The Worst of Years
In late November, the US Justice Department released the FBI’s 2006 Hate Crime Statistics. While few who follow the media will be surprised to read of 156 “Anti-Islamic” incidents, the 967 “Anti-Jewish” attacks in the same table provides a rare perspective.
In Australia, we do not have a comparable, centrally organised, government reporting system of either hate crimes or the broader actions which our Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission define as racial violence. However, the Jewish community’s elected roof body, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, does receive annual reports on anti-Jewish violence, vandalism, intimidation and harassment, which I have personally compiled for the past 18 years.
|Antisemitic graffiti was down slightly but violence increased markedly|
In the most recently completed reporting period (concluding September 30), 638 incidents were recorded, which was more than twice the previous average and eight percent higher than in the worst prior year – that which ended on Sept. 30, 2002.
Incidents of assault, arson attacks, face-to-face harassment and vandalism, which are combined under the broad definition of “attacks”, were not only recorded at the highest rate ever, but at a phenomenal three times the previous average. These included reports of Jewish people walking to or from synagogue, in and out of Jewish schools, on public transport or in places of business, being abused, intimidated and threatened, at five times the previous average. The more physically serious attacks, involving assault and vandalism, were reported at 3½ times the previous average, with some examples being:
- Assaults of Jewish passengers on public transport;
- Attacks on Jewish students in coffee shops, at bus-stops and while walking in suburban streets;
- Individuals, on a number of occasions, jumping out of vehicles to pelt Jewish people with projectiles;
- Bricks thrown through windows of Jewish institutions;
Swastikas spray-painted on vehicles parked outside a synagogue.
While overall reports of graffiti were received at a rate lower than average, there were still regular reports of spray painted slogans such as “Die Jews, Die”, “Kill Jews” and even “There is a Jew among us – weed him out and kill him”.
While hate mail, threatening telephone calls (including bomb threats) and distribution of leaflets, posters and material placed in letter-boxes no longer are major modes of harassment, they still take place, but are now completely overshadowed numerically by threats and abuse transmitted by text messages or e-mail.
For every recipient of a letter threatening a “world wide Holocaust against the Jews”, hate mail containing pornographic imagery, hoax white powder mailing or letter-boxed antisemitic cartoons, there were dozens of people receiving single or multiple intimidating, offensive and abusive e-mails.
Jewish men, women and children have been subjected to e-mails claiming they are existential enemies of the rest of humanity due to the teachings of the Talmud, that they are “kikes” and “Zionist agents”, for the alleged activities of the mythical “Elders of Zion”, that they should be persecuted due to alleged bad business ethics or for support of communal tolerance, non-discriminatory immigration or persecution of Nazi war criminals.
Despite the ill-informed pronouncements of some who buy into the debate in Australia as to the causes of anti-Jewish vitriol and violence, an insignificantly tiny proportion articulate support for Israel as a reason to dislike Jews. However, hatred for Israel as a result of hatred of Jews is evident in the text of hate mail and abusive e-mails.
It would be intellectually dubious in the extreme to extrapolate the record number of physical manifestations of anti-Jewish hatred and prejudice to an assessment of developments in attitudes towards Jews in Australia. But it is also inappropriate and irresponsible to ignore the fact that, in the twelve months just concluded, there was stark, graphic evidence that an undefined, yet growing, number of people in Australia were willing to act on their antisemitic impulses to an unprecedented degree.
When and how any trend in this direction can be halted is a serious challenge for every Australian who values the ideals of tolerance, communal harmony and basic human rights.