The visit to Australia of Gregg Rickman, the US State Department’s Special Envoy on Antisemitism, prompted a reflection on one aspect of anti-Jewish prejudice by the writer of the Fairfax-linked weblog “All Men Are Liars”.
In an item “South African Jews and the New Wave of Anti-Semitism”, Sam de Brito commented,“South African Jews, once a rarity in our suburbs, have become an increasingly popular target for Aussie racists, so much so that you can make degrading pronouncements about them with little recourse… South African Jews? Well, they have that accent, which makes them easily identifiable, and for many Aussies, the flattened ‘i’ and confused ‘t’ and ‘d’ is enough to assume the speaker hates black people, is rich, intolerably rude and deserving of contempt”.
“Most racists chose [sic] their audiences carefully, with only the most stupid (or drunk) uttering epithets about Asians, blacks or Muslims in mixed company, yet South Africans Jews, because they are white perhaps, seem an open target. I reckon I must hear at least one person a week make some kind of sweeping statement about South African Jews… Saying ‘all’ South African Jews are ‘this’ or ‘that’, well we need to call a spade a spade and it’s prejudice, which is a convenient method for angry, lazy or stupid people to pour their own resentments about life onto one group or another,” he wrote.
While such commentary is timely and welcome, the issue of anti-Jewish prejudice goes well beyond the type of bigotry analysed in de Brito’s commentary.
The end of the year traditionally features misrepresentations of Israel’s actions that affect Christians in Israel and the Palestinian Authority, often designed to tickle, if not excite, religious bigotry. 2007 proved no exception.
Allegations of malevolent and pervasive Jewish power and attributing qualities of almost existential evil to Jews have been given airings, particularly in the context of discussions of the crude US book The Israel Lobby and in comments by the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi blaming Jews for world violence.
A letter published in one of the newspapers linked to the Fairfax blog was an example of yet another variety of antisemitism.
Signed Zaid Khan, it read, “Nearly 70 years ago, in a small eastern European city, an oppressed and occupied people were under siege, living under atrocious and brutal conditions, lacking food, medicine, electricity, water, and slowly being strangled in the hope they would just disappear. Warsaw Ghetto 1941 – Gaza 2008. Israel, you are a disgrace.”
This short letter belittled the reality of the Shoah, defamed modern Israel in a manner designed to distress Jews, made an analogy between Jews and those who had a program of anti-Jewish genocide and implied that the survivors of Nazism were behind a plot to “strangle” another people.
The fact that it could be written – that there are individuals who either believe such blatant falsehoods or are willing to utter them as part of a political crusade – is bad enough. The decision to publish it, followed by only one short critique amid five letters echoing its antisemitic premise, was disgraceful.
The reason we do not often read racist comments aimed at a variety of targeted groups is not because they aren’t written and submitted but because letters editors generally act morally and responsibly. To see some of the anti-Jewish rants that are submitted, one need only visit the blogs of SBS, ABC, Canberra Times and some metropolitan dailies.
As has been reported elsewhere, reports of anti-Jewish acts of violence, vandalism and harassment in Australia in 2007 were recorded at a rate well exceeding any previous year.
In this context one would hope for serious commentary and analysis of the problem and more, not less, care in the publication of bigoted material.