Australia/Israel Review

The Last Word: A Matter of Opinion

Sep 26, 2008 | Jeremy Jones

Jeremy Jones

According to the most recent study released by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, 11% of Australians view Jewish people “unfavourably”, with three percent having a “very unfavourable opinion”.

Only the US had a lower percentage in the “very unfavourable” category, while the UK had a lower total on the unfavourable side. Meanwhile, in countries such as Spain and Mexico, close to 50% held negative views.

A few days after the release of the survey, to which I will return shortly, I heard of some behaviour by Australians which might illustrate where “unfavourable opinions” can lead.

In an election on a university campus in Sydney, voters were reportedly harangued by a self-described “socialist” to not support a person he described as a “dirty Jew”. This didn’t happen only once, but on a number of occasions.

As disturbing as the incident was, the attitude of a person complained to was that this was an acceptable part of the electoral process. It isn’t, and it could potentially lead to legal action against the university at which the incident occurred.

A student told me how she had been singled out and called “the Zionist” by a tutor in a subject which had nothing to do with Israel, on the basis of her surname.

In another class, which had nothing to do with Australia, students were instructed to read unreconstructed drivel by an uninformed and egotistical critic of Australian Jewry, to help them “understand” more about Jews in an earlier time in another part of the world.

I am also well aware of anti-Jewish propaganda fed into Australian public discourse by overseas sources, including governments which have set themselves up as exemplars of dialogue between cultures and civilisations.

Anti-Jewish material, sourced in historic European, Christian antisemitism, has been given and promoted to me in bookshops serving the Muslim community and I have seen countless repetitions of anti-Jewish slurs on internet discussion groups servicing young, educated Australian Muslim audiences.

Having analysed data on anti-Jewish activity in Australia, I have often observed that the most important co-efficient of increased antisemitism in Australia is increased racism in general, and the Pew Project received headlines such as “Anti-Jew, anti-Muslim attitudes rise in Europe”.

There was little serious analysis of how attitudes translated into action, or what it was about Jews, or Muslims, which had prompted an unfavourable reaction.

That said, the UK, the US and Australia come across as far more tolerant societies than “enlightened” continental European countries.

In all the Western countries, Jews were less unpopular than Muslims, but this is cold comfort.

Muslim majority countries stood out for their negativity towards Jews (and Christians in some cases) with Lebanon (97%), Jordan (96%), Egypt (95%), Turkey (76%), Pakistan (76%) and Indonesia (66%) showing strong anti-Jewish majorities – but the good news is that all other than Turkey recorded lower figures than in past surveys!

Questions asked in Muslim majority countries related not just to faith, but to the terrorist group Hamas. Egypt (42%) and Jordan (55%) represented the strongest favourable results, with Turkey (65%) and Lebanon (72%) the most unfavourable.

In Lebanon, Sunnis and Christians were overwhelmingly negative towards Hezbollah, while virtually every Shi’ite Muslim interviewed expressed a favourable view of this Iranian-backed terrorist group.

Egyptians and Jordanians were the best disposed towards Hezbollah on a national level.

The anti-Jewish views of continental Europeans were, unfortunately, not a great surprise to observers of public discourse in Western Europe in recent times, with Spain (38% to 46%), France (13% to 20%) and Germany (22% to 25%) sharing marked increases in the past two years.

At best, surveys such as this are a snapshot of opinion at a particular time. Further, not everyone with an unfavourable opinion is likely to act on their prejudice.

But the results of this and other recent polling reinforces the enormity of the challenge in overcoming stereotypes, lies and prejudice – and not only in the non-democratic world.


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