Selective enforcement of "vilification" laws

The State of Victoria has "anti-vilification" laws designed to punish "offensive" speech about other races and religions. The best-known application of them was a prosecution of two Christian pastors who dared to quote some of the more ludicrous passges from the Koran. That conviction was just recently thrown out by a higher court, however -- as the implication of saying that you could vilify Muslims simply by quoting their holy book was thought-provoking, to say the least.

Recently, however, a case came up where a Jew was most clearly subjected to racial abuse. This should have been an open and shut case for a vilification prosecution. But what has happened? No mention by the police or any other authority of a vilification prosecution. Only a prosecution for the assault that happened at the same time is being mentioned. The vilification laws must only be for protecting Muslims!

The latest details of the case below:

A senior officer investigating the attack last October on Melbourne resident Menachem Vorchheimer said police are close to pressing charges over the incident. Detective Superintendent Rod Wilson, who is heading the Ethical Standards Department's (ESD's) investigation into the conduct of an off-duty officer who was present during the alleged antisemitic assault, told the AJN he was "pretty confident" that criminal charges would be laid against at least two men over the October 14 attack.

Vorchheimer was walking on Balaclava Road, St Kilda East, on Simchat Torah with his two children, when at least one man on a minibus carrying 20 players from Ocean Grove Football Club shouted antisemitic taunts at him through an open window. Vorchheimer then approached the bus for an apology, but instead had his hat and kippa taken from his head by another player. Both men have admitted their part in the incident. However, a third man, who allegedly struck Vorchheimer across the face, has not come forward.

Detective Superintendent Wilson said that in the event that a suspect is not identified, the three men who witnesses have placed at the window at the time of the attack could be charged with aiding and abetting the assault. He said both the criminal and internal investigations into the matter were complete and awaiting review by the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) and the Office of Police Integrity (OPI), respectively. Detective Superintendent Wilson told the AJN he also planned to contact both the OPP and OPI this week to "expedite the matter". "It's in the public's interest for this matter to go before the courts," he said.

Earlier this week, Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Anton Block called on the police to resolve the matter as soon as possible. "Our collective patience will run out at some point in time," he said. But Block stressed the need for the community to allow the police to carry out a thorough investigation. "The worst thing that could happen is a prosecution where the accused are found not guilty [because the case was rushed through]. I'd rather they work [longer] to build an infallible case."

Detective Superintendent Wilson said he hopes to have a preliminary result by January 17, at least in the internal investigation, when he is due to meet with Vorchheimer and Jewish community officials.

The off-duty officer, who was driving the minibus at the time of the assault, told the ESD he tried to silence the football players who were shouting racial taunts at Vorchheimer, a claim that has been corroborated by witness statements. However, the ESD is investigating whether his attempts to move the bus from the scene, despite it being cut off by another vehicle, constituted responsible conduct. Detective Superintendent Wilson said the conduct of the off-duty officer could lead to suspension, retraining or some other disciplinary action, but that it was unlikely to result in criminal charges.

Vorchheimer told the AJN via email this week that a conviction in his case was the only way the Jewish community could be assured of feeling "safe and secure in our own streets". Liberal Member for Caulfield Helen Shardey this week criticised the government's handling of the case, accusing it of not adequately enforcing its Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.



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