Written by Julie Nathan, research officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
The assault on a Jewish family in Bondi in Sydney in late October publicly highlighted the issue of antisemitism in Australia. Even though most Australian Jews, as individuals, are able to lead a life relatively free of harassment, abuse, and assault, the spectre of antisemitism remains a troubling feature of life for Jews.
Jews in Australia, as elsewhere around the world, worship, study, and work, under the protection of high fences, armed guards, and other security apparatus. This will remain the case for the foreseeable future.
During the 1991 Gulf war, one in four synagogues and a Jewish kindergarten in Sydney were attacked by arsonists. Since 2000, violent attacks on Jewish communal buildings have spiked whenever fighting has broken out in the Middle East. Vigilance and security remain central concerns in Jewish communal life.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) recently published its annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia. The report, which I authored, covers the 12 month period ending 30 September 2013.
The 202-page report reproduces antisemitic content in the mainstream media, Christian, Muslim, far Right, far Left and other publications. It also covers antisemitism on websites, Facebook, YouTube and within the anti-Israel movement.
Antisemitic incidents rose by 21% from 543 incidents in the previous 12 month period to 657 incidents during the current 12 month period. Incidents include assault, face-to-face abuse, property vandalism, graffiti, hate mail, and other forms of antisemitic harassment. Around 22% of the 657 incidents comprise physical assault and abuse and property destruction. The criteria used to classify an incident as antisemitic are conservative. An incident is excluded from the statistics unless there is clear evidence of anti-Jewish hatred.
Violence does not occur in a vacuum. As former Canadian Justice Minister, Irwin Cotler, stated:
“the Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers – it began with words.”
In addition to physical attacks and threats, the sense of security of Australian Jews is affected by such factors as hostile media coverage of Jewish and Israeli issues, political and online commentary, as well as anti-Israel propaganda and protests.
It is words, when given free reign, which create a poisonous atmosphere for those targeted by racism. It is words that incite hatred and violence.
Whilst there are many Australian organisations and websites which are dedicated to expressing and spreading antisemitic hate, many of these have little traction and audience. Although vile in content, they have little influence.
In contrast, well-traversed and popular print media and online outlets, whether mainstream or not, can be influential in transforming or reinforcing peoples’ beliefs about a range of issues.
Online comments such as “The Quran tells us that the Jews are prophet-killers, that they are cursed and that they are worst of Creation” on a website, or “omg I’m gana bash a Jew 2moro” on Facebook, or “Jews are the parasitic germ that contaminates humans” on Youtube clearly vilify and incite violence against Jews.
Even our national broadcaster, the ABC, has published and aired antisemitic comments. Some of these include “I was once puzzled as to why the Jews were disliked so much, but am now beginning to understand…..they’re behaving like Gestapo !” on an ABC Facebook page, and the factually baseless claim that “some Yeshiva religious schools, which are also segregated on the basis of skin colour” on the ABC website. Another ABC airing was the audience comment in reference to Jews that “‘You have a religion of racism, hate, homicide and ethnic cleansing.’ Something I fully agree with.” All these cited incidents were only edited or removed after the ECAJ had submitted complaints to the ABC.
Antisemitism is increasingly expressed and incited by the anti-Israel movement. This movement includes university students and socialist organisations, as well as advocacy groups composed of a small number of Christian clergy, trade unionists and academics. Many participants in these groups do not themselves espouse antisemitic prejudices but their publications and activities nonetheless act as a magnet for avowedly antisemitic individuals. The anti-Israel movement is attracting hard-core antisemites to its ranks from neo-Nazis and radical Islamists both openly advocating genocide against Jews.
There are two particularly disturbing aspects of the anti-Israel movement.
Firstly, they often deny that any criticism of Israel can be antisemitic, and tend to accuse Jews of using antisemitism as a means to stifle debate on Israel.
Secondly, the anti-Israel movement tends to avoid accepting any responsibility for antisemitic commentary posted on the online media of their respective organisations and displayed at their events.
Public condemnation and counter-measures by leaders and organisations in the Australian community of antisemitism and of antisemitic incidents is paramount in combating this insidious form of racism. This sends a clear signal to antisemites and other racists that racism and racially motivated violence are not acceptable in Australia.
For a diverse society, such as Australia’s, to be harmonious, it is imperative that all Australians, regardless of race or religion, are able to live without harassment and hatred, without vilification and violence. Antisemitism is pervasive and pernicious. It targets Jews but continues to be a destructive force to all others in its reach. Speaking out against it is therefore in everyone’s interests.