2 November, 2021
In Bed with the New Israel Fund (NIF).
Melinda Jones is a feminist human rights lawyer who is currently serving as the President of NCJWA.
One of the many things we have learnt throughout COVID, is the enormous strength of our community and the great diversity within it. Previously unexpected alliances and collaborations have resulted from the need to move online, to reach people who are isolated and could not access community in the usual way. We have also learnt that women have come out worse on every measure, as a result of the impact of COVID and the policies in place around it. Never has it been so obvious that the failure to apply a gender lens has devastating consequences on half the population.
The National Council of Jewish Women Australia works at a National level and at State level. COVID has brought together a new, young, diverse and inspired Board working at a National level to address the issues of women’s equality. We are very concerned about violence against women, economic disparity, lack of gender representation and trafficking in women to mention but a few issues. We are concerned about antisemitism & misogyny – which have the same root and of which many Jewish women are victims. We are concerned that while there is a gap in the treatment of indigenous and indigenous people, it is acceptable in society to treat some people as less than equal – and this is NOT OK.
Because women are part of almost every organisation, and where they are not, they very often should be, NCJWA is concerned with the work and operation of every single group in the Jewish community. Our aim is the empowerment of ALL women and the widespread understanding of how policies, processes and behaviour disempowers women. The criteria for working with another organisation is not “do we agree with everything they say and do?” but “can they reach women and together can we improve the position of women?”.
During 2021, NCJWA National has collaborated in programming with individuals from 26 organisations. Some of them hold conflicting ideological positions – which makes it impossible for us to endorse any 100%. Consider the position of Orthodox Jewish women, Haredi women, Reform women and secular women all contributing to the way our members can gain strength. They disagree with each other fundamentally. As an organisation, NCJWA agrees and disagrees with them each in turn. Historically, Orthodox women have been outsiders, because everyone felt that to work with Orthodox was to take a stand while to act as secular or Reform was not! We have no desire to exclude any Jewish women from what we are doing and that inevitably means embracing people from every political, religious, spiritual persuasion.
It is curious that the first time it has been controversial for us to collaborate was not our session involving a member of the Maritime Workers Union or the Radical Feminist CATWA, but our collaboration with the New Israel Fund. The topic of our collaboration is the “empowerment of women” – a matter on which our values completely align.
NCJWA has a policy about collaboration:
NCJWA will collaborate with other organisations in order to further our agenda of the empowerment of women. Collaboration with another organisation does not indicate that NCJWA supports all initiatives, actions or beliefs of the outside organisation. It is crucial to distinguish between collaboration for a common goal and the endorsement of actions, policies or conversation the other organisations partake in.
Our policy makes it clear that collaboration is a means of growth and development and that our willingness to collaborate and to work with other organisations is one of our strengths. It allows us to reach audiences we may not otherwise reach and to put our views to groups which otherwise may not hear them. We thank all those who have worked with us in the past and are grateful to those, like NIF, with whom the collaboration is present or future.
From our point of view, there is one downside of the decision to run sessions with the New Israel Fund right now. And that is the unfortunate timing of the collaboration. NIF has taken a position about the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism and this is very much in the headlines. This is NOT NCJWA’s position. In fact, NCJWA was one of the organisations which collaborated to bring this definition to the Australian Government. We are proud of the very small role we played in this, and without hesitation stand by our belief in the importance of this Working Definition of Antisemitism in fighting the pervasive and pernicious onslaught of antisemitism we face today.
Collaboration and community building are basic feminist principles. We work with others to illuminate the commonalities whilst recognising that there may be many matters upon which we disagree. We disagree with NIF about the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism. I have no idea if they have discussed the Nordic Model of prostitution and endorse our view on this. Nonetheless, we both want a better world for women. That’s what we are collaborating on. That is the desired outcome of the collaboration.
Collaboration with purpose is a key to NCJWA’s community building strategy. Perhaps we should be thought of as a single-issue party or a single spotlight shining on women. We will work with anyone who shares the value of supporting women and promoting women’s safety and equality. We care about Jewish women as women, Jewish women as Jews and Australian Jewish women as Australians. We engage wherever there are women – and that is everywhere. By collaboration we can reach more women and have women on the agenda of more organisations. If you are interested in working together to empower women, please be in touch.