(photo credit: courtesy of Jono David)
After spending a month planning a tour to photograph every synagogue and Jewish cemetery in Australia, as well as other aspects of Jewish life, freelance documentarian Jono David has been denied permission to work at a majority of the sites.
The British-American David lives in Osaka, Japan, and runs the HaChayim HaYehudim Jewish Photo Library (www.jewishphotolibrary.com) in an effort to raise awareness of Jewish communities worldwide.
He sent around 80 e-mails asking for approval to photograph the sites next month and in September, and they all met with positive responses.
However, most of the locations subsequently retracted their permission. Curious about the reason behind the refusals, David was eventually pointed in the direction of the Community Security Group. The CSG is in charge of the Jewish community's security initiatives, providing advice on threats and security measures for Jewish organizations and events. Realizing that the CSG opposed his endeavor and had so informed the communities he had contacted, David was ultimately forced to cancel the project.
In an open letter to the Jewish community, David wrote that this was the first such wide-scale refusal he had received.
"While I have on rare occasion been denied photo requests, I could never have imagined being blacklisted on an entire continent," he said. "CSG's e-mails at once sabotaged my project and, for all intents and purposes, maligned me, a fellow Jew, as a threat to the Australian Jewish community."
Gavin Queit, from the CSG's Victoria branch, with whom David was in contact after being denied permission to photograph sites, declined to comment further, saying "We only deal with matters within the community."
Similarly, Vic Alhadeff, CEO of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, said, "The whole issue is that it is a security matter and as a matter of principle, we are unable to comment."
David's open letter, which can be viewed on his Web site, seeks to encourage discussion among the Jewish community on issues of security, access, documentation and community image.
"Their words are, in effect, defamatory. I am open to photo conditions," David wrote. "In the extreme, I am happy to document an institution and keep the images safeguarded for at least a generation. But, alas, I was deemed unworthy of even a courtesy e-mail. I fail to understand such treatment."
He stresses that he understands the need for security precautions. He is aware of the rising anti-Semitism in Australia and acknowledges that such measures are necessary to protect the community and that outsiders need to be screened.
However, David suggests that photographing Jewish sites becomes increasingly important during times of heightened anti-Semitism. While it is possible that individuals within the communities have documented their religious sites solely for communal purposes, David believes that "by restricting documentation, the Australian Jewish community is going to wake up in a generation and realize there is no photographic, no film, and no video record available to them. That is a real shame. CSG's blanket no-photo policy, therefore, is actually a detriment to the Australian Jewish community. Moreover, a hypersensitive security measure is a victory for the terrorists. But by photographing a vibrant community, the Jewish people win."
He had been looking forward to balancing his recent historical work in India and the Caribbean with a modern Jewish community. David will now likely spend August and September working in the United States and Mexico. He plans to reschedule a photography tour of Australia for 2010.