AIJAC makes parliamentary submission on countering extremist movements and radicalism in Australia
Feb 16, 2021 | Sharyn Mittelman
The Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) made a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) addressing its Inquiry into extremist movements and radicalism in Australia. The submission can be viewed here.
AIJAC’s submission to the Inquiry highlighted threats posed by groups not currently included on Australia’s list of terrorist organisations. This submission also provided recommendations for the Committee to consider in order to address ongoing threats to Australia’s national interests and best protect all Australians, including Jewish Australians. Given that extremism is transnational, AIJAC also emphasised that extremism needs to be addressed in concert with Australia’s international allies and international institutions.
The submission noted that the Australian Jewish community is particularly sensitive to terrorism of all varieties given individuals and groups from across the extremist spectrum have repeatedly highlighted Jews as a desirable target. This submission focused on threats perceived to be most aggressively targeting Australian Jewish people and institutions – specifically Hezbollah, Hizb ut-Tahrir and far-right extremists.
The submission also addressed the role of the internet in providing for the propagation of hateful extremist material and for the facilitation of intimidation, violence and terrorism. In the submission, AIJAC supported the view of the US-based Anti-Defamation League (ADL) which has said that governments have a duty “to investigate any complicity between social media companies and extremists, and make social media platforms more transparent and accountable for dangerous disinformation and misinformation, as well as hate content” and to develop means to “independently and transparently verify the amount, nature and impact of extremists online, as well as the effectiveness of current countermeasures.”
AIJAC called for Hezbollah in its entirety to be listed as a terrorist group in Australia given the threat posed by Hezbollah as an international terrorist group. Currently, only Hezbollah’s External Security Organisation is listed as a terrorist group in Australia. Hezbollah terror attacks against Jewish communities include the Hezbollah bombing in Argentina of the Jewish AMIA Centre in 1994, which killed 85 and injured 300.
Many nations and organisations, including key Australian allies, list Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist group, including: the UK, USA, Canada, Israel, Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Japan, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Paraguay, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Some others, like the European Union, only list Hezbollah’s “military wing” as a terrorist group. However even Hezbollah does not view itself as having separate political and military wings, the submission noted In 2012, Hezbollah leader Naim Qassem said, “We don’t have a military wing and a political one; we don’t have Hezbollah on one hand and the resistance party on the other…Every element of Hezbollah, from commanders to members as well as our various capabilities, is in the service of the resistance, and we have nothing but the resistance as a priority.”
In the submission, AIJAC noted that in 2018, the Parliamentary Joint Committee into Intelligence and Security recommended to the Minister for Home Affairs that he extend Australia’s proscription of Hezbollah’s ESO to the entirety of the group’s “military wing”. The Committee noted that “the proscription of the ESO is now somewhat inconsistent with the approach taken by some of Australia’s closest partners: Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.” The Minister for Home Affairs did not accept the recommendation.
The submission also highlighted that in recent years Australians have had links to Hezbollah’s international terror network. For example, in September 2020, a Bulgarian court sentenced dual Australian-Lebanese citizen Meliad Farah in absentia to life in prison for complicity in an act of terrorism. The court confirmed that Farah was linked to Hezbollah and had assisted in the bombing of a busload of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012, which killed five people. Disturbingly, Farah remains unaccounted for, so could still be active on behalf of Hezbollah.
In February 2020, following media reports regarding Sydneysider Ali Haider, a convicted criminal with a history of supporting Hezbollah, Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton told journalists he would receive “some briefings” on Hezbollah, saying that a decision regarding whether or not to extend the proscription of Hezbollah was based on “facts that aren’t publicly available.”
AIJAC also argued in the submission that the Government should consider listing HT as a terrorist group in Australia.
Founded in 1953, HT is a pan-Islamic fundamentalist movement with branches in more than 50 countries, including Australia. The movement calls for the re-establishment of a global Muslim Caliphate based on Islamic religious law (Sharia) while rejecting the integration of Muslims into non-Muslim societies. The movement is banned in Indonesia, Germany, Russia, China, Pakistan and most Arab countries.
Ismai’l Al-Wahwah (Abu Anas) is the leader of HT’s Australian branch, which has hundreds of active members and many more followers. On social media, in mosques and in public gatherings, Al-Wahwah and other HT Australia members openly promote violence and war, spread misinformation, antisemitism and conspiracy theories, call for the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of Jews and engage in Holocaust denial. Using a variety of channels and methods, HT Australia spreads hatred and misinformation, and urges the use of violence, terror and war, specifically targeting Jews, as the submission noted.
