Two aspiring local council candidates are among 37 people who have ‘presented’ a website to ‘take a stand’ against the online conduct of self-described health care activist Esther Rockett.
Byron Shire council candidate, realtor and Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce president Gail Fuller, and Ballina Shire mayoral candidate and Ballina Chamber of Commerce board member Ray Karam have added their names to www.acupuncturebyronbay.com.
Rockett’s attacks have focused on Universal Medicine (UM), a controversial ‘complementary health’ organisation led by former tennis coach Serge Benhayon, who says he’s ‘in the business of delivering teachings that are about everyday self-loving choices’.
In 2012, Byron-based journalist David Leser, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, interviewed Benhayon.
Among a number of other claims, Leser said Benhayon claimed to be a reincarnation of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Yet Benhayon has told The Echo ‘no records show’ that he made that claim.
Based in Goonellabah, UM also has offices in Brisbane and the UK.
The website strongly attacks Rockett and claims that she is ‘bringing her hate-filled agenda to town’ [Byron Bay].
The website authors also defend UM, saying that Rockett ‘has no regard for the commercial benefits that Universal Medicine brings to Byron Bay and the surrounding areas.’
Benhayon, who is suing Rockett for defamation, told The Echo that the trial will be held in late 2017.
‘Esther Rockett has made unfounded and highly malicious comments about me which I had ignored since 2012, but after she showed no intention of stopping, I took legal action in late 2015, ’ he told The Echo,
Rockett is defending the defamation claims and says she was so outraged by her brief experience with UM that she created several websites critiquing Benhayon.
The Echo understands the NSW Supreme Court Justice Lucy McCallum’s judgement for the matter’s second listed hearing has dismissed Mr Benhayon’s application to have Ms Rockett’s contextual truth defence struck out.
Ms Fuller says she attends courses run by the organisation, ‘which are open to the public’, and adds that she is not involved with the day-to-day running of the business.
She told The Echo, ‘It’s not relevant to my candidacy, the chamber or the other work I do in the community.’
Byron Bay Chamber of Commerce’s treasurer is Serge Benhayon’s first wife, Deborah Benhayon, who Ms Fuller says is a close friend.
Deborah Benhayon is also a board member of the Lismore Chamber of Commerce.
Ballina Shire mayoral candidate Ray Karam’s website says that he has worked with the team creating the ‘Facts about Universal Medicine’ website to catalogue ‘the many ways in which our communications platforms continue to be exploited to carry out personally motivated agendas at the expense of the wider community’, and his own site contains many references to his support of Benhayon and involvement in UM.
Karam questioned the timing of this article and told The Echo, ‘I would draw your attention to my continuous years of dedication in business in Ballina, the chamber of commerce as well as my previous 13 years experience of dedicated service to the police.
‘My extended family have more than 80 years’ experience in business in the local area in a variety of areas.
‘I am also a father of five school-aged children. These are other parts of why I am standing for mayor and councillor of Ballina Shire.
‘It’s a step I take with great respect for all that is past and what can be done in the future. I would hope this article, by focusing on one part, isn’t meant to pull away or detract from the significant contributions I have had in the local community as many residents of all ages would attest to.’
Another woman who is ‘proud’ to put her name to the website is Rebecca Asquith.
She told The Echo, ‘The people of the Byron Bay area who have put their names to this site have acted with simple civil decency, and any political candidate willing to stand up to this kind of cyber abuse is a candidate who is not afraid to stand up for the wellbeing of the broader community.’