Australia/Israel Review, Featured


Editorial: When hatred is normalised

Dec 14, 2022 | Colin Rubenstein

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Whether browsing through newspaper headlines or scrolling through Twitter, there is no escaping the grim reality that antisemitic hatred is again on the rise around the world, including here in Australia. In fact, it has broken into the mainstream in a way not seen in decades. 

Experts say it’s not so much that the oldest hatred is back. Rather, it simply never left, but today those who harbour antisemitic beliefs are becoming much less inhibited in shamelessly expressing and acting on them.

We’re seeing this in popular culture. In late November, the North Melbourne Football Club drafted Harry Sheezel – set to become the first Jewish athlete to enter the AFL since 1999. An occasion that should have been a tribute to Australian multiculturalism was spoiled by numerous antisemitic slurs transmitted through radio talkback and comments online.

Meanwhile, in the United States, rapper Kanye West (now calling himself “Ye”), with almost 50 million followers on social media, recently became so brazen with his antisemitic views that he challenged his business partner and sponsor Adidas to drop his highly profitable personal line of shoes after he began threatening Jews on Twitter. To his surprise, the company eventually did, though only after intense public pressure. He then doubled down on his antisemitism in interview after interview, eventually praising Hitler and engaging in Holocaust denial.

Disturbingly, West’s actions were defended by some celebrities and public figures, and similar ideas were spread by other celebrities such as basketball star Kyrie Irving.

Even more shockingly, West was later invited to a friendly dinner, alongside a white supremacist who has also spewed Jew-hatred, with former US President Donald Trump at the latter’s estate.

“I would characterise this as the normalisation of antisemitism,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the authoritative Anti-Defamation League anti-racism organisation, said of the meeting. “It has now become part of the political process in a way we hadn’t seen before,” he stressed.

Greenblatt is right. Antisemitism is clearly evident across the political spectrum, and among those disengaged from politics altogether, from celebrities and athletes to the general public. The sad truth is that for some of these loathsome people, despising, defaming and denigrating Jews might be the only thing they have in common.

Ironically, it appears to be especially prevalent in so-called “woke” progressive circles – those who self-righteously claim to hold the moral high ground on opposing all forms of racism and discrimination. For them, to borrow the name of British comedian David Baddiel’s best-selling book on antisemitism, “Jews Don’t Count” in essence. The perverse logic that underpins this stems from their over-simplistic formulation that “racism equals prejudice plus power.” From there it supposedly follows that Jews, whom they perceive as innately powerful – an antisemitic trope in itself – cannot be victims of racism. Meanwhile, members of perceived weak groups – including African Americans, Muslims and Palestinians – cannot be victimisers.

This way of thinking has encouraged and facilitated the spread of antisemitism in many different directions, including among people of colour. It has also provided a safe haven for antisemitism among the most rejectionist Palestinian Arabs and their supporters in their campaign against the very existence of Israel. This, in spite of the fact that Jews are ethnically diverse, indigenous to the land where they became a people and have historically been subject to relentless persecution by the same European peoples at the core of the key “woke” concept of “white privilege”.

The mainstreaming of antisemitism across much of the political spectrum is having dramatic effects on the well-being and safety of Jewish communities across the globe. There are huge increases in incidents of violence and harassment against Jews in many countries. Over 2020-2021, antisemitic incidents in the UK increased by 78%, in France by 75%, and in the US by 34%. 

What can society do to derail this runaway train towards normalisation of antisemitism? The first step in dealing with the problem is forming a consensus around its definition. This can be tricky because Jews are simultaneously a religion, an ethnicity and a people that possess a national homeland, Israel. This is where the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism has been so helpful.

The IHRA definition takes a common sense approach to the matter of antisemitism when it comes to Israel. While explicitly making it clear that Israel and its policies can be criticised like any other country, it recognises that some extreme forms of such criticism may be antisemitic. This seems obviously necessary – too many extremists today blatantly substitute the words “Zionists” or “Israel” for the word “Jews” when spreading hateful tropes dating back millennia. 

Shamefully, IHRA’s thoughtful and sensible approach has been misrepresented by the Palestinian lobby and its supporters, who allege it makes all criticism of Israel antisemitic. It absolutely and explicitly does not. 

We should all be grateful for the bipartisan support for the IHRA definition in Canberra. The Morrison Government officially embraced it and PM Anthony Albanese supported it while still in opposition. But there is more work to be done, and the need is urgent. 

The single most urgent field to tackle is social media, where much of the cesspool of hate that has now burst into the mainstream originated and continues to fester (see p. 28). This is why AIJAC has joined 180 other non-profit and civil rights organisations in calling on Twitter to adopt the IHRA definition for purposes of content moderation.

Australian governments, federal, state and local, which have adopted the definition must also now do much more to implement that adoption across departments and agencies so it can be actively deployed to help identify antisemitism whenever it arises in our society. 

Reducing, containing and marginalising antisemitism is important for the world, not only for the welfare of the Jewish people, because history has shown us that the moral decay that antisemitism represents may start with the targeting of Jews, but it almost never ends there.

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