Statement from AUJS – Australasian Union of Jewish Students and an account of the incident, as reported in the Australian
On Friday, in the heat of an election campaign forum for the University of NSW student representative council, two drama club members, Stuart Maclaine and Dom Foffani, danced around a political opponent, Jake Campbell, doing Nazi salutes and singing Springtime for Hitler.
Mr Campbell, a prominent Jewish masters student on campus who is an office-holder in the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, had run unsuccessfully on the Stand Up ticket associated with the Labor Right.
Mr Maclaine, supported by Mr Foffani, won a seat on the council on the Voice ticket, associated with the Labor Left.
Mr Campbell was incensed, and took to social media.
“Today I had the worst experience of anti-Semitism in my life and it was in student politics,”
he posted on his Facebook page.
“Clearly, anti-Semitism is still sadly a problem and I would hope to never see this in a student election ever again.”
Mr Maclaine and Mr Foffani quickly issued apologies, explaining that they had both performed in a production of The Producers, a musical by the Jewish producer Mel Brooks, which among other songs features Springtime for Hitler.
They claimed they had no idea that Mr Campbell was Jewish.
“Today during the campaigning of the SRC elections at UNSW I partook in anti-Semitic actions thinking of them innocently and lighthearted, which were regarded as a personal attack on Jake Campbell . . . I must apologise for this conduct wholeheartedly and emphatically,”
Mr Foffani posted on his Facebook page.
Mr Maclaine similarly apologised unreservedly, and posted on Facebook:
“It has been suggested by friends of Jake that I participate in a volunteering program with a Jewish organisation and visit the Sydney Jewish Museum, something I will be making arrangements for and gladly undertake.”
“I did something inexcusably insensitive . . . if Jake and the Jewish community require . . . my resignation (from the SRC), I will act accordingly.”
Mr Campbell told The Australian he did want Mr Maclaine, who could not be reached yesterday, to resign from the SRC, but he was prepared to leave it at that and did not want to further publicise the affair.
He said he fully accepted the apologies, did not believe the act was racially inspired, and did not want to victimise Mr Maclaine.
“I am very happy with the way he has responded; I don’t want his life ruined,”
A UNSW spokeswoman said:
“The university does not condone any form of racist comment or behaviour on campus”,
and said the matter was under investigation.
Mr Jones and other Jewish leaders said the UNSW episode was particularly alarming because the perpetrators were not rednecks or racist extremists, but university-educated students who subscribed to the mainstream ALP.
A spokesman for AUJS, Dean Sherr, said:
“Student politics is supposed to be very liberal and progressive, (but) you don’t expect that people would be going around singing Springtime for Hitler and doing Nazi salutes.”
What also concerns Jewish leaders is that while Mr Maclaine and Mr Foffani have apologised and are clearly contrite, others in the social media sphere, many of them presumably university students, have backed them, made light of their antics, and urged Mr Maclaine to not resign from the SRC.
UNSW has been one of the hot-spots for the boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign against Israel, with protests against the establishment of a Max Brenner chocolate shop on campus, on the basis that the parent of the original Max Brenner chain in Israel had connections with the Israeli military.
Alexander Ryvchin, the public affairs officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said it was significant that the incident occurred at UNSW “just months after the anti-Israel Max Brenner protests there attracted appalling anti-Semitic hate-speech to social media”.
AUJS wishes to advise members that on Friday 25 October 2013, a member of the AUJS National Executive, Jake Campbell, complained of an incident of antisemitism during student council elections at the University of New South Wales.
Two students campaigning for the ‘Voice’ ticket danced around Mr Campbell while making Nazi salutes and singing ‘Springtime for Hitler’. Both campaigners, one of whom was standing for election, have since issued unequivocal public apologies. The elected Councillor has also offered his resignation to the student council. Mr Campbell has accepted the apologies of both campaigners and accepts that they did not intend to offend him or the Jewish community, but that their conduct was nonetheless antisemitic.
The song ‘Springtime for Hitler’ is taken from Mel Brooks’ 1968 musical film The Producers. When viewed in its proper context, the song forms a part of a historically significant film & stage production, written by a Jewish filmmaker. However, this does not excuse the conduct of the campaigners, whose crude rendition of the song, accompanied by dancing and Nazi salutes, was extremely offensive and humiliating to Mr Campbell and a discredit to multicultural Australia in 2013.
In the aftermath of apologies being issued by the two campaigners, a number of students and friends of the two campaigners have spoken out against Jake for taking offence, defending the conduct of their friends and blaming Jake for going public with the incident.
This belittles the seriousness of the incident and has led to even more serious antisemitic comments online.
The Holocaust remains one of the great moral evils of our time and, with Holocaust survivors ageing rapidly, we bear a responsibility to ensure it is not forgotten, denied or belittled in any way. There cannot possibly be any acceptable circumstances for a Jewish student to be subjected to Nazi salutes in public. This incident, on the same day as a Jewish family were brutally assaulted and hospitalised by antisemitic thugs while walking home from a Shabbat dinner, underlines that racism and bigotry still exist in Australia, and that antisemitism poses a very real threat to Jewish Australians.
AUJS commends the two campaigners for handling the situation in a mature and responsible fashion. What concerns us more than the original incident, however, is the reaction of their friends. It is not acceptable to remonstrate against a victim of antisemitism for making his hurt public. It sends a dangerous message to students to justify such racially insensitive conduct, and it is surprising that this conduct has come from a progressive political ticket, to which Jewish students and AUJS members belonged and campaigned for. AUJS is committed to fighting all incidents of antisemitism, racism and bigotry against students.
We welcome the apologies of these students and encourage them and all students who cannot recognise its offensiveness to visit their local Holocaust museum to gain a better understanding of its enduring significance. AUJS is willing to assist any students who wish to do so.
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