Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Last Word: Thought for Food

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Jeremy Jones


I admit it. I helped facilitate a situation where consumers can know the ingredients of food products which they are considering purchasing.

The genesis of this campaign, which for some was apparently nefarious, came at a meeting held in NSW Parliament House on issues relating to anti-discrimination.

At a refreshment break, a Jew, a Muslim and another delegate who it transpired was a vegetarian, were discussing how most manufactured food products provided little or no information as to the contents - so if a person wanted to avoid eating a particular ingredient due to health, conscience or religious reasons, we had to make a direct enquiry to the manufacturer or rely on a trusted agent to attest that the product was for example kosher, halal, nut-free or vegetarian. 

There and then, we began lobbying together for changes. In a short period of time, all consumers had the benefit of knowing more about all food products.

The variety of labels also grew, with different authorities lending their weight on both health implications and the way products met religious requirements.

Historically, some anti-Jewish organisations in Australia have tried to direct their followers to avoid any product labelled as "kosher", so as to not inadvertently support dangerous Jewish causes (such as the practise of Judaism).

Not unrelated have been a few attempts to forbid Shechitah, the Jewish ritual method of humanely killing animals for human consumption.

I would not suggest for a moment that organisations which supervise any element of Kashrut should be free from scrutiny - it is in everyone's interest, in a liberal democracy, for them to be transparent.

In the recent "Reclaim Australia" gatherings one of the key concerns expressed was the availability in Australia of food identified as halal.

It was clear that this was part of an assault on the equal participation in society of Muslims who wanted to observe what they see as an important element of their religious devotion.

Similarly, both the attacks on the decision of some Muslim women to wear headscarves and abuse of those who wear them are as offensive as attacks on Jewish men who wear skullcaps, Sikhs in turbans or Christians wearing crucifixes.

Australia has had a multicultural ethos, if not necessarily a formal policy, for many decades, and my own family has been able to enjoy living both fully Australian and fully Jewish lives for almost 160 years.

Within the ranks of those who self-identify as opponents of those who want Muslims to be accepted members of Australian society are some who argue that other groups have integrated in a way Muslims have not and cannot.

Leaving aside the way this echoes earlier generations' opining on Catholics, Jews, Southern Europeans, South Asians, Islanders, South East Asians, Africans et al, it both misrepresents reality and plays into the hands of the forces which should genuinely concern all of us who care about social cohesion.

There are very many Muslims who are proud and happy to be part of Australia, as Australia now is, and they include both people with multiple generations of ancestors born in Australia and relatively new arrivals, people steeped in faith and some who are secular, with a huge variety of ethnicities and cultures.

There are also Muslims, as we are constantly reminded due to words and actions of hatred and violence, who promote or follow interpretations of holy texts which are hostile not just to the values of liberal democracies and religious diversity, but to Australians, of all backgrounds, who support these values.

It doesn't help understanding - although it may serve other motivations - to promote the myth that recruits to the self-proclaimed "Islamic State" have nothing to do with Islam, but it is significant that serious Muslim commentators have no compunction in identifying the way Islamic religious and cultural reference points are at the heart of the manipulation of Muslims to take up that cause.

What we must do is focus on the poison going into minds rather than what is on dinner plates.

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