It was a beautiful, sunny, December day.
On short notice, I had postponed a planned meeting at the Israeli Consulate in Sydney’s William Street to accept an invitation to address a student group’s Summer Camp on “Antisemitism and Threats to Australia’s Jewish community.”
It seemed surreal – the setting was idyllic, the audience members living in a tolerant society, celebrating freedom and multiculturalism.
When I arrived back in Sydney (in the days before mobile telephones or 24-hour news services) the idea of Australia as a land of unchallenged safety and security came crashing down.
While I had been on the road home, a bomb had exploded in the very spot, at the very time, of my (fortunately rescheduled) appointment.
Before Australia’s political leaders, media, security officials and Jewish community could begin to absorb the shock, a bomb went off in an apparent attempt to commit mass murder at the predominantly Jewish social club Hakoah. Two evenings earlier I had been at a committee meeting there putting the final touches on the planning of the imminent Maccabiah Sports Carnival, in which I was participating and acting as a sports organiser.
Both attacks were designed to hurt.
Both were designed to kill.
Both were designed to remove any misconception that the distance of Australia from volatile and brutal political conflicts was a reason to feel relaxed and secure.
Despite good police work and considerable political will, until this day the perpetrators have not been punished. It was therefore extremely heartening to learn recently that the files on these crimes have been reopened, sending the unambiguous message that the passage of time is not going to determine consequences for criminals.
Since that time, the Jewish community in Australia has adopted a mindfulness of, and common sense approach to, security which became society-wide only after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.
The Consulate and Hakoah bombings were in 1982. Thirty years later Sydney-siders have been, once again, shocked and disgusted at events in the city centre.
Scenes of young men – purporting to be motivated by religious belief but through their actions belying a propensity to thuggery and violence for the sake of thuggery and violence – fighting the police were splashed graphically across the news media.
For Jewish Australians and others who have heard the rhetoric and witnessed the scenes at anti-Israel demonstrations over recent years, the only real novelty, however, was the targetting of Australian society, per se, rather than Jews.
There was a fair degree of media attention on a young child holding a sign calling to “Behead All Those Who Insult The Prophet”, but young children holding banners supporting overtly antisemitic causes, and being present during calls to kill Jews, have been documented repeatedly in Australian cities in recent years.
Parallel to so much tremendous work by Muslim leaders in interfaith dialogues and the creation of a culture of tolerance, there has been an intensfication of activities by individuals who abuse the instruments of democracy toward distinctly anti-democratic ends.
That said, it is important to note that the issue of violent criminals, grubby racists and other antisocial elements drawn from particular ethnic groups or religious traditions has faced other segments of Australia’s population in the past.
Most Christians have drawn lines in the sand and noted that movements such as “Christian Identity” and “Bible Believers” were racists draped in Christian clothes, rather than simply misguided Christians. Various migrant communities have been able to make psychological breaks with criminals abusing family ties and claims of overriding peoplehood.
I look forward to the time when the antisemitic ratbags who claim Islamic authority, together with those who seek to create a wider conflict with all Western society, are clearly and unambiguously told that they have no call on solidarity with co-religionists – and when the prominent voices condemning promoters of conspiracy theories and group defamations include, as a matter of course, the same level of senior Muslim community leaders who condemned Sydney’s September skirmishers.