When allegations were raised by former students at Brighton Secondary College that they had been subjected to antisemitic abuse, the Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) responded immediately.
Then JCCV president Jennifer Huppert met with then deputy premier and education minister James Merlino to emphasise the gravity of the situation and to ensure the allegations were thoroughly investigated. Dialogue with the minister and the Department of Education and Training continued.
This advocacy by our community’s key roof body, on behalf of Jewish students, was appropriate and necessary. It was JCCV core business.
As a result of the ongoing dialogue and trusting relationship between the JCCV and Victorian government, the JCCV was requested to coordinate an extensive antisemitism training program for staff at Brighton Secondary College. The JCCV brought in experts from the Jewish Museum of Australia, the ARK Centre and Courage to Care to educate all staff in the history of antisemitism, its impact, and how to respond to antisemitism.
More than three-quarters of staff participants reported that after completing the training they had a much greater understanding and awareness of strategies to prevent and combat antisemitism at the school. The same number of participants said they were much better equipped to offer support to students impacted by antisemitism.
This feedback cannot be overstated. There are currently allegations before the court, but regardless of the outcome of those proceedings, the teachers and administrative staff at Brighton Secondary College – a school that caters to Jewish and non-Jewish students – have the skills to identify what antisemitism is and the way to respond if it ever arises at the school.
The strength of the feedback also led the Department of Education and Training to approach the JCCV once again with a request to create the first antisemitism training program available to all teachers in government schools across the state. This program will be available in the 2023 school year to all Victorian government school staff. There is nothing of its kind anywhere in the country. The establishment of this program will mean that no Victorian government school has an excuse to ignore, excuse or sweep antisemitism under the carpet.
The JCCV’s response to this incident is emblematic of our wider approach to antisemitism. We do not record or analyse antisemitism in Victoria – this is the job of the Community Security Group (CSG), and they are highly skilled at it.
What we are seeking to do, as the JCCV’s vision says, is to create a “society in which members of the Victorian Jewish community are able to live as Jews in peace and security, participating fully and without prejudice”.
This goes far beyond the teacher-specific antisemitism training being developed with the Victorian government. It goes to our current work with Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA) to combat antisemitism in Victorian Catholic schools. The JCCV met with EREA after allegations of antisemitism at schools it manages were aired, and we sought to understand the specific problem. The JCCV then referred the EREA to the appropriate educational programs that are run to help address antisemitism – from Courage to Care and other Holocaust education programs run within the Jewish community, to the Jewish Christian and Muslim Association, which facilitates multi-faith dialogue and social harmony.
Similarly, the JCCV has ramped up its work with local councils in areas with high Jewish populations. By providing Jewish familiarisation training to dozens of council staff in Glen Eira, Port Phillip and Stonnington, including staff who work in service delivery roles in maternal and child health centres, aged care, libraries and recreation centres, we are ensuring that these service providers better understand our community. Included in this training is a module on antisemitism that highlights the importance of acting if you witness antisemitic abuse, and the need to report antisemitism to CSG.
We are proud to say that this program is being rolled out more widely in 2023, including to more health care professionals who interact regularly with Jewish patients, and aged care staff who assist our Jewish elders.
While we would love to eradicate antisemitism altogether, we need to tackle the problem in a meaningful way. What the JCCV aims to do is to create a society where antisemitism is addressed, not ignored. In order to do this, we work with those at the coalface – teachers, nurses, aged care support workers – to help them understand what antisemitism looks like, why it hurts and what they should do about it.
Naomi Levin is the chief operating officer of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.