea a long time ago. Yoram’s proposal can only be viewed as “radical” inasmuch as the community has never before been presented with a model that is both so sensible, and so straightforward.

  • yoramsymons says:

    Goy Husband and Michael,

    To quote

    “What risk the power falling to an unrepresentative cadre of activists ideologically to the extreme of the great middle ground?” – Goy Husband

    “Obviously Goy Husband this is what is intended ,you will have the extreme loud Minority trying to represent the mainstream community after all who are all the activists in the Jewish community.” – Michael

    To reiterate, the system I am proposing is for direct representation of individuals, ie not representation through electorates or affiliate bodies or the like. One individual, one vote. To my mind this system is the least susceptible to hijacking by minorites, extremist or otherwise.

  • yoramsymons says:


    Strong point.

    You are right in that the “Who is a Jew” component would probably be the stickiest. None the less, it is a bridge that must be crossed. I would not say that consensus is impossible to achieve, but I believe that we should aim for such a system not with standing the pitfalls and inevitable compromises that will need to be made.

    I am not entirely sure what you mean in your second point about an online list. If you could clarify I will endeavour to respond.

  • sensiblejew says:

    Michael, this is not a rhetorical question: why do you come here? It’s clearly not to read the posts. Had you read (not skimmed) them, you would have seen quite a few posts that are critical of the left. If you only come here to derail discussions through silly accusations and fallacious inferences about a connection with Monash Jewish Studies, you might want to consider how you choose to spend your time.

    Your JCCV and AJDS comment demonstrates this unwillingness to read content. We do not advocate for any group, left or right. We are not complaining that the JCCV is right wing. Our concern is purely about representation, legitimacy, and transparency. These precepts are absolutely non-partisan.

    You also need to read previous posts regarding the difference between group representation and genuine democracy. The response to John Searle thread is a good place to start.

  • yoramsymons says:

    Manny and SJ,

    Thank you for your supporting comments.

    I’d just like to reiterate what both of you have pointed out. My proposal is not a revolutionary manifesto, it is a starting point for a discussion. It is not to be taken in its entirety, it is hardly a perfect system by any stretch as indeed no system ever could be perfect. It is an attempt to begin a discussion around positive directions in which this community could move.

    Leadership and leadership structures are not just a game for politically minded people to become involved in. They are vehicles that have the potential to increase the actual substantive quality of life for their constituents. In our case it would be to increase the quality of the Jewish experience in Melbourne, whatever that might mean.

    In my mind this is a noble aim, and one worth putting energy and effort in to realising

  • Liss says:

    Thank you, Yoram, for the comprehensive response.

    Michael – you may be interested in reading this post, in which Frochel, SJ and many others voice criticism of the left:


  • Liss says:

    Eli – I don’t know if the “Who is a Jew?” question would necessarily be as sticky as you think…

    Personally, I don’t think it could be defined halachically (i.e. a Jewish mother) – that definition simply excludes too many people who identify strongly as Jews, live Jewish lives, and contribute to and participate in Jewish communal life in Australia. In fact, it probably excludes a couple (if not many) family members of any Jewish person living in Australia today.
    [On a side note – which I probably shouldn’t raise because it doesn’t relate directly to the post, but I’m going to be cheeky and throw it in because there’s something to learn from it – the halachic definition of Jewishness has caused MAJOR problems in Israel, particularly in terms of the enfranchisement and citizenship rights of non-Orthodox Jews.]

    Why not simply one Jewish grandparent? Maternal or paternal?

    And perhaps this system could include voting rights for non-Jewish spouses, whose children are being raised as Jewish, and who are directly involved in Jewish communal life? I think that would be a really positive move.

    If someone cares enough to register and vote (obviously it could not be compulsory as there would be no recourse to penalise those who didn’t) – shouldn’t they have a say?

  • sensiblejew says:

    Yoram and readers, I have emailed the leaders and key members of our roof bodies about Yoram’s model. I invited them to share their thoughts with us either here, or through email.

    In good faith, we hope that there will be some among our leadership who are prepared to discuss this model.

  • Eli says:


    The issue of Jewishness in this case is going to be very pertinent. You are not only going to have the problem of coming up with a definition but then also who is actually going to set the criteria. Seems just that choosing the choosers is already problematic.

    I have no issue with reforming our current structure,It seems that in many cases,Jewish organizations have been either self appointed, or are the outcome of self interested religious or social groups that over time coalesce into a governing or representative body. The vast majority of the Jewish population then either accepts them or ignores them.

    Communal support is dependent on both the outcomes that those groups provide and acceptance of the leadership that arises from those that participate. I don’t see a universal franchise as the best way of influencing or democratising (not withstanding the difficulties of registration)these bodies.

