IN THE MEDIA

I have never experienced a more challenging period to live as a Jew

Nov 3, 2023 | Joel Burnie

Image: ABC-TV screenshot
Image: ABC-TV screenshot

An edited version of this article appeared in The Age

 

This war between Israel and Hamas, precipitated by Hamas’s unprovoked orgy of mass-murder, kidnapping and torture in Israeli civilian towns and villages on October 7,is not just limited to the Middle East. It is also directly affecting us right here in Australia –  especially for Australian Jews.

We are witnessing an upsurge of antisemitism, both around the world and locally, that has shaken almost every Jewish person to their core.

ASIO boss Mike Burgess, in a rare public statement, warned that social cohesion was at risk in Australia, saying that there is a “direct connection” between “inflamed language and inflamed community tensions.”

We have already seen direct manifestations of that.  At anti-Israel marches, masquerading as pro-Palestinian demonstrations, there are placards that say “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” a well-known phrase for wiping out Israel – the “river to the sea” includes all of Israel!

We also have hear the highly threatening chant, “Khaybar Khaybar ya yahud, jaish Muhammad soufa ya’oud” (“Khaybar Khaybar oh Jews, the army of Muhammad will return”) on the steps of the Victorian parliament,  referring to a massacre of Jewish tribes in the year 628 at Khaybar, located in present-day Saudi Arabia, by forces led by the prophet Muhammed.

On a sign at a wine bar in Collingwood Yards the following was written, “Free Palestine from the dumb white dogs. Abolish Israel!” And who can forget the chanting of “Gas the Jews” at the Sydney Opera House – an image beamed across the world.

These threats are an inescapable part of daily life these days for most Australian Jews.

Jewish parents are advising their children to remove any visible signs that can identify them as Jewish, such as a uniform from a Jewish school, or a kippa on their head, or a Star of David necklace. Monash University has even advised Jewish students that they can sit their exams remotely due to the rising antisemitism.

There have even been some reports of school sporting carnivals having to be moved in order to be adequately secured.

It is simply heart-wrenching that in the year 2023 right here in tolerant multi-cultural Australia, I have to weigh up whether public display of my Judaism could endanger the safety of my children.

In my life, I have never experienced a more challenging period to live as a Jew.

I do understand why people see the media reports of the devastation in Gaza and the deaths occurring there and are horrified. I am too.

But those whose simplistically allege that Israel is waging a war on children, deliberately killing en masse in the name of “self-defence,” are engaging in a completely false narrative which can only be based on demonisation of the world’s only Jewish state.  These people seem to be forgetting entirely, or seek to deliberately erase, not only the unprovoked Hamas attacks and Israel’s repeated efforts to convince Gazans to evacuate the battle zone, the callous abuse of Palestinian civilians as human shields  by Hamas ,but also the repeated offers Israel has made for a two-state peace with the Palestinians – including in  2000, 2001, and 2008 – that were rebuffed and often met with suicide bombings and terror rockets .

The war Israel is engulfed in with Hamas is a war that Israel did not choose, it was forced upon it after the most brutal and barbaric act of terrorist mass-murder in its history. It undoubtedly involves terrible and difficult choices – yet  is also a clash between a democratic country that values freedom and human rights, and obeys the law of war, and a genocidal terrorist organisation which scoffs at international law, and whose charter calls for the murder of all Jews.

Moreover, Hamas’ top leader Ismail Haniyah recently admitted Hamas deliberately puts the civilian residents of Gaza in harm’s way, saying Hamas needs “the blood of the women, children and elderly […]it awakens within us the revolutionary spirit.”

Almost all Jews globally have deep connections to Israel – the world’s only Jewish homeland and the place where almost half of all Jews live. I don’t expect other Australians to necessarily understand that bond, but I do expect them to adhere to and uphold the core values which underpin Australian multiculturalism, including especially mutual tolerance and respect , and not inciting racism or violence against fellow citizens based on ethnicity.

Of course, Israel can be criticised like any other nation, but much of what I am hearing does not seem to be simply criticism. I really  cannot understand how any of my Australian co-citizens can treat Israel and Hamas as equally culpable in the current conflict – much less cheer on the latter’s blatant war crimes, or incite violence against Jews generally.

The unmistakeable reality is that many Jews are deeply alarmed these days – and with good reason, after what we are seeing around the world and in Australia. But we are also unified too, perhaps more so than I can ever remember, as we stand together against something which it seems crystal clear to us is true evil.

We really hope our fellow Australians can stand with us against this darkness.

Joel Burnie is executive manager at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.

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