Australia/Israel Review

The Last Word: Far from Incidental

Nov 21, 2013 | Jeremy Jones

The Last Word: Far from Incidental

Jeremy Jones

With millions of interactions between Jewish and other Australians each day, it is perhaps unsurprising, although disappointing, that some of them are unpleasant – or worse.

We may live in a country without institutional antisemitism, but that does not mean there are neither organisations nor individuals with a willingness to harass, vilify and even physically attack Jewish individuals or community property.

Since 1989, I have maintained a database of incidents reported to State and Territory Jewish community roof bodies, national organisations and directly to me.

The statistics up to 30 September 2013 make sobering reading, with:

• 616 incidents of property damage to buildings and/or physical assault;

• 1,446 reported occasions in which Jewish people have been verbally abused in public places, with the vast majority occurring on the way to, from or outside synagogues;

• 700 records of telephone threats or harassment;

• 1,326 mailings of hate material through the post, sometimes to numerous recipients;

• 959 separate daubings of anti-Jewish graffiti, predominantly on community property;

• 3,901 unique items of anti-Jewish email, sometimes to lists of recipients;

• 676 manifestations listed as miscellaneous, including posters, leaflets and letters and material, stickers and faxes.

Since that date we have seen the horrific bashing of a group of Jewish people on a Friday night in Bondi Beach, graffiti incidents, more emails and a continuation of street harassment.

In the 12 months ending 30 September 2013, I logged 657 incidents defined by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission as racist violence against Jewish Australians, a 20% increase on the previous year and the second highest tally on record.

The good news is that incidents of assault, arson, face-to-face harassment and vandalism were at the lowest rate in eight years, with incidents involving assault and property damage at a rate 14% below the 23-year average.

Telephone threats and hate mail were both recorded at their fifth lowest rates ever, and miscellaneous incidents at the fourth lowest rate in more than three decades.

In contrast, emails which gave cause for concern were recorded at the second highest rate ever, at nearly three times the previous average rate.

Despite the uninformed opinions of some media commentators and many on-line pundits, there is no data supporting, let alone confirming, the view that most, many or even a substantial minority of attacks are from Muslims and/or Arabs.

There is also nothing to suggest that events in the Middle East are somewhat prompting malevolence towards Jews.

While it has been well-documented, including by me, that there are viciously anti-Jewish Muslims in Australia, what evidence we have suggests that the most common perpetrators of attacks are simple-minded racists and bigots, neo-Nazis and far right activists, self-described Christians and far left fanatics, although without doubt some perpetrators are, or purport to be, Muslim.

The unfortunate reality is that there have been many ideological/intellectual/philosophical justifications and rationalisations invoked by anti-Jewish bigots in this country over the past 200 years.

None of them has ever determined the way in which Jewish Australians have lived our lives, but many have sought to make our existence unpleasant.

Attacks and the “background noise” of vilification and group defamation seem to rise when, and only when, the bigots and bullies believe they can operate without having any negative consequences accruing to them due to their activities.

As this article is being written, there is a renewed public debate over the value of Australia’s federal anti-racism legislation. I do not intend to canvass the arguments I made in this column in the August 2013 issue of the AIR, but I stand by them.

We currently have a situation where, when there is a racist bully and a victim of racist bullying, the Australian people and Government are with the victim and against the perpetrator.

It is morally indefensible to create a template where we, the Australian people, are reduced to the status of spectators.



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