    You suggest “Establish a new organisation that is not made up of affiliate organisations but one where members of the community can vote directly on matters…..” If not organisations then will we have candidates? Will they not by nature align themselves with like minded individuals in voting blocs ..etc etc…

    Rather than become communal it would be in danger of becoming politicised.Not sure that that is a great outcome or even if it will solve the dilemma of better representation. Since funding of communal activities is derived via the participation of these organisations, removing them from having a vote or influence may in the end only cripple the efforts of a “new” body.

    Perhaps efforts need to be made from within. Surely there are members within the many organisations who feel the same as many of the writers here and only need to know that they would have community support in any efforts to push for a more transparent and representative roof body

    Apologies for my scattered thoughts, unlike many of the contributors here I am not a regular writer or commentator.

  • Malki says:

    In emailing the ‘leaders’ I was wondering if individuals from the ECAJ (such as Robert Goot), or perhaps the Commonwealth Jewish Council had been contacted?
    From my understanding the JCCV is a mere roof body with affiliate members, and would most likely be loathed to speak on behalf of any leadership body without the prior recommendation of such actions by the ADC or the ECAJ.

  • Malki says:

    I suppose that would also mean considering substituting the phrase “JCCV” in Yoram’s model for “ECAJ” or “current leadership model”.

  • sensiblejew says:

    Hi Malki.

    I emailed every key individual as well as every institution whose email addresses I could find.

  • sensiblejew says:

    Hi Malki.

    Never fear. Robert Goot, ECAJ and other national (as well as NSW) individuals and bodies recieved the email.

  • The Goy Husband says:

    Dear Yoram, ladies and all,

    Yoram: thank you for a considered and well argued response to my questions. It was an example of the positive outcomes possible from a blog like this – debate without trolling, openess without sarcasm and a recognition of good will across the various divides.

    Ladies: I blush – now if I can do the housework (we must have missed the BRW list by a few housekeepers) as well I will have a very happy wife!

    All: Is it possible to see TSJ morph into a public workshop (yes, I will travel south to the land of Sovereign Hill and the old Painters and Dockers) at some stage soon – close personal debate (but not a manifesto stunt) might be a sensible development. ps We can bypass Monash Univ – I never could work out the parking!

  • Manny Waks says:

    Michael (#9),

    In response:

    1. The difference between myself & the individuals you mentioned doing army service is that they lived in Israel & were conscripts while I volunteered. The reason this was relevant is simply to allay your fears that all/most contributors to this blog are “Lefties”. I don’t believe too many “Lefties” over the last decade or so would have left their comfort zone in Oz to risk their lives for Israel.

    2. Criticisms of Israel by me in the media? This has not occured. In fact feel free to google my posts & you’ll find a fair few opeds & letters supporting/defending Israel (in context). While I may not agree with all Israeli policies, at this stage I find it difficult to criticise it as it would simply be exploited by our enemies (this is a dilemma for me & many others I know!).

    3. I hope your curiosity survives!

    4. As per SJ’s comments, I’d suggest you find something better to do with your time!


  • Andrew says:

    Hi All,

    Yoram raises an interesting point about online and offline models and means for representation. I guess many organisations still see the internet as a world unto its own as opposed to one that represents real people and issues. And I don’t mean cute online polls!

    Only recently have corporate organisations moved to engaging their customers online. And as I’m sure you’ll agree, for profit organisations are more efficient than and lead the way for non for profit organisations. Rather, they owe it to the investing public!

    So let’s just look at the corporate progression online:

    Once upon a time: Cool, we can banner advertise.
    After this revelation: Wow, we also have an existing customer online.
    Revelation after revelation: Wait a second we’ve got millions of customer online
    Revelation turned sour: Funny, one of them is complaining about us online
    Revelation turned really sour: Oh shit, there are millions of people listening to this guy
    Today: Who’s doing something about this – we need to do something about this
    Today/Future: This guy is/can actually be our friend, help us get better

    Wait did this just happened here on TSJ?


  • yoramsymons says:


    You make a fantastic point. Id direct all readers of this blog to check out a book by Jeff JArvis called “What Would Google Do.” Jarvis makes a strong argument for the idea that your most unsatisfied customer is your best friend, precisely because his criticism enables you to refine and improve your products.

    Indeed the utilisation of online technologies by businesses have resulted in a very new customer/brand relationship which is still in its developmental phases.

    I agree that in this regard for-profit organisations generally lead the way, as the economy is perhaps the fastest moving social institution that we have. Political institutions typically lag the economy but they do eventually catch up.

    The other thinker in this regard I’d point both you and the rest of our readers to is Gary Hamel. Hamel is widely regarded as the worlds leading expert on management. He has being arguing quite strongly for a transformation of management structures that decentralises power and flattens hierarchies using online communication technologies. In his vision, a company of employees who are all in active communication with each other and where no issue is off limits for discussion will end up running circles around top-down hierarchical organisations.

