Regardless of the make-up of the coalition that forms government in Israel after Tuesday’s election — most likely with Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister – we must expect nothing less of our own politicians and commentators than a commitment to differentiate between legitimate debate around Israeli politics, and spinning a line that casts aspersions on Jewish people in general.
Julian Burnside’s peculiar fixation with Israel – a marriage made in heaven for some of the Greens – does not make him an antisemite.
Indeed, there is nothing antisemitic about criticising the Israeli Government. However, he has likely crossed the line on some occasions.
In 2015, he signed a letter supporting the inherently antisemitic boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) against Israel. He has also signed a letter defending a Sydney academic who waved money in the face of an elderly Jewish woman at a protest.
While antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of hate speech – whether it’s directed at African Australians or Aboriginal Australians – all share common attributes, different types of bigotry develop their own unique narratives.
In the case of antisemitism, some of those narratives are centuries old, while others, like Holocaust denial, are more recent.
Disguising itself as anti-Zionism, the new antisemitism uses criticism of Israel as a Trojan horse to perpetuate age-old stereotypes about Jews under a quasi-intellectual cover.
In Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, which has tied itself in knots for two years pretending there isn’t entrenched antisemitism in its ranks, we see this tactic in all its transparent glory.
As the Sunday Times revealed last weekend, a senior Corbyn aide intervened to stop the suspension of a Labour MP accused of antisemitism on the grounds that, “although her tweets are drawing upon conspiracy theories, they are about Israel and [contain] no mention of Jews or Jewishness”.
Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone was even more overt about it, telling a rally recently that “it’s not antisemitic to hate the Jews of Israel”.
The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance describes antisemitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews”.
It provides a number of examples to illustrate the different ways this hatred can manifest, such as holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel – the Ken Livingstone example.
It also references “allegations … about a world Jewish conspiracy, or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions”, such as those put forward by UK Labour (try replacing the word “Israel” with the word “Jew” in the rhetoric).
Another popular manifestation of today’s antisemitism is to accuse Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
This is the Ilhan Omar example.
Like Jeremy Corbyn and Ken Livingstone, the recently-elected US Democratic congresswoman offers a textbook case study in how easily criticism of Israel can morph into naked antisemitism.
As well as making accusations of American Jews’ dual loyalty and allegiance to a foreign country, Omar claims that “Israel has hypnotised the world” and that US support for Israel “is all about the Benjamins”, a colloquial American reference to money.
Like Corbyn, when confronted about the true nature of such claims, Omar has been reluctant to disown them.
As Bret Stephens called it in the New York Times recently, what’s really frightening about their reluctance is that it suggests ideas once thought of as repugnant have been downgraded to merely controversial.
The parameters of acceptable debate have been pushed out.
Only the Australian people can prevent this insidious phenomenon from taking root here, because the seeds are already sown.
The Christchurch massacre shocked, saddened and frightened us all.
For Jewish people worldwide, there was an additional layer of sense of unease.
We’ve been here ourselves, targeted because of our beliefs.
But with antisemitism so clearly on the rise in the UK, Europe and elsewhere, often masquerading as a righteous critique of the Jewish State, and numbers of people with direct experience of the Holocaust on the decline, we cannot abrogate our responsibility to call out political hate speech for what it is regardless of whether it comes from the extreme left or extreme right.
Written by Jeremy Leibler. President of the Zionist Federation of Australia.