Given that it is often claimed that HT cannot be listed as a terrorist group under the current legislation, AIJAC recommended the Government consider an amendment to the Crimes Act to explicitly prohibit violence, incitement or the glorification of violence against a racial or religious group. This would assist in providing a legal remedy for groups and individuals that seek to harm Australians but fall short of the legislative threshold for proscription. This could potentially allow the listing of HT, but would also apply to extremism across the board.
While far-right extremism has long existed in Australia, in recent years its threat has grown considerably, partly influenced by international far-right groups that spread their views to Australians online and recruit via social media forums, the submission noted. In September, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation stated that up to 40% of its counterterrorism efforts were now directed at far-right extremist activities, an increase from 10-15% before 2016. Far-right groups have also utilised the coronavirus pandemic to increase their support, and it has led to the proliferation of antisemitic conspiracy theories online.
In Australia, there is a range of far-right groups, movements and far-right-motivated individuals that have been active in recent years, many with connections to international groups. AIJAC is particularly concerned by the growth of the Nationalist Socialist Network and the rise of QAnon in Australia.
To date, no far-right groups have been listed as a terrorist organisation in Australia. Far-right groups have been listed as terror groups by Australian allies including in the UK, Canada and New Zealand.
However, given that far-right groups in Australia have formed, disbanded and reappeared as new groups, proscribing such groups alone may not be sufficient, AIJAC argued. Australian counter-terror authorities should be monitoring the individuals involved in far-right extremism due to their ability to form new groups and the danger of lone-wolf attacks. Moreover, while some groups may fall below the threshold of being a terror group, such groups should also be monitored by counter-terror authorities given that the promotion of extremism can inspire violence. In addition, in order to improve the effectiveness of the legislation, AIJAC recommended that the Government consider an amendment to the Crimes Act to explicitly prohibit violence, incitement and the glorification of violence against a racial or religious group, which would also be advantageous to law enforcement in these situations.
AIJAC also argued that educating young Australians about the dangers of Nazism and the devastation of the Holocaust has a role to play in countering extremism. 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.
Summary of Recommendations to the Parliamentary Inquiry
Due to the nature of violent extremism and terrorism, the submission proposed a mixed approach that combines enhanced legislative tools with educational programs, consisting of nine recommendations in total:
- AIJAC urges legislators to implement a consistent and comprehensive approach to the proscription of terrorist groups to ensure Australia is not seen as a destination for criminal behaviour that supports terrorist groups, such as Hezbollah.
- AIJAC urges the committee to consider whether the use of disallowable instruments in relation to listing terrorist organisation functions in the way intended. If a decision is subject to disallowance – as is the case in the listing of organisations under section 102 of the Criminal Code– then AIJAC recommends, as it assumes is the case, that any minister ensures the advice of the committee reviewing the decision is considered.
- AIJAC recommends the committee consider introducing measures to ensure that, as is anticipated is already the case, relevant ministers take into account the full scope of advice available to them when making decisions to proscribe terrorist groups, including the informed input of the PJCIS and the actions taken by Australia’s closest allies.
- AIJAC urges the Government to classify far-right groups that promote or organise violence as terror organisations, as the failure to do so may enable them to continue to grow and recruit in Australia and could lead to future terror attacks.
- AIJAC recommends the Government consider an amendment to the Crimes Act 1914 to explicitly prohibit violence, incitement and the glorification of violence against a racial or religious group. This will assist in providing a legal remedy for groups and individuals that seek to harm Australians but fall short of the legislative threshold for proscription. This is relevant to a range of extremist groups, including Hizb ut-Tahrir and far-right groups and movements.
- AIJAC suggests the Government act on the lessons from the New Zealand Royal Commission into the Christchurch massacre and increase counter-terrorism funding and attention towards addressing far-right extremism. This includes monitoring extremist individuals and groups, and ongoing funding towards the security of vulnerable communities.
- AIJAC urges the Government to demonstrate national leadership in condemning far-right extremism when it appears.
- AIJAC recommends the Government develop a new national anti-extremism strategy to counter extremism in Australian society.
- AIJAC recommends the escalation of multilateral dialogue addressing these challenges, in addition to using and developing domestic tools to combat the ability of extremist ideologies to produce terrorist outcomes.
Download the full submission here.