Antisemitism in Australia
May 1, 2020 | AIJAC staff
This fact sheet is current as at August 2021.
Jewish people arrived in Australia on the First Fleet in 1788 and have had a continual presence in Australia since that time. The most notable wave of Jewish migration was after World War Two.
While there has always been some degree of antisemitism in Australia, in recent decades there have been increasing efforts to properly document, track and act upon cases of antisemitism in Australia.
What is antisemitism?
The most widely accepted definition of antisemitism comes from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). That definition was written by a highly respected group of international experts:
“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Attached to the working definition are 11 examples to help explain how antisemitism manifests in the media, in the workplace, in schools and in religious spheres.
Historically, Jewish people across the world have been subject to antisemitism. This antisemitism has taken many forms, from being accused of having outsized political power or control of the media, to being accused of fictionalising or exaggerating the Holocaust. These conspiracy theories continue to circulate, particularly on social media, until today.
Christian antisemitism is most associated with responsibility for the killing of Jesus Christ and the blood libel claim, that Jews engage in the ritual murder of Christian children.
Islamic antisemitism most commonly uses religious texts and narratives to depict Jews as existential enemies of Muslims, and has been marshalled in the course of political and territorial debates in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The most glaring example of antisemitism in recent history is the Holocaust and the attempt by the Nazis to eliminate all Jewish people from Europe by way of industrial-scale genocide.
Antisemitism and anti-Zionism
While there is nothing antisemitic about opposition to, or criticism of, the actions or policies of the government of the State of Israel that is similar to criticism of any other country, there are occasions when anti-Israel criticism can become antisemitic.
Among the IHRA examples, antisemitism includes: “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations; denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg, by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour; [and] applying double standards by requiring of [Israel] a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
The IHRA definition document also states that the following should also be considered to be antisemitic: “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis; [and] holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.”
Antisemitism is also discussed in the context of anti-Israel campaigns, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. For more on the BDS movement please visit this page.
Antisemitism or anti-Semitism?
Although it can often be seen spelt with a hyphen as, “anti-Semitism”, the IHRA and many other organisations intentionally spell antisemitism without the hyphen and all lower-case.
The concern lies that the hyphenated spelling (anti-Semitism) incorrectly implies that ‘Semitism’ is a concept, and that antisemitism applies to so-called “semitic” peoples other than Jews.
Antisemitism, without a hyphen as written, is widely used as an academic term today to analyse past and present forms of opposition or hatred towards Jews.
Antisemitism in Australia
Since 2019, Australia has been a member of IHRA. While the IHRA’s definition of antisemitism has not been formally adopted by Australia, according to the Commonwealth Government the conduct captured in the IHRA definition of antisemitism is consistent with Australia’s state-based discrimination and vilification protections.
There is various anti-discrimination legislation at the Commonwealth, state and territory levels designed to protect people, including Jewish Australians, from discrimination.
Most notably, this includes the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) which although it has been subject to political scrutiny and debate in recent years, has provided important protection against antisemitism in the context of Holocaust denial, among other instances of racism, xenophobia or antisemitism.
In 2013, then-Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard signed the London Declaration on Combatting Antisemitism. This document, drafted in 2009, calls on national governments, parliaments, international institutions, political and civic leaders, NGOs, and civil society to affirm democratic and human values, build societies based on respect and citizenship and combat any manifestations of antisemitism and discrimination.
It requires governments to challenge any foreign leader, politician or public figure who denies, denigrates, or trivialises the Holocaust and to encourage civil society to be vigilant to this phenomenon and to openly condemn it.
Similar signings have been made by various states, including the South Australian Parliamentary Friends of Israel, who signed the London Declaration in 2014, and then added additional and updated signatories in 2019.
Jewish Australians and antisemitism today
In 2020, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) released a report on antisemitic incidents, stating that between 1 October 2019 to 30 September 2020, there were 331 antisemitic incidents logged by volunteers, Jewish organisations, and the ECAJ. The total figure consists of 188 attacks and 143 threats.
The main sources of antisemitism in Australia identified by this reporting are far-right groups and individuals; far-left, often anti-Israel, groups and individuals; radical Islamist groups and individuals; and certain Christian faith communities.
Recent manifestations of antisemitism in Australia have included violent threats made to the Jewish community, the defacement of material belonging to Jewish and non-Jewish members of parliament with swastikas and Hitler moustaches; the flying of Nazi flags outside Australian homes, antisemitic abuse of Jewish school children; and antisemitic graffiti on Jewish businesses.
Australian Jewish communities remain concerned by threats from antisemitic extremists. In Australia, many Jewish schools, synagogues and community centres have security guards and security protocols.
Coronavirus and antisemitism
The coronavirus pandemic has led to the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories online attempting to connect Jews and Israel to the coronavirus crisis.
The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) reported that, “COVID-19 restrictions are being exploited by extreme right-wing narratives that paint the state as oppressive, and globalisation and democracy as flawed and failing.” ASIO added, “We assess the COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced an extreme right-wing belief in the inevitability of societal collapse and a ‘race war’.”
Some conspiracy theories have accused Jews or “Zionists” of making the pandemic for the purposes of “global domination”, to impose a “New World Order” and for profit.
Antisemitic content was also spread online using the #COVID48 hashtag, which compares Israel to the virus and reflecting past depictions of Jews as viruses seeking to take over the world.
According to Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s annual report, over 2.3 million antisemitic posts were detected online in 2020 from nearly 413,000 users in English, French, Arabic, German, Spanish, and Russian on Twitter, 4Chan, Bitchute, Stormfront, Gab, Minds, and 8Kun.
Far-right extremism is a growing threat around the world, including in Australia. While far-right groups were once fringe, today they are able to amplify their messages to a global audience via the internet, including social media, where they have found new ways to recruit, organise and incite violence, representing a potential terrorist threat. These groups share a culture of fundamental opposition to mainstream society, idealising a revolution in the name of the white or “Aryan” race, share their extremist views online and draw inspiration from each other. They generally hold antisemitic and racist views of society.
ASIO director-general Mike Burgess told the media on 15 August that Australians as young as 16 are being radicalised to support a white-power race war, and that 50 percent of ASIO’s most important domestic anti-terrorism cases involve neo-Nazi cells and other ideologically motivated groups.
AIJAC believes that educating young Australians about the dangers of Nazism and the devastation of the Holocaust has a role to play in countering extremism and antisemitism. Recent surveys show that younger generations are lacking awareness about the Holocaust. While education on the Holocaust is included in the Australian curriculum, currently it is only mandatory in Victoria and New South Wales.
While Holocaust education on its own is not sufficient to stop antisemitism and racism, it can help counter religious, racial and political sources of hatred. It can also teach lessons that promote an appreciation for democracy and human rights, as students learn how easily Germany descended from democracy into dictatorship. This awareness can help prevent young people from being attracted to extremism or becoming bystanders to it.
AIJAC is also calling for the Australian Government to adopt and officially endorse the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and its examples, as a tool to help more accurately define antisemitism and therefore expose antisemitism, deter Australians from undertaking antisemitic acts, and take action to prevent future incidents of antisemitism.