The raw data on anti-Jewish assaults, vandalism and harassment in Australia makes for sobering reading.
In the 12 month period concluding on September 30, 2008, Jewish communal institutions in Australia received a total of 652 reports of incidents which unambiguously fall under the definition of “Racist Violence” provided by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
Fifty-eight of these incidents were of assault of an individual or of damage to property. Overwhelmingly, the victims of these incidents were Jewish Australians assaulted by unknown perpetrators in shopping malls, main roads or other public places. Over the 19 year period I have been keeping records, this was the highest total in this category. The previous worst period, at the height of the “Second Intifada”, was 51 reports.
A disturbing percentage of victims were teenagers or families including young children.
One hundred and fourteen of the incidents involved Jewish individuals being subjected to face-to-face abuse and insult, without physical assault. Nearly all of this was experienced by Jewish families walking to or from synagogue or festive meals, generally by passing motorists. While this total was almost 20% below the previous 12 month period, it was the second highest figure on record.
The remaining 480 reports were of telephone threats and abuse (now rare, due to the adoption of e-mail as a common means of harassment); hate mail (at the third lowest rate in 19 years), faxes, stickers, leaflets, graffiti and e-mail.
Hate mail more often than not referred to “greedy” Jews, graffiti-daubers found perverse pleasure in adorning synagogues and other Jewish sites with swastikas, while e-mailers bombarded individual Jewish Australians with a litany of accusations, complaints, and insults.
The physical incidents listed above took place in a social and political context which does not indicate Australia is a society which is in any form hostile to Jewish people. But it does demonstrate both the existence of antisemitism and a lack of consistent, widespread concern at its presence.
Australia is host to a plethora of racist organisations which include antisemitism in their armoury; to Muslims and Christians who disguise their hostility to Jews in religious garb; to bigots employed in the media who from time to time promote anti-Jewish stereotypes; to fanatics and extremists who adopt attacks on Jews as means to promote broader agendas; to smug academics who abuse their power to further personal prejudices; and to semi-educated conspiracy theorists who can’t see a Jew without seeing an Elder of Zion.
In addition, the globalised nature of information, and misinformation, in the online era, provides easy resources to racists, confusion to students, and distress to those who chose to live in Australia due to our unique blend of tolerance, liberal values, and lack of assumed hostility to a person based on ethnicity, faith, or ancestry.
Mainstream Australian media outlets have republished offensive comments submitted from various points on the globe, supplementing the locally generated bile most often sited on the weblogs of ABC and SBS, and online feedback sections of newspapers. Meanwhile, the most offensive Islamic-based and Christian hostility towards Jews comes in easy-to-use form from sources outside Australia to be resold or parroted here.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that many of the most vocal antisemites in Australia were either born outside this country or feel a spiritual affinity with less tolerant societies.
One notable feature of antisemitism in Australia is that its increases and decreases have little or no apparent relationship to behaviour of Jewish individuals, public positions of the community, or events in Israel or elsewhere.
What is observable is that the physical incidents show increases when mainstream media outlets allow themselves to serve as hosts of anti-Jewish bigotry and prejudice and/or on the rare occasions that public figures make anti-Jewish comments.
This indicates that Australia’s antisemites are as cowardly as they are unsavoury, and also that strong, repeated, consistent condemnations of antisemitism are not only morally appropriate but provide a service to this country’s social well-being.