There is much to find objectionable in Senator Fraser Anning’s first speech to the Australian Senate. The baffling, deplorable invocation of Nazi genocide by referring to immigration as a “problem” requiring a “final solution”, is particularly striking. But we mustn’t allow this conspicuous statement to prevent us from seeing the real animus and the real purpose of the speech. It is a call for a return to a darker time of policy-making on the basis of national origin, skin colour, and religion.
Anning wistfully reflected on better days:
“Fifty years ago Australia was a cohesive, predominantly Anglo-Celtic nation.”
But he fails to comprehend what it is that makes our country great and what it is that is truly worth protecting. Our greatness and our uniqueness come from our ability to integrate and synthesise different peoples into a coherent, working model of national existence.
This country has never demanded assimilation. It has never forced new migrants to check their languages, cultures and traditions at the door. The duty of new migrants is to integrate, acculturate and adhere to Australian values of democracy, tolerance and fairness.
The words Anning reserved for the Muslim community were once directed at mine. Jews who had survived the Holocaust and languished in Displaced Persons camps in Europe were confronted by “anti-refo” sentiments in Australia that manifested in resolutions, editorials and lobbying campaigns intent on keeping the Jews far from Australian shores.
The Returned Services League (RSL) passed resolutions to this effect, antisemitic graffiti appeared in urban centres in Sydney and Melbourne. Jews were depicted as incapable of integrating into Australian society, of being at once poor and godless, rich and cultish. The rightwing publication, Smith’s Weekly, produced a stream of cartoons and articles of hook-nosed Jews controlling and manipulating the banking system and corrupting public affairs.
A Jewish relief agency based in the United States reported with alarm that an Australian diplomat had said of the prospect of Jewish migration to Australia,
“we have never wanted these people in Australia and we still don’t want them.”
These campaigns were driven by fear and hatred and were detached from reality of Jewish success and integration in this country. The contributions of Jewish-Australians like our greatest ever soldier, John Monash, our first Australian-born governor general, Isaac Isaacs, and Rose Shappere, the heroic volunteer nurse during the Boer War, were not sufficient to make the case for further migration, nor were they capable of causing cold hearts to thaw.
But contrary to the campaigns of fear driven by nativists fearful of losing their place in society, the Jews who were allowed to come, did integrate to the point that the Jewish community is now held up as the model of successful migration. They did so because of ancient and enduring Jewish directives that demanded good citizenry, full participation and patriotism.
In the 6th century BCE, the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the exiled Jewish leadership in Babylon that they should not despair in living outside their national home, rather they should integrate, contribute and thrive.
“Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”
The Jews also adopted the principle of “Dina d’malchuta dina” – the law of the land is the law.
But there was a further reason why Jews were able to integrate so successfully into this society – common sense and gratitude. The Jews who migrated here post-war largely did so from the ashes of the Holocaust, from the tyranny of Soviet communism, and the injustice of South African apartheid. This gave them an acute awareness of their good fortune to be considered Australians and a compulsion to contribute to the building of a just and prosperous society so that the iniquities of the old country should not be transported here.
The specter of fascism, of unabashed Hitler enthusiasts on our networks and speeches calling for a return to a migration policy that would have excluded many of the Australians who have made the greatest contributions to our country, is alarming to Australian Jews. More than that, it shows us a collective amnesia. The origins of genocide lie in permissive bias and discrimination, and the migrant hordes we now so fear are no different to the “refos” and “rootless cosmopolitans” we thought would never become proper Australians.