Former federal MP Mike Kelly, whose son Ben Sakker Kelly was elected as a deputy, was the guest speaker at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies annual general meeting earlier this week

By Sophie Deutsch
Australian Jewish News
August 20, 2020

NOW is the time to be vigilant and stand for what’s right, former federal MP Dr Mike Kelly and Premier Gladys Berejiklian respectively urged at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) annual general meeting on Tuesday.

In one of his first public speaking engagements since retiring from Parliament for health reasons earlier this year, former Eden-Monaro MP Kelly said increases in antisemitism during COVID-19 bear resemblance to the plague outbreak, which signalled the start of “large scale Christian demonisation of the Jewish community and the rise of European antisemitism” in the 14th century.

“It is in circumstances like these where we have to be particularly on guard,” he said, drawing attention to the threat posed by the extreme right as “one of the most alarming developments” on the international scene.

“What we are seeing now is the influence of the Russian intelligence organisation of GRU, which has for many years been exploring ways of corroding liberal democracy and undermining the EU, NATO and the US through these highly sophisticated means they have developed in information warfare,” he said.

“They have been actively networking, fomenting and motivating extreme right-wing groups.”

Countering this “serious threat to our democracies” presents a “big challenge in front of us” said Kelly, whose son, Ben Sakker Kelly, was recently elected as a deputy.

“We [need] to have a technically literate population … People need to be alerted to be discriminatory in relation to what they consume, and what they can see on social media, and that has to be called out on a larger scale for the public’s awareness,” commented Kelly, referring specifically to their exploitation of social media platforms.

Speaking on recent developments in the international arena, Kelly indicated his support for Kamala Harris as the vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic Party.

“We were all concerned about what direction Bernie Sanders might’ve been taking the Democratic Party in the US, but that seems to have now moved on to a very promising state of affairs,” he noted, praising Harris as “a serious politician who will be good for the US and good for these sorts of issues [concerning Israel and antisemitism] as well”.

On Israel’s peace agreement with the UAE, Kelly commended Israel’s persistent efforts to build a “behind-the-scenes consensus around confronting and dealing with the threat of Iran”.

“Now we have seen a public manifestation of that with the UAE, but there have been many other states surrounding Israel that have cooperated in that space and hopefully [this] will lead to more flourishing of diplomatic relations.”

While Kelly noted that Palestinians’ perception of Israelis must shift in order to eventually achieve a peace settlement, he said that “these first steps are very promising and encouraging in a region that often lacks encouragement or anything to be optimistic about”.

Addressing the AGM in a ­prerecorded video message, Berejiklian congratulated JBOD on its continued advocacy and dissemination of vital information to the NSW Jewish and broader community in recent months.

“As we go through these difficult Covid times your board continues to work on behalf of the community and continues to be a voice for all those who need to be heard … It is also important in this environment that we continue to stand for what’s right, we don’t let our [understandable] preoccupation with Covid allow us to forget, ignore or not see what needs to be seen and what needs to be spoken about.”

The Premier previously addressed the board’s AGM two years ago when she spoke movingly about then JBOD president, Jeremy Spinak, who passed away in November 2018.

His enduring impact was honoured at this year’s meeting, with Kelly referencing the recently aired documentary, Jez, that followed Jeremy’s final five months of life.

Watching the documentary reminded Kelly “of what a terrible loss the nation and the community has suffered in his passing at such a young age with so much to give, so much to offer”.

Kelly was motivated to become involved in the Labor Party because of “those essential elements that Jeremy championed”, the principles to perform mitzvot and tikkun olam, and Rabbi Tarfon’s adage in Pirkei Avot: ‘It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but you are not free to desist from it either.’

“With Jeremy’s passing we pick up that torch and carry on with Rabbi Tarfon’s maxim,” Kelly encouraged.

The AGM also heralded the official induction of JBOD’s new executive and committees.

Addressing JBOD’s recent contentious election, president Lesli Berger acknowledged that “a number of comments regarding the most recent election processes and procedures” have come to his attention.

“We will properly address the issues raised, whether real or perceived,” he stated, announcing both an internal examination of the board’s rules and procedures as well as an independent review to be undertaken by a third party.

Berger had sent a letter to staff on August 3 saying complaints included the alleged canvassing and lobbying for certain candidates, quizzing electors and the leaking of the election results.