Such blatant acts of racism and intimidation should never be tolerated in a civil society.
Canberra Times – 22 Sep, 2011
On a dry, hot day in Durban, South Africa, in 2001, Australians attending the United Nations’ World Conference Against Racism started planting a ”sea of hands” to stimulate discussion on the many challenges facing indigenous Australians.
I was one of the people delegated to give ”hands” to passers-by and encourage them to help build the display, with an overwhelmingly positive response from people from many nationalities who enjoyed the break from the intense and often nasty politicking taking place in the sessions. However, a group of about 10 men and women, with badges identifying them as predominantly coming from ”Palestine”, made audible, contemptuous comments at the fact a ”Jew” (me) was part of the project and went to advise anyone who would listen to dissociate from the event.
An hour or so earlier, a media conference called by the Jewish caucus to the non-government forum, in response to a series of blatant acts of anti-Jewish racism and intimidation, was disrupted by a gang of thugs who had media badges from Syria, Iran and other paragons of freedom. Some of the incidents I had witnessed personally included the distribution by an Egyptian non-governmental organisation of a book of ”cartoons” depicting Jews with long hooked noses, vampirish teeth and claws dripping blood; an elderly Swiss lawyer asking a procedural question being drowned out by a chorus of ”Jew! Jew! Jew”; the session on anti-Semitism being interrupted by a large aggressive mob, with the actions of one brave African National Congress official probably averting more than verbal violence; and a session on Holocaust denial and legal responses to it, in which I was scheduled to speak, being cancelled on the basis of the advice that conference security couldn’t guarantee the safety of participants.
Each evening, when delegates met to recap the day’s events, I heard of incidents of abuse, assault and harassment, primarily directed at the youth and women delegates by gangs of cowardly thugs. The conference abandoned any semblance of honesty, decency or adherence to pre-agreed procedure to produce an outcome document which in itself is a damning indictment of the so-called anti-racist groups in ”civil society”.
Earlier that year, in the midst of a freezing Stockholm winter, I was also honoured to be a speaker and part of an Australian government delegation at the forum on ”Combating Intolerance”, where many of the European delegations spoke of the resurgence of far-right racism, replete with anti-Semitism, in the years after the end of the Cold War.
The resilience of the ludicrous conspiratorial world view, which infused Nazism, was a concern in and of itself, but more so due to cross-fertilisation with strains of anti-Jewish bigotry current in Iran, the Arab world and beyond. Very often, unapologetic anti-Jewish hatemongers were using the terms Jew and Zionist interchangeably.
Despite the glib proposition heard in some quarters, all serious studies showed that the alleged or actual behaviour of Jews (or Israel) was never the cause of anti-Semitism, but was often used as a pretext by anti-Semites as they acted to progress their bigotry and hatred.
In Australia, as elsewhere, acts of harassment, assault and vandalism have been committed by far-right anti-Jewish extremists, self-identified extreme leftists, individuals motivated by interpretations of Islam and, less often, anti-Jewish Christianity, and within each subgroup many variables in beliefs and intensity of feeling. Common factors, in recent years, have been the misuse of ”Zionist” as a direct substitute for the word ”Jew” and insistence by all bar a few of those caught red-handed in acts of anti-Jewish racism that they are wrongly labelled as anti-Semites.
In the context of attempts to understand the way anti-Jewish prejudice and hatred is manifested, a number of guidelines have been developed to help assess internal variants and also when advocacy of strongly held political views crosses the line and can fairly be assessed as racist rhetoric. The European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia released a comprehensive study of anti-Semitism in the EU in 2004 and produced a comprehensive ”working definition” which has assisted many policymakers and others consider appropriate actions designed to strengthen society’s defences against hatred.
In my experience of ”road-testing” that definition in Australia, I have found people of goodwill who genuinely want to understand the phenomena which comprise anti-Semitism (as opposed to those who put barracking for a side in the Arab-Israel conflict ahead of any principles of anti-racism or are simply self-justifying bigots) are well-disposed towards it. The most debated part of that definition is the section arguing that the use of double standards to assail Israel and the employment of mendacious, stereotypical charges to dehumanise Jews as a collective, could be anti-Semitic. Some examples are myths of immense Jewish power, including control of governments, media, the economy, etc, and the historically, morally and intellectually offensive comparison of Nazism and the actions of Israel.
Logically, there are precisely three possibilities as to the ”anti-Semitic” nature of these type of allegations against Jews. One is that they are invariably anti-Semitic. Another is that they are never anti-Semitic. The third option is that all of them sometimes will be anti-Semitic and sometimes they will not be, depending on context. That this position should be contentious says far more about those who challenge it than it does about the nature of anti-Semitism!
Anti-Semitism is too significant to be used as a cheap insult or as a political football. For anyone to contend that anti-Semitism does not play a part in anti-Israel activities, as much in Australia as elsewhere, is not merely dishonest but morally reprehensible. Further, anyone who advances the argument that racism is caused by the characteristics the racists themselves attribute to their targets shows an appalling lack of decency and intellectual integrity.
Jeremy Jones, the director of international and of community affairs for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, has been researching and writing on racism in Australia since the 1980s.