Towards the end of her life, my mother (Of Blessed Memory) shared stories of her childhood in England and Australia.
She had fond memories of St Kilda beach – and not only because of the sea and sand.
It was a place where young people gathered, Australian born and recent arrivals, discussing philosophy, politics and the future of Australia.
This idyll came to mind when a group of pathetic racist ratbags chose this venue for their first miserable failure of 2019.
Notable neither for their intellect nor coherence, the self-appointed representatives of an alleged groundswell of racist opinion in Australia provided a demonstration of their own weakness and inadequacy.
They failed to have their “messages” reach an audience of any size, with most media attention given to the failure of some of them to understand that the Nazis were the enemy Australia fought against, not fought alongside, and to the attendance of Senator Fraser Anning.
Anning, who arrived in Parliament by a quirk of a system which sometimes delivers a little more diversity than voters intended, is not the only Australian politician to appear alongside bigots and thugs but seems to be the first to think that this is, in general, a praiseworthy activity.
One purpose served by the gathering was to provide an opportunity for examination of the activities of racists operating in Australia.
There are currently a number of competing organisations, generally involving minute numbers of individuals who are poster boys for failing at life, a situation far from unprecedented in modern Australian history.
There is fluidity of membership between some of these groups along with a simultaneous, almost pervasive, lack of mutual respect. Not much has changed since the days when David Harcourt could write of the Australian Nazi and neo-Nazi scene that “everybody wants to be a Fuhrer.”
One relatively new player on the scene, going by the name Antipodean Resistance, chalked up a substantial number of complaints in 2018 to organisations which document racist activities, through their campaigns of plastering posters and stickers in public and private venues around Australia.
When it comes to reports specifically of anti-Jewish violence, intimidation and harassment, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported a year-to-year increase of 59%. Just over an average of one report a day of some form of physical antisemitic activity was recorded which is clearly 366 too many incidents.
This figure is below the average of 399 incidents per year logged in the 28 previous years (the time national records have been kept). When the most difficult to accurately tabulate incidents (emails, stickers, posters and leaflets) are removed, the total comes to 178 incidents compared to an average of 213.
Fortunately, very few of the incidents have resulted in serious physical harm or significant property damage. But over a 29-year period, over 11,000 individual reports have been lodged by Jewish people in Australia who have had direct experience of assault, vandalism, harassment or intimidation, and I would not for one moment underestimate the potential impact of each and every one of these incidents on direct victims and on the Jewish community.
It is important to note that antisemitism in Australia does not come from a single ideological source.
In the 25 years that I managed the database, it was simply not possible to reach definitive conclusions as to the perpetrators in about 60% of the incidents. Of those in which a reasonable conclusion could be reached, the largest single number would have been from the far-right, but others came from perpetrators of the political left, from those who believed that Islam (and in some cases Christianity) mandated a state of war against Jews and some were the result of people who thought they were somehow furthering a battle against Israel through anti-Jewish activity in the Antipodes.
If antisemitism is to be fought effectively in Australia, it is essential that no individual is excused from critique or condemnation regardless of what they claim as motivation or use as rationalisation.