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The RCV Is Critical of Assylum Seeker Policy. What Should Our Roof Bodies Be Doing?

July 22, 2013 – 2:44 pm21 Comments

From the editor:

refugee2The Rabbinical Council of Victoria has just released a statement:

“The Rabbinical Council of Victoria (RCV) views with grave concern the latest government policy, that  denies asylum-seekers entering Australia  illegally, by boat, any possibility of settling in Australia.

Whilst mindful of the need for secure borders, the safety of the asylum-seekers, and of the cost of integrating asylum seekers into the community, Jewish teaching, and our own historical experience, informs us that these considerations cannot and must not override our ethical and moral obligation to help “the stranger”, and to offer refuge to those fleeing persecution.

Rabbi Meir Shlomo Kluwgant, RCV President, said “We hope that this policy will only be a temporary measure, and that  the time will come when Australia will once again continue its proud tradition of welcoming those in genuine need into our country”.”

In light of our community’s history, do you believe Jews have an obligation to encourage compassionate policy? Do you believe our lay leadership – the JCCV and ECAJ – should speak out against the latest plans?

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  • TheSadducee says:

    I’m going to be controversial and suggest that we, as a community, should avoid the “in light of our community’s history” sentiments as motivators of behaviours.

    Precisely because you can see the inverse used as a knout to beat us – i.e. you Jews should know better because of what has happened to you in the Holocaust sentiments esp. in relation to the I/P conflict or other sensitive issues.

    I’m also going to controversially note that the RCV seems to have officially responded to this issue quicker than they did that concerning child-abuse in their own community.

    Additionally, I’m going to suggest that the rabbinate should avoid political issues and focus more on spiritual matters in their community. Where do they stand on Palestinian refugees? I bet their tune changes when questioned on that…

    As to lay leadership – they have enough issues of their own to deal with without looking for those outside of their purview – perhaps one of them could put out a statement expressing their concerns with the policy (assuming that the majority of their members actually agree with that point of view btw?) rather than them all getting embroiled in these types of controversies.

    If they want to advocate a position against the legitimate government which doesn’t affect Jews, then do it quietly and discreetly lest they bring the rulers’ wrath down on us.

  • letters in the age says:


    Excuse my naivety, but isnt it the job of various religious groups to help the poor and disadvantaged?

    That’s their role in society and it’s always been that way for many years..

    As my link above indicates,the asylum seeker issue has been an ongoing concern for other faiths as well

    God bless them and good on them for displaying some humanity



  • Joe in Australia says:

    No, it is the role of governments to help the poor and disadvantaged. This is why we have Medicare and pensions and so forth. There are places where social welfare is left to religious organisations and they are, without exception, unable to cope.

  • TheSadducee says:

    I actually think its the job of the religious to preserve and propagate their faith to future generations.

    Helping the poor and disadvantaged should be addressed within their own communities firstly – and there are plenty of people in the Jewish community who could do with the help – before activism on behalf of non-Jews who don’t contribute to our community, their maintenance/upkeep and the vast majority of whom aren’t sympathetic to us anyway.

    If they really want to indulge in social justice activism go and join a non-religious NGO (there are stacks of these) and push it from that perspective.

  • Bobby Basrah says:

    Another POV doing the rounds

    From: SBA [mailto:sba@sba2.com]
    Subject: FW: [YCL] Media Release – RCV responds to new rules for asylum-seekers (Any wonder why rabbis are held in such low estimation?)

    Any wonder why rabbis are held in such low estimation?
    (Ver hot zei gefregt? )

    Both major parties and the vast majority of the Australian population welcome this (or a similar) solution to the people smuggling crisis –
    especially when these illegals are from Muslim or criminal backgrounds. (Check the crime rates in the northern suburbs and/or Dandenong)

    But our rabbis feel they have to join the bandwagon with christian and muslim clergy and condemn the govt.

  • frosh says:

    Apart from the obvious xenophobia in the above comment (it wasn’t so many decades ago when people expressed similar sentiments about Jewish immigration), it’s amazing how the word crisis gets bandied around these days.

    A couple of years ago Jewish Melbourne was hit by a fish ‘crisis’ after a well known establishment mixed up sugar with salt in their gefilte fish recipe for a particular batch (personally, I think gefilte fish should be made with salt and not sugar, but leaving that aside). Now, the above comment makes reference to a “people smuggling crisis”.

    In both of the above cases, to an equal degree, there was/is no crisis!

  • TheSadducee says:


    The Financial Review suggested that the Indonesian Govt. considered that there was a crisis (earlier this month) –


    Nonetheless, the tone of their post was disagreeable.

  • frosh says:


    I made my comment with regard to Australia, as I doubt the above xenophobic comment pasted by ‘Bobby Basrah’ was concerned about Indonesia.

    The fact that a relatively small number of people arriving by boat is the major political “crisis” in this country is an indictment on both our politicians and the populace.

  • TheSadducee says:


    Sarah Hanson-Young called it an “humanitarian emergency” (emergency being an acceptable synonym for crisis btw) 8 days ago.


