Why must my friend be afraid to be Jewish?
Aug 8, 2014 | Glen Falkenstein
ABC’s ‘The Drum’ – 8 August 2014
Tensions overseas and a rise in anti-Israel rhetoric has given an excuse/pretext to antisemites to act on their beliefs and carry out intimidation towards Jews both in Australia and overseas, writes Glen Falkenstein.
“In the last week or so, I have seen anti-Israel talk become anti-Jewish talk, and this scares me … I have never had to say this before, but I am now scared to tell people I am Jewish … I really want to stop being afraid to be Jewish.”
A Jewish friend of mine posted this on Facebook after increased reports of antisemitism in Australia and abroad, reports that coincided with conflict between Israel and Hamas.
The recent tensions has resulted in significant criticism towards the state of Israel, and as with previous conflicts involving Israel, has either manifested itself as, or led to, an increase in antisemitism.
This is an unfortunate reality, which regardless of your views on Israel’s or Hamas’s actions, should be unequivocally rejected in a multicultural Australia. Only on Wednesday, an incident in Sydney was reported where several males allegedly boarded a school bus transporting children between the ages of 5 and 12 to their homes from Jewish day schools, and proceeded to abuse the children and shout “heil Hitler”, “kill the Jews” and “we’re going to cut your throats”.
At anti-Israel protests in Paris, rioters shouted “death to Jews” and “Hitler was right”, set fire to cars and attacked Synagogues, trapping worshippers inside. In Berlin, marchers screamed out “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, come on out and fight”. In Melbourne, a Jewish man wearing a t-shirt with Hebrew writing, was recently assaulted by men who shouted “Jewish dog” and verbal abuse relating to the situation in Gaza.
This week in Perth, a visiting Rabbi and his assistant were trapped in a car when six teenagers began banging on it and shouting that they would “fix us up” and telling them to “f— off”. On Twitter, the hashtags #HitlerWasRight and #HitlerDidNothingWrong have been noticeably trending.
In the current edition of the Australia/Israel Review, it was noted that emails received during the recent overseas tensions by Jeremy Jones, an authority on antisemitism, included comments such as “what a repulsive race you Jews are”, “can you not see why the Gallant Germans had to try to rid Jews from Europe”, “the Jews are committing on the Palestinians a real Holocaust not a Jew bullshit one” and “what a violent evil race” Jews comprise.
Mike Carlton’s resignation from the SMH and public rebuke by the paper, the cartoon by Glen Le Lievre accompanying his article on the recent conflict (which has been widely condemned as antisemitic), and the criticism directed at Carlton for abusing readers and calling one a “Jewish bigot” have made these issues very public.
Antisemitism is not the only form of extremism that has unfortunately shown itself at recent anti-Israel protests in Australia. Alongside signs of the Jewish Star of David distorted by the Nazi swastika, many protestors sported Hezbollah flags and Hamas regalia. The militant wings of both these organisations are proscribed terrorist groups in Australia, their leaders are openly antisemitic, and their activity is banned for the reason that their militants have carried out violent attacks against innocent civilians.
Moreover, comments directed at a Jewish person appeared on the rally’s Facebook page the night before it took place, stating “we don’t want Jews in Australia go back to Europe so another Hitler can appear and finish you scums off. I don’t blame him for burning 6 million of you scums alive”.
I am not suggesting, for one moment, that all criticism of Israel or protests related to Israel’s actions equates to antisemitism, but that does not mean that none of what we have seen is in fact antisemitic. What is clear is that increased reporting of tensions overseas and a rise in anti-Israel rhetoric has given an excuse/pretext to antisemites to act on their beliefs and carry out intimidation directed towards Jews both in Australia and overseas. Sadly, this is by no means limited to times of conflict – five Jews walking home from a Sabbath meal in Bondi last October were hospitalised after they were attacked by men shouting antisemitic slurs.
There are many commentators and community leaders, in addition to the Jewish community, who have spoken out against such hatred, such as Sydney Institute executive director Gerard Henderson who recently noted that “Jews in western Europe are facing anti-Semitic attacks unparalleled in the past seven decades”.
It is the responsibility not just of Jewish leaders, but of the wider Australian community, to speak out and condemn such hatred, as it is the responsibility of a multicultural Australia to condemn hatred against all minorities, including Islamophobia, or racism directed at Australia’s Muslim, Arab and Palestinian communities. Both the Muslim and Jewish communities in Australia are keenly aware of the ongoing harm and effects of pervasive prejudice, and leaders within both communities fought to retain Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for just this reason.
I want my Facebook friend to stop being afraid to be Jewish. I believe that debates and discussions about the Middle East can be characterised by intelligent debate, nuance and the acceptance of competing yet valid modes of thought. These important issues must not be inundated or swamped by any kind of overt racism – this needs to be condemned and exposed for what it is; hatred, not valid argument, nor legitimate expression.
It is the responsibility of our leaders, our thinkers and of reasonable people to ensure that such vitriol is neither pervasive, nor accepted.
Glen Falkenstein is a policy analyst at the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. View his full profile here.