The Last Word: Sun, Sand and Swastikas

Bondi: Surf, seagulls, swastikas

 

On a sunny Sunday morning on a Sydney summer’s day, a stream of locals and visitors headed for beautiful, iconic, Bondi Beach. 

In addition to the sea, sun, sand and seagulls, on this morning they were also greeted by the sight of swastikas.

One or more vandals had spent what may have only been a few minutes defacing a series of murals with the Nazi symbol. 

Within a short time local, state and federal politicians had paid a visit to the beach and/or issued statements condemning the vandalism and the propagation of a symbol associated with human cruelty at its greatest.

The fact that the Bondi area is home to a substantial Jewish community, including many who suffered directly due to the Nazis or are descended from the martyrs and survivors of Hitler’s terror, was not lost on many commentators.

Condemnation was universal. At the time of writing, no perpetrators have been identified, yet the emotional impact of the graffiti is such that it was quite reasonably defined as deeply offensive and hurtful to the Jewish community. 

There is no evidence, at this stage, that any political movement, parliamentary or extra-parliamentary, was trying to further an agenda through this action.

Indeed, if there was any thought put into this action at all, it was most likely that the use of swastikas could bully and upset. 

As I have commented on a number of occasions previously, swastika graffiti and specific anti-Jewish vandalism occur with disturbing regularity. The most that any perpetrator can gain from any such activity is a sense of power over those who are offended, insulted, harassed and intimidated. 

What seems difficult for far too many commentators and opinion leaders to understand is that most antisemitism – as with most racism – is not manifested in the actions of cowardly vandals or mindless thugs. The most serious damage is done in the poisoning of public discourse through the injection of group defamations and evil insinuations. 

When those in positions of authority, such as university lecturers, abuse their positions to put forward ugly ideas in the place of rational analysis, some of the same people who raise their fist in anger against swastika graffiti spontaneously side with their political allies rather than with the victims of intimidation. 

When it becomes obvious to all but the most self-delusional that rhetoric on subjects such as immigration is not about good public policy but is about provoking social divisions and demeaning others on proscriptive grounds, far too often there is a hesitancy and reluctance to disassociate from and call out racism if it comes from within one’s own camp.

The tolerance given to not just antisemitism but a variety of bigotries and esoteric antagonisms from within minority groups may be sourced in a genuine concern regarding popular predilections to prejudice. However, the benefit to the general community of allowing such behaviour to fester is non-existent. 

It is relevant to note that even some of the condemnations of the swastika graffiti left open wiggle room for racists or even exploited the vandalism to further political agendas. 

Some commentators, without any qualifications or expertise, pronounced that the incident on Bondi Beach was evidence of the growth of a new racist, antisemitic, probably Nazi, movement which should be the focus of all who are concerned with communal safety, let alone harmony. 

Meanwhile, some of my personal correspondents wanted to educate me as to all the terrible things being done in the world which have not received condemnations (implying that Jewish victims are “privileged”). Some even said that the “real” Nazism today is found in the behaviour of Jews. 

Within hours of the graffiti first being sighted, its offensiveness had been acknowledged and Council workers had done a good job in undoing the unsightly handiwork. It takes much longer for anti-Jewish and other racist ideas to be seen for what they are, let alone successfully removed from the public sphere.