A common nonsense spouted by individuals and organisations who seek to delegitimise, defame or destroy the standing of Israel is the claim that Israel’s behaviour/existence is the principal cause of antisemitism.
Having spent hundreds of hours documenting and analysing antisemitic attacks and anti-Jewish interjections in the Australian public life for the most recent 12 month period (Oct. 1, 2009 to Sept. 30, 2010), I can state without fear of informed or honest contradiction that there is nothing to support that thesis whatsoever. However, there is a fair bit of evidence that antisemites are vocal singers in the anti-Israel chorus.
Far and away the single most “offensive” (to bigots) action Jewish Australians took was to walk to or from Jewish houses of worship, with the second, the devastating act of Jewish males wearing skull caps.
When it came to comments published in a variety of media, the single issue which resulted in most ratbag responses was the application of one group of Jewish people to gain legal government permission to undertake very minor building to allow extensions of activity on the Sabbath – an “eruv”.
As in any issue, there was a variety of views which could be expressed in a civil, non-bigoted way, but sensible opposition to the proposal was submerged in a tsunami of stereotypes and slander.
While this issue at least had something to do with Judaism and Jewish people, the next antisemitism-inspiring issue required a particular predisposition to even imagine a Jewish element – the Labor Party’s decision to replace Kevin Rudd with Julia Gillard.
Despite the widespread characterisation in the circle of conspiracy theorists in Australia’s racist heartland of Kevin Rudd as Rabbi Ruddstein, when he was succeeded by Julia Gillard the far left, far right and extremist Muslims went into overdrive to expose the hidden Hebrew hand at work.
Next in the pecking order was US foreign policy. Incendiary assertions fuelled by arguments of a few intellectually discredited US writers and the rantings of Iran’s Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Chavez resulted in decisions made in Washington regarding the USA’s national interest regularly providing a pretext for anti-Jewish verbal and printed harassment nine to 12 time zones away.
Listing the other matters which were swooped on like so much carrion by the vultures who make up the vanguard of Australian antisemites gives some insight into the minds of the malicious: The legal procedures relating to a person accused of Nazi war crimes; alleged Jewish affection for money due to one individual’s ostentation; immigration levels; Jews allegedly diluting the Vatican’s disciplining of a bishop who offended the religion he professed; reports of trading in human organs; visit to Australia of a delegation of Israeli political, cultural and business figures; Israel’s enforcement of the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza; the 2005 Cronulla riots; the killing of an Hamas operative in Dubai allegedly by Mossad agents; private schools receiving government support; Holocaust education in schools; South Park’s religious sensibility or lack thereof; the Helen Thomas and Oliver Stone reprimands; the proposed mosque near the World Trade Centre site (Jews accused of lending support for and opposition to the mosque, simultaneously); internal Christian Church schisms; lack of economic, political and social progress in a number of Muslim-majority countries; and virtually every natural disaster to afflict the planet.
In each case, legitimate matters of public interest were used as a pretext by hateful, malicious individuals to promote ignorance, bigotry and prejudice, and to incite contempt and anger.
On most platforms, the antisemitic views were contested, but in far too many they were treated as if legitimate and in some cases authoritative.
Very few, if any individuals, suffered even mild hostile sanctions for contributing to anti-Jewish hostility, with extraordinary servings of benefits of the doubt accorded to some repeat offenders.
Perhaps it is timely to reflect on whether indulging in apologetics for antisemitism can ever serve to further a cause, and for decent people to make sure it remains a fringe phenomenon rather than an insidious ever-present feature in public debate.