    Nonetheless, as I noted before, the tone of the post was disagreeable and is probably a mask for much more vicious sentiments – more likely prejudice rather than xenophobia.

    I agree that it is a sad reflection of political and public sentiment that it is considered a crisis and is being dealt with the way it is.

    As I have suggested before, without radical attention to the root causes of these population movements, this will be a problem for the ongoing future.

    Incidentally, not being from Melbourne, is there any validity in the claim made by Basrah of the link between crime and refugees in Melbourne? I suspect not, but it would be interesting to see Melbournians’ points of view.

  • frosh says:

    Within almost all cities (metropolitan areas), there is a significant inverse correlation between the prevailing socio-economic status of a location within that city and the crime rate. I’d assume Melbourne is no exception to this robust rule.

  • Miriam Weinstein says:

    Come on Frosh, Jewish immigrants arrived here legally and there were never any concerns about terrorism or criminality.

    Bobby/SBA’s views are supported by the vast number of Aussies including the Jewish community and our rabbis should stop trying to play being politically correct.

    It would be far more appropriate for them to be strongly
    campaigning against gay marriage. But of course that wouldn’t make them popular with the AJN or even the “progressives” who inhabit Galus

  • Mandi Katz says:

    This issue is incredibly complex. A friend who has been active on behalf of asylum seekers for many years including acting as a lawyer (pro bono) for asylum seekers on Christmas Island has supported the Rudd PNG plan in a very qualified way on the basis that it is better than the opposition policy, better than the current model of indefinite detention and may deter boats (and therefore reduce the number of deaths at sea) and may provide a regional solution.

    The ECAJ made a statement on Monday : “There are as yet too many unknowns about the legality, workability and effect of the new regional settlement arrangements between Australia and Papua New Guinea to enable any informed judgements to be made. We will closely follow developments and will make a further statement if and when we consider it appropriate to do so.”

    The ECAJ does not have to comment every social and political issue but they have here and it is disappointing to say the least.

    Yes, it’s true that it’s too soon to say whether the policy is legal and enforceable and it may be a better solution than the current solutions. But it is not too soon to raise the risk that this plan is motivated by political opportunism , or to talk about the need for humanity and ‘rachmonis’ on this issue.

    Where in the ECAJ statement is the reference to the imperative of lawful and humane treatment of asylum seekers? and where is the call for a commitment from the Australian government that it will not wash its hands of its responsibility – with the PNG government if the plan is legal and enforceable – for how asylum seekers will be treated once they are there, in terms of legal representation, a fair assessment system with proper checks and balances, and access to health services, housing, education , employment?

    And Miriam – my husband’s grandmother came here without proper papers as did many Jews – and many migrated on the basis of saying they were relatives of people who sponsored them, when they weren’t.

    There is no evidence of any link between asylum seekers and any act of terrorism in Australia – I refer to Michael Danby’s statement on the issue last year:

    ” our security services have disrupted, arrested, charged and convicted 7 sets of home-grown terrorists who had the potential to attack Australia’s mailand. None of these were successful because of ASIO’s activity. None of the people were asylum seekers. None arrived by boat…the Director-General of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, David Irvine pointed out in a speech this year in February, of the 38 people who have been convicted of terrorist offences in Australia under or strong anti-terror laws, 34 were either born here or have lived here since childhood.”

  • TheSadducee says:


    The rabbinate shouldn’t be involved in campaigning against gay marriage in the civil code either.

    Again, unless it impacts their ability to conduct our (Jewish) faith (it is anticipated that they would be exempt from having to marry gay people anyway) they shouldn’t get involved in national political/social issues of this type.

    What other people do which doesn’t affect us is their own business and only Hashem is the judge of man and we shouldn’t forget that fact. We should obey the rulers’ laws where they do not personally transgress our faith.


    I actually don’t think the ECAJ statement is that bad – they are saying wait and see what the details are before commenting further.

    You can raise the risks of potentially anything really but it doesn’t really contribute very much of use if it is supposition and/or unfounded in fact because you don’t have the details to make an informed contribution.

    All of the additional material that you reference would have doubled-tripled the statement for really no additional value.

  • frosh says:


    Since it isn’t evident that you have a benefited from a basic education with regard to the history of Australian attitudes and policy toward Jewish immigration, I implore you to do some reading.

    Here’s a starting point:

    By the way, it’s an absolute certainty that our Rabbonim would not be forced to conduct same-sex marriages, given that they are not forced to conduct marriages between Jews and non-Jews, or in fact anyone they do not wish to marry.

  • TheSadducee says:

    +1 frosh

  • boris karshino says:

    NSW rabbis view. (Obviously they are not following the PC-Torah of their Melb colleagues…)

    Asylum-seekers: NSW rabbis have their say

    The Rabbinical Council of NSW has issued a statement saying that Papua New Guinea is an acceptable destination for asylum seekers.

    On behalf of the RCNSW, Rabbi Yehora Ulman has said: “One of the greatest Biblical values is the preservation of human life and the responsibility to do everything possible to help those in need, regardless of race, religion, colour or creed.

