David Ossip
The Australian Jewish News
March 16, 2023

Next week, NSW voters will go the polls for a state election that is predicted to be the tightest in over two decades. The election has emerged as one of particular significance for the Jewish community, with both the incumbent Dominic Perrottet government and the Chris Minns-led Labor Opposition making specific election pledges to address issues of concern for our community.

Safety and security, as always, remain a top priority for the Jewish community. Unfortunately, not only does the security threat against our community remain elevated, but the cost of securing our institutions and events has increased in recent times.

While the Jewish community has been the recipient of capital grants for security in recent years from both the federal and state governments, the community continues to largely self-finance our operational security costs. For the first time, both the NSW government and the Opposition have committed to assisting the community to meet these ongoing costs. The NSW government has pledged $10 million over the forward estimates to support faith communities to meet their recurring security expenses, while the Opposition has pledged $15 million. Securing this funding has been a key objective for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD) and we are very grateful for these commitments.

As a community, we are fortunate to have the CSG protecting us each and every day, and this funding will ensure that they have the necessary resources to continue their vital work.

In recent times, we have also seen a disturbing rise in antisemitic and religious-based bullying in both private and public schools across NSW. Nazi salutes have been performed in the playground and Jewish students have been taunted with references to Jewish religious practices and the Holocaust. Vile antisemitic content also continues to be posted on social media with the intent to intimidate and humiliate Jewish school students. The JBD responds on a regular basis to antisemitic incidents in schools, including assisting a prominent eastern suburbs high school to address an incident as recently as last week. The sheer number of recent incidents, together with the findings of important research undertaken by Professor Suzanne Rutland of the University of Sydney and Professor Zehavit Gross of Bar-Ilan University, suggests that this is both a systemic and cultural problem.

Education is the first step to tackling this scourge and stopping it in its tracks before such attitudes become normalised and spread to universities, to workplaces and to everyday life. To this end, we welcome the announcement by the government of a 10-year partnership between the Department of Education and the Religious Communities Advisory Council. The partnership will provide additional training and resources for teachers to address antisemitism and other forms of religious-based bullying in schools, improve the reporting of incidents of religious vilification and bullying, and ensure that every public school has a trained anti-racism contact officer. Notably, the partnership will also support the development of curriculum resources to ensure the best-practice teaching of the Holocaust in all NSW schools.

We likewise welcome the Opposition’s pledge to establish a Premier’s prevention panel on racism and extremism to address the safety concerns of faith and culturally and linguistically diverse communities in NSW. The panel will include senior representatives of all relevant NSW agencies and have a mandate to develop whole-of-government responses to addressing racism and extremism at all levels – from preventing hate crimes through to tackling racial and religious bullying in schools.

Complementing these initiatives, the JBD was pleased to join the NSW Treasurer and Multiculturalism Minister this week to announce $6.5 million in additional funding for the Sydney Jewish Museum. We are expecting an announcement from the Opposition about a similar funding package for the museum. This much-needed funding will ensure the museum can eventually double its annual intake of visitors and continue its vitally important educational role for the NSW community.

We are also delighted that construction has now commenced at Macarthur Memorial Park, a new cemetery in Varroville in south-west Sydney, after a three-year hiatus during which the government undertook a review of the regulation of the sector. Our community faces a critical shortage of burial space and the new cemetery is expected to provide for our burial needs until the end of the century. Securing this burial space has been a key priority of the JBD over many years and we are indebted, as a community, to the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust for their efforts to advance this project in a timely manner.

Finally, it would be remiss not to note that a number of our community’s closest friends in the NSW Parliament will be retiring at the upcoming election. We are grateful to these members of Parliament for their staunch support over many years and look forward to maintaining our links with them in their post-Parliamentary lives.

At the same time, we are anticipating that a number of longstanding friends will be entering the Parliament – people that the JBD and our community more broadly has had relationships with for more than a decade in some cases.

We are incredibly grateful and fortunate to have strong relationships with the Premier, Opposition Leader and members of Parliament from across the NSW political spectrum. While the outcome of the election remains uncertain, we are confident that the community will be well-positioned no matter what the result on election day.

David Ossip is the president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.