Australia/Israel Review


Cine File: The Oldest Hatred Down Under

Jul 3, 2024 | Justin Amler

Screenshot
Screenshot

Never Again: The Fight Against Antisemitism
Written and directed by Josh Frydenberg; debuted on Sky News, 28 May 2024; 60 mins

 

October 7, 2023, is a date that will be forever burnt into the consciousness of the Jewish world. It was a day on which the world witnessed a modern-day pogrom of such cruel and vicious barbarity that it resulted in the biggest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust.

But what happened next was in some ways even more shocking.

Rather than sympathy for Israel in the wake of the horrific terror attack, an explosive eruption of antisemitism occurred around the world, with Jews finding themselves in the firing line of the oldest hatred once again. This included Jews here in Australia, when a mob gathered at Australia’s iconic Sydney Opera House just two days after the attack chanting hateful and violent slurs against Jews.

It is against this backdrop that Josh Frydenberg, Australia’s former Treasurer, presents his timely and apt documentary on the rise of antisemitism in Australia today. It was first broadcast by Sky News on May 28 but is now freely available on YouTube. 

Frydenberg takes viewers on a difficult journey, exploring not just those despicable scenes from the Opera House, but equally abhorrent celebrations on the streets of Sydney involving some radicalised Muslim clerics. He also takes us into the many university encampments where students are recorded chanting the same hateful slogans, including the infamous, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free” – widely understood to mean at least the eradication of Israel and possibly the genocide of the Jews.

Importantly, Frydenberg canvasses a wide cross-section of prominent non-Jewish Australians, including former ASIO director Dennis Richardson. He also interviews former Governor-General of Australia Peter Cosgrove who, in a particularly chilling moment, looks at the antisemitic demonstrations around the country and laments “Hitler would be proud.”

Another important guest is Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli, who acknowledges what many Jews have felt for quite some time – that the antisemitism we are witnessing has always been under the surface, but just needed a spark to bring it to the fore, which the October 7 attacks provided. 

This goes some way in explaining how in just eight weeks since the attacks, antisemitic incidents in Australia rose by a whopping 738%.

Frydenberg also speaks to important current and former political figures, including Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and former Prime Ministers John Howard and Julia Gillard as well as Opposition Leader Peter Dutton and former senator and Aboriginal rights activist Nova Peris. Each offers their own important insights into antisemitism.

Yet probably the most important and effective part of the documentary is when Frydenberg interviews elderly Holocaust survivors who have survived the horrors of the darkest episode of human history, where hate and prejudice and the constant threat of death governed their lives.

Their testimonies are heartbreaking. Yvonne Engelman speaks of her arrival in Auschwitz and the last time she saw her parents before they were taken away and gassed to death without her even having a chance to say goodbye. She doesn’t even have a picture to remember them by.

Paul Drexel remembers antisemitism as a small boy and worries how it has become so strong in Australia.

And one can almost feel the desperate sadness of Egon Sonnenschein, who says he never thought he’d feel unsafe as a Jew in Australia.

This is an important documentary at a time when it is much needed. Many Australian Jews feel forgotten and isolated. Their security has been shaken and the confidence they felt before has been replaced by fear. 

By striking a balance between the Jewish and the non-Jewish world, Josh Frydenberg successfully manages to shine a light on an affliction haunting Australian society as a whole, illustrating how the poison of antisemitism is antithetical to the values of social cohesion that most Australians hold so dear. 

“Combatting antisemitism is not just the Jewish community’s fight – it’s Australia’s fight,” he says. Surely this is a sentiment most Australians can agree with.

Never Again: The Fight Against Antisemitism can be viewed on YouTube: tinyurl.com/FightAgainstAntisemitism

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