    If life is in danger, especially when victims are escaping genocide and have nowhere else to go, they should be given protection. Importantly, all sides of politics in this country affirm this principle.

    The implementation of how to properly care for asylum seekers whilst maintaining Australia’s interests raises complexities which are currently the subject of intense political discussion.

    There is bipartisan agreement on many of the issues, including a high standard of proof and character required in each asylum application.

    RCNSW does not see how the resettling of genuine refugees in a country such as PNG would be a violation of the Biblical injunction to save lives.

    It is incomparable to Holocaust victims who were refused entry everywhere and callously returned to certain death because no option for third country processing existed.

    Australia is a compassionate society which sends aid and assistance to people throughout the world in the worst areas of conflict to rescue those most in danger. Few countries do more for those in need and that is a record we are proud of.

  • letters in the age says:

    Danby has recently supported same sex marriage…

    Purely political of course and very convenient for a ruthless man of his calibre.

    Its a very complex issue and Mr Rudds solution is both diplomatic and harsh

    However its a solution…

    That’s his political game of thrones i guess but it’s too little to late for many within the G.L.B.T.I.Q community for Michael Danby sadly.

  • Mandi Katz says:

    HI Saducee – I suspect that the way I expressed this understates my objection. It isn’t a risk that it’s motivated by political opportunism – it’s very clearly using asylum seekers as political footballs,

    And the issues of treatment in PNG are not so much risks as inevitabilities.

    But the broader point is that if the ECAJ comments on this – I would hope that they would take a moral position.

    Addressing only the legalities makes them look like…Pharisees?

  • TheSadducee says:


    I’m not against what you are arguing but I would suggest that you consider them risks rather than inevitabilities – that presupposes knowledge that I suspect you don’t have and a predetermination of the future and history which is scarily arrogant and disempowering.

    As to the comment about Pharisees – it is certainly interesting that you take the Christian definition of one of our sects (i.e. overly legalistic) which was contrived deliberately in the pejorative sense to ensure separation of the Christians from Judaism and was used as a (metaphorical) stick to beat our people till the period of the Enlightenment…

  • Mandi Katz says:

    hello theSadducce – Not sure why making an informed assessment of the likelihood of a risk is arrogant.

    It’s not that hard to see that some risks are very likely to eventuate. In the case of what is likely to happen to asylum seekers in PNG – I think the likelihood of asylum seekers not having access to legal representation , not having access to health, education and housing of even a most basic standards is pretty high. Of course I don’t have special knowledge but read this about the views of people who do – http://m.smh.com.au/federal-politics/federal-election-2013/burke-to-visit-manus-island-in-wake-of-abuse-claims-20130723-2qhie.html?skin=iphone

    The thing about Pharisees was a joke (and only because of your psuedonym ) – not a very good one – don’t read too much into it.

    But there is something callous about commenting on the workability and legality of this policy without considering the morality and the policy considerations at play and particularly without acknowledging the political opportunism involved. Looking at the ads in the paper this morning telling asylum seekers they are not welcome here I felt despair – the ads are not addressed at the people who are getting on boats but at voters – and if that isn’t dog whistle politics then I don’t know what is.

    To paraphrase a friend – re-cast this to the 30s when Jews were seeking refuge in many countries and imagine those ads in Yiddish targeted at Jews who just wanted to get out of Europe. If you don’t feel sickened, you should – and I am referring carefully to the 30s when it was not at all clear that Jews would face the full catastrophe and horror that they eventually did, but they certainly sought refuge in large numbers from real and violent prosecution, and from intense economic deprivation – like many asylum seekers do.

    AIJAC has made a much better statement – http://aijac.org.au/news/article/statement-on-australian-asylum-seeker-policy. The word is rachmonis.

  • TheSadducee says:


    I was merely highlighting the difference between a risk (something that may happen) with inevitability (something that will happen).

    It is completely reasonable to suggest that there is a very high risk of something untoward happening, it is arrogant to suggest that something untoward will happen (i.e. an inevitability) – unless of course you are prescient…

    As to being informed – I don’t know what your level of information is? Maybe you have been to Manus, or are there now? Maybe you work in DIAC? Maybe you work in the various sub-contracted groups that provide services in that location? Maybe you have been a refugee at that facility? Maybe you work with/personally know refugees from that facility?

    I suspect none of these, but rather you have a similar level of information that I do – open source information from the news and advocacy groups – and, from that, what I have learnt is seriously disturbing.

    Nonetheless, considerations of morality cannot be included in every public statement on a policy decision, nor should they – especially when the details are so unclear. That is hardly callous.

    And besides, morality is largely subjective – what you find immoral (and I too btw) apparently is palatable to many!

    As to recasting this to the 30’s – yes, if the social/political/cultural/scientific conditions were similar I can see your concerns. They are not so a comparison of that type is trite. It’s almost a Godwin’s Law example…

    However, tragically, the ads and way this situation is being dealt with is deeply troubling for me as well.

    My key point originally was that the rabbinate shouldn’t be commenting on this. The ECAJ should, AIJAC shouldn’t either.

    Don’t worry about the Pharisee joke – it was very sad you see!

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