Modern Australia is less engaged in pondering whether Jews are legitimately “insiders” or “outsiders” than virtually any other Christian (or Muslim) majority state. Each day, there are millions of social interactions between Jews and Australians who are not Jews, and they are unexceptional and unlikely to involve confrontation or conflict. Further, Australia does not have a past to which antisemites can comfortably look with nostalgia, which distinguishes it from many other countries.
Nevertheless, for the 12 month period ending September 30, 2012, 543 incidents of “racist violence” (using the definition adopted for more than 20 years by the Federal Government) against Jewish Australians were documented by Jewish organisations in Australia. These incidents included physical assaults, vandalism and harassment. This was a five percent increase over the previous 12 month period, and 42% above the average of the 22 years previously for which I have maintained a national database.
The reports testify that hundreds of Jewish individuals and organisations were targeted, some repeatedly, by persons seeking to intimidate or harass them.
Amongst the most disturbing incidents of assault and property vandalism reported during the 12 month review period were smashing of synagogue windows; verbal and physical assaults of Jewish school students; Jewish people walking to and from synagogues being pelted with eggs or having other objects thrown at them from occupants of passing vehicles; and many instances of comments yelled at Jewish people in Australian streets such as “Hitler didn’t do his job properly”; “It’s a pity that the Germans didn’t burn the lot of you”; “We will get you Jews” and “We will burn you and all the Jews and all the synagogues in Sydney”.
Graffiti daubed on synagogues and other Jewish communal institutions has the potential to offend and intimidate a large number of people and also may constitute desecration of religious sites. During the period in review, incidents of graffiti were reported at a rate 27% above average and at the highest rate in six years. Amongst the graffiti incidents recorded in the past year were large swastikas and words “Jewish pig” sprayed on the outer fence and gate of a Jewish family’s home; “you jew c_ntz” daubed on an entrance sign to a Jewish school; “the best Jew is a dead Jew….” painted in a public shopping area; and a number of incidents of swastikas spray-painted on or opposite synagogues.
The ability of a person to remain anonymous and to send messages cheaply has made email the favoured means of communicating hate messages by Australian antisemites. During the period in review almost 50% of all incidents reported were offensive and intimidating emails. The receipt of abusive, threatening and other antisemitic email by individuals and communal offices was reported at a rate of over five times a week during the year in review. The total during this reporting period was ten percent higher than average for the previous ten years.
Examples of content included “Why not do the world a favour and go live with the pigs, it’s the only place creatures like Jews belong”; “do most jews get money from germany by telling lies about the holohoax?”; “everyone knows the kikes are the organ grinders”; “We’re waking up to greedy hooked nose jew bullshit”; “why have jews been expelled from every European country bar none why are jews the most despised race why do jews invent the holocaust”; “the jews are going to start another war, just like they started the 2nd ww”; “jews of Russia had invaded 13 countries”; “jews are an insidious cancer on the world and course (sic) most wars so the rothschilds can make money”; and “only when the power of the jews is destroyed will there be world peace,” and an attack on this article’s author as “a PRIME UGLY Jew”.
As email to a large degree displaces other means of communication, reports of threats conveyed to the Jewish community through telephone calls or through the mail have been receding and are now being received at a rate of only 25% of the average over the previous 22 years. Hate mail was recorded at the third lowest ever rate and telephone calls including extreme antisemitic abuse was also at the third lowest rate. These included antisemitic death threats; antisemitic telephone calls made to Jewish institutions saying “burn in Hell”, and a number with anti-Jewish language mingled with obscenities.
In addition to the modes of harassment and intimidation identified above, the Jewish community received reports on a regular basis of the receipt of text messages, leaflets and other material placed in private letterboxes by hand, posters with anti-Jewish themes, stickers on buildings and telegraph poles and other similar forms of dissemination of anti-Jewish propaganda and vandalism. Reports of material in these categories during the documentation period were received at the sixth lowest rate ever. Examples of reports in this category included antisemitic signs at the “Occupy Sydney” and some anti-Israel rallies; a book defaced with antisemitic text left in the letterbox of a synagogue; antisemitic messages posted on websites of Jewish organisations; antisemitic leaflets, on “The New World Order”, handed out in a major city CBD and children from non-Jewish school throwing coins as an antisemitic taunt at a number of different groups of Jewish day school children.
While there is no clear nexus between the individual physical manifestations of antisemitism and other antisemitic activity, there is evidence there is also a body of Australians who would encourage, justify or rationalise anti-Jewish harassment.
Antisemitic individuals can be found amongst the political Left and Right, amongst Christians and Muslims, amongst Australian-born and immigrant, those with formal education and those without, amongst those with intense contact with Jews and amongst those who have never knowingly met or encountered a Jewish person.
Discussions on legitimate matters of public concern have occasionally been marred by injections of antisemitism, generally by a small minority of those taking part in them. These included planning decisions regarding Jewish community structures, which had the unfortunate tendency to degenerate from discussions of environmental concerns to attacks on the alleged un-Australianness of Jews, false claims regarding alleged Jewish belief or ignorant critiques of Judaism.
Anti-Jewish comments were recorded in the public arena not only in discussions of matters in which Jewish people had a particular interest but also on matters such as the change of Prime Minister by Australian Labor Party parliamentarians, US foreign policy, immigration legislation, intercommunal conflict not involving Jews in any identifiable manner, and even internal Christian schisms.
More partisan individuals in Australia involved in arguing against Israel’s real or perceived actions and in extreme circumstances its existence, employed double standards, demonisation and distortions to such a degree that it is not illegitimate to postulate that they were, to some extent, motivated by and/or fuelling antisemitsm. That said, the overwhelming majority of public comments on Israel’s actions did not cross the line from vigorous criticism to anti-Jewish racism.
Some of the antisemitism resulted from religious teaching or study of post-Judaic monotheisms. Some was more directly connected to a “racial” bigotry, for whom Jews either have innate qualities which would make them existential enemies or for whom Jews are allocated inferior status. Anti-Jewish prejudice considered normative in some other cultures has been brought to Australia by immigrants and can exist for many years within sub-cultures.
Antisemitism emanating from Islamic sources in Australia has been a topic of public discussion for a number of years. Particular concern has been expressed at the negative impact of material from a variety of overseas sources which has as its thesis an eternal enmity of Muslims towards Jews. A number of individuals in Australia in the period in review faced court on charges relating to involvement in planning or supporting terrorism. A theme identified across many of these cases was a belief that malevolent Jewish influences needed to be fought by all means available to achieve religious goals.
It is sad that, as more of the communication media moves to online platforms, there is more space available for malicious individuals, and while there is little indication that the number of antisemites is increasing, there appears to be no question but that the reach of their voices is now magnified.
The effect of antisemitism on the quality of life of individual members of the Australian Jewish community who have been targeted should never be minimised. The psychological impact on those affected directly by harassment and intimidation can be serious, particularly as many of the threats have been directed against individual Jewish Australians in their homes, including survivors of the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the quality of life of all who live in societies in which they occur is threatened and diminished.