Antisemitism in Australia
May 1, 2020 | AIJAC staff
This fact sheet is current as at May 2020.
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. Today, Jews in Australia make up an estimated less than 0.5% of the Australian population.
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 international scholars:
“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.”
Included in 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
Jewish Australians and antisemitism
According to a 2017 survey, a majority of Australian Jews do not feel that antisemitism is a big problem in Australia, however two-fifths do regard antisemitism as a fairly big or very big problem (Australian Jewish communal Gen17 survey 2017).
According to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Antisemitism in Australia Report 2019, between October 1 2018 and September 30 2019, there were 368 antisemitic incidents in Australia, consisting of 225 attacks and 143 threats. From 1989 until 2018, the average total number of reported antisemitic incidents annually was 384, with 130 of these being attacks and 254 threats. You can read analysis of these reports by AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones here.
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 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.