"it is also about the ECAJ’s unequivocal defence of the Jewish institutions involved in the abuse allegations and the subsequent alleged cover-ups. The ECAJ has repeatedly gone on the public record to say that all the institutions are being fully cooperative – in some cases the ECAJ even extolled the virtues of at least one of the organisations. This is despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – by the Magistrate, police, victims, their families and supporters. This is also based on the views of a current senior member of the ECAJ who informed me directly over the past year of Yeshivah’s lack of willingness to work with the Victorian roof body (the Jewish Community Council of Victoria) on any level (for some reason this was not mentioned in the ECAJ’s submission). The ECAJ’s approach, therefore, is an affront to many within our community, especially to the many victims."
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry statement:
17 December 2012
Family and Community Development Committee
Spring Street EAST
MELBOURNE VIC 3002
Dear Madam Chair
Victorian Government Inquiry into Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organisations (‘the Inquiry’) Our organisation (‘the ECAJ’) is the national peak body of the Australian Jewish community. Our constituent organisations are the roof bodies of the Jewish community in each State and the ACT. Other Jewish organisations which operate nationally are our Affiliates.
Ordinarily, as a national body, we would leave it to our State constituent organisations to deal with their respective State governments on any matters of concern to the community they represent. In this respect I note that a detailed submission was made to the Inquiry by our Victorian constituent organisation, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, on 21 September 2012, which is accessible at: http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inqui ries/57th/Child_Abuse_Inquiry/Submissions/Jewish_Community_Coun cil_of_Victoria.pdf
The reason for this submission is to respond to certain statements about the ECAJ, which were part of a more general statement made to the Inquiry by Manny Waks on 10 December 2012.
Mr Waks’ allegations both of child sex abuse and the covering up by various institutions of that conduct must of course be treated seriously, and we would repeat our numerous public statements urging those making the allegations to provide full particulars to the police and other authorities and to render them every assistance in their investigations and in any resulting prosecutions.
We appreciate that it is often very difficult for victims of child sexual abuse to come forward to the authorities, and even to close family and friends, to report what has happened to them. Victims often ‘block out’ the horrendous abuse they have suffered and go to great lengths to avoid having to ‘relive’ that suffering by telling their stories to others. They may fear that they will not be believed.
The prospect of having to recount their experiences in the stressful environment of a courtroom in the context of a criminal trial in which they are to be questioned and cross- examined must be especially daunting for victims. If the abuse has occurred within a school or other organisation that has had a culture or practices that discourage victims from coming forward, or which appear to side with alleged perpetrators, this puts redress even further beyond the reach of victims.
Those victims who have come forward, including Mr Waks, are therefore to be commended for their courage, and for raising public awareness of the issue and encouraging other victims to come forward.
Because of the obstacles – institutional and otherwise – which victims face in making complaints, instances of abuse may not be reported for many years, if ever. It is therefore fair to infer that the incidence of child sex abuse in religious or non-government organizations across Australia, is almost certainly far greater than the number of reported cases would suggest.
Nevertheless, caution needs to be exercised in drawing generalized conclusions about entire communities from allegations that concern specific individuals and specific organisations, and especially from those allegations that are yet to be proven, or even investigated.
In his statement to the Inquiry, Mr Waks has described allegations of abuse that he says have been communicated to him by others, and he has characterised the alleged abuse as occurring in “the Yeshiva community”, “the ultra-Orthodox community”, ”the Melbourne Jewish community”, and “the Sydney and Perth Jewish communities”.
These communities vary greatly from one another in numbers, cultural ethos and diversity, and it is a serious misrepresentation to suggest that the Jewish community is a unitary organisation, let alone a hierarchy. Even within smaller sections of the community, such as Yeshiva, there are different organisations with different functions, objectives and practices. The ECAJ, while a roof body, exercises no control over other organisations, or over members of the community. Its role is coordination by consensus and it usually arrives at positions as a result of input from its constituent and affiliate organisations. It is on this basis that the ECAJ offers the community leadership and advice which is generally followed.
If individuals who are Jewish, are ultimately convicted of child sex abuse crimes and the organisations within which the crimes were committed are found to have engaged in an attempted cover-up, this may justify conclusions about an “endemic” problem of child sex abuse and a culture of suppression existing within those organisations, but it would be a gross injustice to apply such conclusions collectively to all members of the local communities within which those organisations operate, let alone to the Jewish community as a whole.
It is for this reason, and this reason alone, that the ECAJ has taken exception to attempts by sections of the media, and others, to use what is undoubtedly an extremely serious problem, as an opportunity to make scandalous generalisations that unfairly taint the whole Jewish community. We do not we wish to downplay in any way, the incidence of child sex abuse or of any culture of cover up that may have existed, or that may continue to exist, in any Jewish community organisation. Equally, we will not remain silent in the face of ill-conceived attempts to attribute collective guilt to the whole Jewish community for any individual or organizational wrong-doing.