    He also makes the point however, that these kinds of transitions in governing structures usually come in to effect only after the old guard has moved on completely.

    My possibly naive wish, is that the political leadership of the Jewish Community in Melbourne will be convinced of the incredible benefits that systems like those proposed by Jarvis and Hamel can bring to any organisation, and will choose to be a part of their implementation. They would be joining a very prestigious list of corporations, including IBM, Dell and of course Google, who long ago saw the writing on the wall and began to move actively towards the genuine engagement of their stakeholders.

  • … in walks DW carrying a big bucket of pragmatism.

    In the wake of all the criticism of what we have now, it’s great to see a proposal that is innovative and full of vision.

    I’m going to take raise a few issues:

    1. While we all love democracy, it is well known that it’s hardly the most efficient form of government. Maintaining voter registries, running elections, all this stuff costs lots of money.

    The JCCV has struggled financially for many years, and that’s simply trying to collect dues from its member orgs, and through its own annual appeal.

    Yoram’s proposal would carry a huge cost in establishing and validating membership, and indeed in the vastly expanded brief for the communal governance org. Has anyone thought about what this might cost, and where the funds might come from?

    Of course it would need paid staff. I have seen the costings for the proposed JCA, and if you take that and add all the other stuff we’d like in our ideal communal governance org, well … maybe we’d need to shut down a school to release funds for it? ;)

    2. Online. We folk who are permanent residents of cyberspace seem to forget all the others who aren’t. The largest member org of the JCCV is JewishCare, and most of what they do deals with older members of our community. How many of them get online? How about some parts of the Orthodox community who shun the internet?

    What proportion of our community would an online forum truly represent? How many would actually engage with it? Maybe half if we were lucky.

    If we want democracy – one Jew, one vote – then we need an inclusive system that offers everyone representation, so we will need to ensure they can register and vote through “traditional” methods. Again, this adds to the cost of such a system.

    I’m all in favour of using online to engage a community – check out the superb book http://www.forrester.com/Groundswell – but we cannot leave behind those who can’t or won’t.

    3. Every community org has, as one of their most valuable assets, a “database” or register of all their members. They may share many things with other orgs, but *never* their member list. The JCCV, over time, has also accumulated their own list, but it is far from a superset of all other lists.

    The value in these lists is mostly for fundraising purposes, and while Yoram would like the communal governance org to take on this function on behalf of the entire community, much in the way the Sydney JCA does, this itself is a separate issue, and has its own barriers, and has aleady been debated extensively in Melbourne.

    I doubt if any current org would put forward their list, even to an independent communal governance org, without wanting to be there keeping a watchful eye on what is being done with it. This is aside from any Privacy Act issues, and sensitivities about maintaining a “list of all Jews”.

    To summarize, the main issue is that while this represents a very desirable governance model, it is “too” revolutionary. I see a more effective way to achieve this by change from within, over perhaps a 5 year timeframe. It would start with a manifesto such as this one, so we can roughly agree as regards where we are headed, and then would chip away at the goals bit by bit, choosing the ones that would have the most “bang for buck” first.

  • yoramsymons says:

    Responding to Eli in #19,

    Great points.

    Who is a Jew – You are right in suggesting that it will become a pertinent issue. As of yet I have not thought adequately on proposing a model that would be inclusive in the extreme yet satisfy the more traditional elements of the community at the same time. Perhaps such a middle ground position is not even achievable. I hope that is not the case. I’d like to develop some ideas and devote a post to it some time in the future.

    Candidates – Yes, the most likely scenario under my model would be that candidates would present themselves for election, possibly coming from interested parties or voting blocs. At the present time, despite the pitfalls of that system I still think what I have proposed is better than the current model, whereby there is virtually no democracy or representation. If you or anyone else has a more effective idea that would maximise participation and minimise politicking, then come forth. I am well aware that the model I am proposing has its limitations.

    Efforts from within – I agree. Ideally the current leadership bodies would opt to reform themselves to become more inclusive, participatory and above all, more relevant organisations. Whatever happens, the governance of the community must be for all the community, and that includes the old guard as well.

    Also, from a purely pragmatic point of view, transitioning an old body might be much easier than starting a completely new one. And speaking of pragmatism is a great way to segue into a discussion of David Werdiger’s pragmatic suggestions. See my next post.

  • malkirose says:

    (DW, I will see your bucket of pragmatism and raise you a box of simplification.)

    It occurred to me that in essence the JCCV, ADC, ECAJ and SZC shouldnt actually have any problems with this new process, as it is just so different to what they do.

