Last Friday I received an email from a journalist who is doing a story for a major Jewish/Israeli publication on my recently-published book and related matters. The journalist sought comment from Robert Goot, who stepped down from his role as President of Australia’s peak national body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). Just a few years ago I was one of Goot’s deputies at the ECAJ. As has been documented, I have been publicly critical of the ECAJ and its leaders, especially Goot’s predecessor Danny Lamm, for their (mis)handling of the child sexual abuse scandal plaguing the Australian Jewish community. My book provides more details.
Further to your email below, please see the attached documents which are all part of the public record of the Royal Commission.
- In 2012 the ECAJ wrote a detailed submission, in consultation with survivors representatives, in support of the establishment of the Commission (attached)
- The ECAJ publicly welcomed the establishment of the Commission in a Media Release
- Peter Wertheim and I, met with the Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM and other officers of the Commission on 7 March 2013, shortly after the Commission was established to discuss how we could co-operate with and assist the Commission
- On 2 September 2014, I attended a ‘Private Roundtable’ of Faith-based Organisations, chaired by the Hon Justice Peter McClellan AM and Commissioner Robert Fitzgerald AM. The broad topics for discussion focused on approaches to reforms - distinguishing past abuse and future abuse and options for civil litigation reforms. I then issued a memo to all Jewish institutions involved with working with children
- On 7 January 2015, just before the hearings began into Yeshivah in Melbourne and Sydney, Peter Wertheim met with Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission to assist with preparation of the case.
- Our Media Release condemning Yossi Feldman’s comments to the Royal Commission have resulted in him suing us for defamation.
As for not attending the [Royal Commission public] hearings in Melbourne, the ECAJ office is based in Sydney with a very small number of staff (3). We knew that our Victorian Constituent, the JCCV, had someone present at the Royal Commission hearings the whole (or most of the) time, and they were representing us too. We could not spare a staff member simply to sit in on the hearings for the whole period of Case No. 22, as an act of solidarity. Neither Manny Waks nor any other survivor (we have been in touch with one of them), requested our presence at the hearings in Melbourne at any time, and only Manny complained about our not being there subsequently.
Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance.
Robert M Goot AM SC | Immediate Past President
Leaving aside any false claims (e.g. no Jewish community organisation representative attended the public hearings besides from Tzedek, the victim advocacy and support organisation that I established – the Jewish Community Council of Victoria did not attend) and seemingly deliberate omissions (e.g. the ECAJ’s submission to the Victorian Inquiry which sought to undermine my credibility or Lamm’s outrageous radio interview), what I found unbearably offensive is Goot’s concluding snide remark:
Neither Manny Waks nor any other survivor (we have been in touch with one of them), requested our presence at the hearings in Melbourne at any time, and only Manny complained about our not being there subsequently.
While it’s a moot point whether a victim needs to approach a roof body to ask it to send a representative to one of the most significant public matters impacting the Australian Jewish community, I fail to comprehend how one of Australia’s most senior leaders is again blaming a victim (in this case me) for “complaining”. And besides, as a victim advocate, I represent many victims, including many within the Australian Jewish community. My “complaints” were their voices, too. Attacking me for standing up for victims is merely a continuation of the intimidation and attacks I was subjected to in the past few years. And if Goot is wondering where the other victims are (besides from the one that the ECAJ is apparently in contact with), at this stage many of them prefer to shield themselves from leaders like himself and his predecessor. They’re blaming the victim, so it’s a softer blow to many of them if it’s cushioned by me. They expect to be treated in the same manner in which me and my family have been treated. Unfortunately it seems that I’ve become accustomed to this unfair and immoral treatment. But I can assure you it doesn’t get easier.
I realise that Goot (and others) are sick and tired of my complaints. I can assure him that I’m also sick of my complaints. And I’m also sick of being their sacrificial lamb. I’m sick of having to deal with the consequences of my fully vindicated actions. I’m sick of the daily impact this is continuing to have on me and my family. I also want it all to end. Now.
And as we have pleaded with Goot, Lamm and the ECAJ over the last few years, finally take responsibility for your actions and inaction. Acknowledge your mistakes and flaws. Apologise for them. And mean it. Make it both publicly and personally to the victims who were hurt. And those who are no longer presidents (Goot and Lamm), should not shield themselves by leaving their mess to be cleaned up by the newly-appointed ECAJ President, Anton Block.
The toll this matter has taken on me over the past week has been enormous. Astonishingly by actions by some pf Australia’s most senior leaders – not by Melbourne’s Yeshivah Centre. I feel somewhat lighter having just written this post. But I’m fully aware that this is just a part of a long process – possibly a life-long process. Even a most sincere apology – if or when it comes – will only do so much.
In the meantime the battle continues. And part of the battle is to change the community culture around this issue, which includes educating the community on the impact of abuse. So hopefully this post is helpful, including to victims who too often feel completely helpless and alone.
And yes Goot, I will continue to highlight the fact that no Jewish community representative organisation attended the Royal Commission public hearings, which lasted a full two weeks. In my opinion, he ECAJ President himself should have attended, at least for one day. It is a blight on the ECAJ. Obviously you disagree. And remember Robert, if it was a public hearing on antisemitism, Israel or terrorism, you would have sent an entire delegation. Just ask yourself why this was any different.