We note that the terms of Reference of the Inquiry are limited to an investigation into “the processes by which religious and other non-government organisations respond to the criminal abuse of children by personnel within their organisations,” (emphasis added). No allegations have been made of criminal abuse of children “by personnel within” the ECAJ. It follows that Mr Waks’ statements to the Inquiry concerning the ECAJ, in addition to being scandalous, are outside the Terms of Reference, and for both of those reasons should be disregarded by the Inquiry.
We nevertheless take this opportunity to outline to the Inquiry some of the measures taken by the ECAJ and its constituents to increase vigilance and raise awareness of the risks and symptoms of abuse and avenues of victim counseling within our community, and to emphasise to schools and other organisations under (and beyond) our umbrella that they are obliged to implement proper safeguards against sexual abuse of children under their care and to report allegations of sexual abuse to the relevant police and other authorities immediately and co-operate with their investigations.
• Although the ECAJ does not exercise any control over Jewish private schools, we took the opportunity in 2005 to work with Jewish schools throughout Australia to produce Governance Guidelines for Jewish Schools, for adaptation by schools in each State. A copy of the Guidelines operating in NSW is attached. We refer you in particular to paragraphs 20-25 dealing with a school’s obligations to provide students with a safe, supportive and secure environment, and to be able to produce evidence of compliance.
• With regard to Victoria, we refer you to the measures taken by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria from 2009 onwards, as outlined in their submission to the Inquiry.
• When allegations of child abuse within Yeshiva College in Melbourne in the 1980’s and 1990’s first became public in July 2011, concerns were raised that possible victims, witnesses and people in authority might not come forward and co- operate fully with the police due to misplaced loyalties or as a result of an incorrect understanding of their religious duties in such circumstances. The ECAJ immediately drafted and issued a joint statement together with the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, the Organisation of Rabbis of Australia and the Rabbinical Council of Victoria to get the message out to all members of our community that it is obligatory to report cases of sexual abuse to the relevant authorities and to provide the police with all relevant information and do everything to assist the police with their enquiries.
• The ECAJ also took the view that we should seek a meeting with any organisation in relation to which the police or other authorities decide to conduct investigations, to the extent that we became aware of any such investigation. We immediately sought a meeting with the Board of Yeshiva Melbourne which ultimately occurred in November 2012. We note that Yeshiva Melbourne does not come under the umbrella of the ECAJ or its relevant constituent the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.
• At the ECAJ’s Annual General Meeting in November 2011, there was an extensive discussion of allegations of child sex abuse and cover-ups in which both Mr Waks and Mr Ari Heber from Queensland Jewish Community Services made substantial contributions. This was an important step in raising awareness of the issues among the communal leadership nationally and in each State.
• During 2012, as allegations concerning two other organisations in the Jewish community came to our notice, we immediately discussed the allegations with the leaders of those organisations in order to reconfirm our previous message urging that the police be given all information relating to the allegations and full co- operation. We were repeatedly assured in each case that that was already occurring and would continue.
• When, in November this year, the Federal government announced the Royal Commission to investigate institutional responses to allegations of child sexual abuse the ECAJ immediately welcomed and supported the proposal and issued a public statement that “The sexual, physical and psychological abuse of children is a pervasive problem in Australian society, and probably all societies. It is certainly not limited to any one institution or segment of society...We are now calling on anybody with knowledge of instances of alleged child sexual abuse in any institution to co-operate fully with the Royal Commission, and for the families, friends and advisers of alleged victims to give them every support”. We do not see how any fair minded observer would interpret this statement as an attempt to play down the problem.
• Following our meeting with the board of Yeshiva in Melbourne, the ECAJ issued a detailed statement to the wider community reporting on our meeting. We were given an exhaustive explanation of the policies and practices that have been developed by Yeshiva College to avoid abuse and to ensure that allegations of abuse are dealt with promptly and reported to the relevant law enforcement and welfare authorities. Among other initiatives, the College says that it has undertaken regular training sessions and workshops with students, staff and the parent body in close consultation with South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Abuse, Gatehouse Centre of the Royal Children's Hospital (Department of Human Services / Child Protection), Jerusalem Crisis Centre (Director, Debbie Gross) and Jewish Task Force Against Family Violence.
• We gave the board every encouragement to build on these initiatives and were particularly impressed by the serious and knowledgeable approach adopted by the College’s new principal, Rabbi Yehoshua Smukler.
• In our statement we concluded that once the publicly known allegations of sexual abuse and cover-ups have been dealt with by the courts and the Royal Commission, “...we will have a better idea of the extent of the problem in the community. In the meantime there does not appear to be any basis for concluding that these problems are endemic throughout the Jewish community, although it is possible that other organisations might yet come under scrutiny”. That remains the ECAJ’s view.
• The ECAJ prepared a detailed submission to the Royal Commission and a draft was circulated to our Councillors for comment in advance of our Annual General Meeting on November 25. In preparing the draft we sought and received guidance from a professional person with expertise and many years of experience in dealing with child sex abuse cases. We received an extension of time to lodge the submission and these matters were reported at our Annual General Meeting. The submission itself was lodged four days later and a copy was provided to all Jewish community media outlets and placed on our website.