    They currently do not interact with individual non-represented members of the community, do not have a system of representation, or transparency, or a forum for discussion , democratic process or similar.

    What they do have is an amount of successful advocacy going on at a government level, the ability to be an ‘umbrella’ or ‘roof body’, and the ability to raise funds to keep themselves functional. All are noble acts… but none of them have anything to do with what is being proposed here.

    So really this plan or any similar plan to create a democratic system of representation, governance and transparency is really not stepping on any toes at all. Its completely different to what they do.

    In fact, it may even prove to be something which would ultimately make their jobs easier.

  • malkirose says:

    i.e. there may be no need for any “transition” of any kind. Its an entirely different process.

  • yoramsymons says:

    Hey David,

    Great post (#29)

    I think you really got the point of what I was trying to do, ie – begin a discussion around ways to change the leadership model.

    I want to give some response around the issues that you raised.

    1. Running Costs of an Electoral System

    I will not say that I have scoped out these costs in any meaningful way, but I am not so certain that an online registry along the lines that I have proposed would be so capital intensive to start and maintain. I think there are ways of doing it that would not cost an arm and a leg.

    But perhaps I am wrong about this. In any case, the issue of the cost of the system leads right in to your next point:

    2. Costs of a Leadership Structure

    I think here you hit the nail firmly on the head. The positions would have to be salaried. And renumeration would have to be at some sort of decent level to attract the necessary talent to do the job well.

    Therefore the body would have to be funded.

    But as you tongue-in-cheekily asked, where would this money come from?

    I would say that before that problem can be solved, we would first have to present a program and establish a mandate for this new organisation that would actually give the community real value. The value of a school or a shule or Jewish Care is self evident. They provide a real service that is of value to the people that are users of the service.

    A governing body that would have any teeth at all would have to provide real, tangible value to the community that it could not achieve in other ways. I think the JCCV does provide some value, especially through the CSG and in terms of its advocacy work, but I think that if we were re-thinking the role of leadership in the community we would have to come up with some real value propositions.

    Once we had that we could then evaluate them, put a price on them and begin to think seriously about a funding model, one that would be congruent with the underlying aims of the new organisation.

    This is issue, the issue of what real value a leadership body brings to actual community members, ought to be the subject of at least one, if not many posts here and some serious off-line discussion in the community as well.

    3. Not enough people are online

    Hard to argue against that one at all. At the present moment, in 2009, it simply happens to be true. However, Id say three things. First, no system without the backing of statutory authority will ever guarantee universal suffrage, therefore as I see it the task is to find the most representational system possible. I still think the internet wins in that regard.

    Second, while I see the online element as having great communicative functionalities, its primary purpose is for voting on the leadership, once every two years. Should the aims of the new body be things that give real value to the community, Im sure many of the older generation could be persuaded to come online just for that. And that possibly goes for the more orthodox elements of the community as well.

    Third, again, my model is just a starting point and maybe it needs an offline component to really make it work. The main pitfall to this approach is that online systems are a cheap an easy way to aggregate individuals, and the reason these democratic models were unviable before is because of the enormous costs and energy involved in aggregating people in the off-line world.

    4. Email lists.

    I don’t think we’d need them. Through social networks and support from the community in general I think we could get to enough Jewish people in Melbourne to bypass the need for an email list. Take this blog as a case in point. It has achieved phenomenal numbers with no advertising what so ever, just some modest exposure in The Age and the AJN.

    Again, were this new body to provide something of real, tangible value to the community, getting the message out would not be the problem.

    5. 5 Year Plan.

    Yup. I agree here too. My proposal is indeed to radical to be implemented overnight. It would be a transition. The exact timeframe I don’t know, but as they say, Rome was not built in a day. As for what parts of the proposal to do first, which are the most achievable and which represent the most bang for the buck, well, that’s what we’re here to discuss. Right now I am not entirely sure. But I would come back to my earlier point. Until a leadership body can clearly articulate the real value that it provides so that the community wholly recognises that value, then leadership will be in name only.

  • mikeybear69 says:

    I’d like to throw my 2c worth in on the topic of Who is a Jew, from the perspective of a secular organisation representing members of a “Jewish community”.

    Clearly there will never be concensus on this issue as there are conflicting definitions of what a Jew is, depending on which side of the gefilte fish you sit. One side says you must have a Jewish mother for starters whilst the other side doesn’t place quite the same level of importance on this technicality. No doubt someone’s going to get offended here.

    I would be more than satisfied with individuals simply requiring themselves to place a tick in the box next to “Are you Jewish?” on the application form. If the person says they are Jewish, then so be it. No proof required. Who cares, and what difference does it make?

    It’s unlikely said organisation will be swamped with unchosen people for starters, and you’ll never please those who take a higher moral ground.


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