Melbourne gay Jewish support group Aleph has criticised a decision to appoint Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president John Searle as chair of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC).

The group has questioned Searle’s receptiveness to dealing with LGBTI discrimination issues.

Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark announced Searle’s appointment last week, however, Aleph convenor Michael Barnett claims Searle “actively endorses the intolerance of homosexuality” by not speaking out about a disavowal of homosexuality in the Orthodox Jewish community.

“Jewish laws are no excuse if you’re in breach of human rights,” Barnett told the Star Observer.

Aleph was excluded from JCCV membership in 1999 and Barnett has been fiercely critical of the organisation in recent years, saying it continues to put LGBTI concerns on the backburner.

Although some quarters have challenged the wisdom of the Orthodox position on homosexuality, homosexual acts are seen as a violation of Jewish law. In Progressive circles, homosexuality is widely accepted.

Barnett’s criticism of Searle’s appointment comes after long-running friction between the two.Communication between Barnett and Searle soured in late 2009 following Barnett’s criticism that the JCCV had not spoken out enough against the murder of two people at a Tel Aviv gay and lesbian youth centre that year.

Since then Searle has established a JCCV LGBT reference group to look at LGBTI issues and later this year will release a report on LGBTI vilification and discrimination.

Searle declined to comment on Barnett’s latest remarks. However, when speaking to the Star Observer last month about homophobic vilification in the Jewish communit, Searle said the issue of acceptance of homosexuality across the wider Jewish community was “a difficult area”.

“The Jewish law is the Jewish law and I can’t actually change the Jewish law bit, but what I can talk about is attitudes,” he said.

“I think it’s very important we … get a message across to our community that [GLBT vilification is] just not acceptable under any circumstances.”
Searle has been president of the JCCV since 2008 and will step down from the role at the end of the year.

He will replace outgoing commissioner Helen Szoke as chair of the VEOHRC, but he will not have the dual role of commissioner.

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