Muslim and Jewish Australians are experiencing a rise in Anti-Jewish and Anti-Muslim bigotry. In 2018, a union of Jewish and Muslim associations teamed up to address this shared issue by creating a training program for organisations including Victoria Police.

Context

Discrimination and bigotry are prominent and serious issues for many members of the Victorian Muslim and Jewish communities. Anecdotal and evidence-based reporting suggests there has been a steady increase in incidents across Victoria both in cases reported and indeed in the number of cases which continue to go unreported. Staff at the Victoria Police are on the frontline of receiving these reports.

While there are reporting and complaint mechanisms for responding to vilification and instances of abuse based on a person’s religion, members of the community often experience social/interpersonal barriers in responding. Many of us, if witness to an instance of discrimination, wouldn’t know what to do, and may even feel too scared to intervene and help those in need.

Australia has some of the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world, but racism and discrimination are sadly still a reality. It is everyone’s responsibility to play a part in creating a Victoria which supports everyone in it – that means never discriminating, and calling it out when others do. But we know that can be hard. Much racism and hate speech is able to be perpetrated because the situations can be difficult to react to, and perpetrators are not held accountable.”

Helen Kapalos – Chair, Victorian Multicultural Commission

As part of the Victorian Government’s Anti-Racism and Anti-Discrimination Action Plan, key organisations were supported to deliver community-led responses to anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish discrimination. The Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV), Australian Intercultural Society (AIS), Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) and Benevolence Australia worked together to deliver a program to a range of organisations that aimed to address these issues. Wanting to show leadership, Victoria Police was one of the first organisations to put their hand up for the training.

Approach

The training was designed to empower participants to be active bystanders when confronted with instances of discrimination, whether that is within the workplace or out in the community. Participants were trained to be confident and tooled-up to take a safe, active stance when observing anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish discrimination.

Drawing on important lessons from transformative work in the space of anti-racism and bystander training, the program was built around the aim of equipping participants with the skills, language and confidence to interrupt and confront bigotry, harassment and violence in their workplaces and communities.

The program began with facilitated conversation through the activity ‘How do you see it?’. The activity uses common interpersonal situations characterised by both discrimination and ambiguity to elicit conversations, sharing and listening from participants in small conversation groups. The outcomes of this activity were two-fold: to give participants who were neither Jewish or Muslim an opportunity to understand the kinds of situations that Jewish and Muslim people experience, while for Jewish and Muslim participants it was an opportunity to understand their often shared experiences of discrimination. 

The skill development component of the training focussed on the indirect forms of bystander action (supporting others and reporting the incident) as well as more direct forms of bystander action like disrupting or engaging in conversation. It was the direct forms of bystander action that we focussed on and practised through the use of iterative role play. The practising of difficult conversations began with the teaching of conversation principles, before moving to paired practice and finally the use of forum theatre interactive roleplay.

Outcomes

The roll out of the project occurred throughout 2018 and 2019, starting with the launch of the training package at the Immigration Museum by Helen Kapalos, Chair of the Victorian Multicultural Commission. There were 8 sessions delivered at a range of organisations, including two sessions with the Victoria Police, and sessions with Darebin City Council, Knox City Council, Whittlesea City Council and Brimbank City Council. Sessions were also provided to community members and hosted at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum, the Islamic Museum of Australian and the Sir Zelman Cowan Centre.

It is a source of great pride that we were involved in the design and delivery of this project. It was an honour to work with the committed representatives of the organisations involved in bringing this project to life.

“This innovative course gives its participants the skills, knowledge and courage to respond to hate speech and racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. Not only will these skills help Victorians to feel confident calling out hate speech and racism, but such reactions can only help to force perpetrators to think before speaking. The Victorian Multicultural Commission commends this initiative, and looks forward to learning of its success.”

Helen Kapalos – Chair, Victorian Multicultural Commission

“Polykala are a delight to work with. They’re professional and meticulous in their planning, ensuring early stakeholder engagement is an important ingredient to tailoring a program to meet the customer’s objectives. Their agility and breadth of content allows for a rich training experience where trainees walk away knowledgeable and confident when ready to apply the techniques.”

Ahmet Keskin – Executive Director, Australia Intercultural Society

Client

Australian Intercultural Society, Jewish Community Council of Victoria, Australasian Union of Jewish Students, Benevolence Australia

Year

2018-2019

Number of participants

200

Number of sessions

9

Location

Melbourne (VIC), Wangaratta (VIC)