The foregoing is by no means an exhaustive account of steps the ECAJ has taken. There is always more that can be done even by an organisation like ours with limited authority and resources. We remain open to specific, constructive suggestions.
We wish the Inquiry well in its task. If there is any assistance or co-operation required from the ECAJ, it will be readily forthcoming.
Dr Danny Lamm President
Peter Wertheim AM Executive Director
Manny Waks comments on the ECAJ statement:
“I welcome the ECAJ clarification to the Inquiry. I have never accused the ECAJ of doing nothing to address this ongoing crisis. Rather, my criticisms have focussed primarily on two central issues.
Firstly, it is about resource allocation – despite the ECAJ’s futile attempt to impress upon the Committee that it has undertaken ongoing and serious actions to address this ongoing scandal, clearly they have failed. Disseminating a number of media releases, holding several meetings and making one submission – which is essentially the extent of their work since this scandal broke, as outlined in their many dot points in their submission – is simply not good enough.
Secondly, it is also about the ECAJ’s unequivocal defence of the Jewish institutions involved in the abuse allegations and the subsequent alleged cover-ups. The ECAJ has repeatedly gone on the public record to say that all the institutions are being fully cooperative – in some cases the ECAJ even extolled the virtues of at least one of the organisations. This is despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary – by the Magistrate, police, victims, their families and supporters. This is also based on the views of a current senior member of the ECAJ who informed me directly over the past year of Yeshivah’s lack of willingness to work with the Victorian roof body (the Jewish Community Council of Victoria) on any level (for some reason this was not mentioned in the ECAJ’s submission). The ECAJ’s approach, therefore, is an affront to many within our community, especially to the many victims.
Contrary to the ECAJ’s claims, no one is suggesting that our community is a ‘unitary organisation’ and there are no ‘ill-conceived attempts to attribute collective guilt to the whole Jewish community’. It is now abundantly clear that this scandal involves multiple victims, from a range of organisations throughout Australia. Clearly this is a Jewish community issue. While language is important, this is essentially about semantics. I and many others view this as a Jewish community issue. This in no way implicates each and every member of the Jewish community or its many institutions.
The only reason the ECAJ has been criticised by many for its ongoing misguided attitude and actions is because it claims to speak and act on behalf of our community. So it is disingenuous of the ECAJ to attack others for referring to the Jewish community as a single entity when they in fact do the exact same thing. The ECAJ cannot be selective about when it chooses to position the Jewish community as a single entity.
Despite the ongoing criticism and mistrust that exists between us, recently I took the step of reaching out to the ECAJ for the benefit of our community.
My email to Danny Lamm, President of the ECAJ (17 December 2012):
I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to you and the ECAJ to work together to address the issue of child sexual abuse within our community.
Despite the mistakes that were made, I believe that it would be of great benefit to our community and more constructive for us to work together on this pressing issue.
As you would be aware, we are currently in the process of establishing Tzedek, an advocacy group for victims of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community. So having a working relationship between us and our respective organisations would be of mutual benefit. This does not necessarily mean that we must agree on everything but it will at least mean that we can liaise, consult, refer etc. when necessary. To be clear, I am not proposing a formal relationship but one that would ensure we have an open channel of communication for the benefit of the Jewish community.
Please advise if this is of interest to you and the ECAJ.
Response from Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the ECAJ (17 December 2012):
Danny has asked me to respond to your email as he is tied up in meetings.
We continue to welcome an open channel of communication between you and the ECAJ, and are, and always have been, willing to consider any specific constructive proposals you may have. Further, we would welcome discussions that are directed toward the interests of the victims of abuse and appropriate steps aimed at encouraging the community’s organizations and members in dealing with complaints, preventing recurrences and exposing wrongdoing. As you correctly stipulate, this would not involve any kind of formal relationship between us or any endorsement, express or implied, by the ECAJ of any of your activities.
As you may know, we have, as a consequence of the allegations you have made against the ECAJ, provided a submission to the Victorian Government Inquiry into Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Non-Government Organizations. As a matter of transparency within the community and given the nature of our role (which, as you know, does not include the ability to dictate to other organizations) our submission will be publicly available.
I sincerely hope that differences may be put aside for the benefit of our community. Importantly, I hope that the ECAJ will now allocate the necessary resources to address this matter and will cease from making statements and taking actions that are counter-productive and offensive to the many victims and to the broader Jewish community.
Unfortunately there is still a great deal more to be exposed – many more victims to seek justice, many more individuals and institutions to be held to account, and much more to be done in terms of empowering our community. Working effectively and cooperatively would yield much better results for our community. I and the newly-formed Tzedek will do our utmost to work with as many of the relevant stakeholders as possible in our mission to advocate on behalf of victims of child sexual abuse within the Jewish community.”
The ECAJ submission as a PDF file: