Antisemitic incidents in Australia: a slight change but a major increase in serious incidents

November 24, 2019 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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The ECAJ annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia was released at yesterday’s at the organisation’s AGM revealing a 30% spike in serious incidents involving verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation.

There were 368 recorded antisemitic incidents in Australia during the year ending 30 September 2019, according to the annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia, published by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ). The incidents were logged by the ECAJ, Jewish community roof bodies in each State, and other Jewish community groups and included physical assaults, abuse and harassment, vandalism, graffiti, hate and threats communicated directly by email, letters, telephone calls, posters, stickers and leaflets. The total figure consists of 225 attacks and 143 threats.

“The overall number of antisemitic incidents continued at, and slightly exceeded, the unusually high number logged during 2018, which saw a 59% increase over the previous year”, said Julie Nathan, the ECAJ’s Research Director on Antisemitism. “In 2019 there was also a marked increase in the seriousness of the incidents recorded. Especially concerning was the 30% spike in the number of reported incidents involving direct verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation, from 88 in 2018 to 114 in 2019, and the more than doubling of the number of reported graffiti attacks, from 46 to 95.”

“The sharp jump in reported incidents of verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation demonstrates that antisemites felt increasingly emboldened to behave in an aggressive, confrontational and menacing way towards Jews who were doing nothing more than going about their daily lives,” Ms Nathan said. “Jews continued to be verbally abused and harassed around synagogues on a regular basis, especially over the Jewish Sabbath, and on other Jewish holy days and festivals. These are periods when many Jews are congregating at, and walking to or from, synagogue, providing antisemites with an easy target”.

NSW Opposition Treasurer Walt Secord and Dr Marjorie O’Neill show the swatsikas at Bondi Beach

In addition, Ms Nathan referred to the escalation in both the number and seriousness of antisemitic graffiti incidents. “Not only did the number of graffiti attacks more than double, the messages included calls for the murder of Jews and support for Hitler and Nazism”, but Ms Nathan also said. “Last year, by comparison, there were only two reported incidents of graffiti calling for the killing of Jews. Holocaust denial was another common theme.”

Referring to the Federal election in May, Ms Nathan pointed to the “unprecedented” number of graffiti attacks using Nazi themes and images against the posters and campaign material of Jewish candidates, and a series of viciously antisemitic circular emails about another Jewish candidate.

According to the ECAJ report, the rise in antisemitic incidents was paralleled by a proliferation of antisemitic and pro-Nazi discourse online, especially on online sites used by far-right, white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and other racist groups.

“A common theme was the “white replacement” theory which blames “the Jews” for the supposed demise and destruction of the European races, culture and civilisation, including in Australia”, Ms Nathan said. “This is the ideology embraced by the perpetrators of mass shootings of people at prayer in synagogues in Pittsburgh and San Diego and at mosques in Christchurch. Many subscribers to this myth in Australia have openly expressed support for such actions and called for armed violence, revolution, terrorism and race war. As a result, and by necessity, physical security remains a prime concern not only for the Jewish community but also for the wider community.”

The ECAJ report notes that although Australia overall remains a stable, vibrant and tolerant democracy, where Jews face no official discrimination, and are free to observe their faith and traditions, unofficial antisemitism is becoming more serious, and there have been worrying signs that it is creeping into mainstream institutions.

“Most disturbing were the reported incidents of antisemitic bullying of Jewish schoolchildren at two Victorian public schools, and the manifestly inadequate way in which the schools handled those incidents”, Ms Nathan said.

“More subtle, but just as concerning, was the spread of calumnies about Jews beneath the cloak of political discourse about Israel. Examples included a university lecturer and the utterly false claim made by a professional teaching body in July that Israel persecutes Arabs because ‘they don’t follow the Jewish religion’”.

The ECAJ has supported the call recently made by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, for urgent action by parents, teachers and community and political leaders to counter hate speech and ensure the safety of houses of worship “before underground hatred becomes an overt and alarming new normal.”

“We need not only strong anti-incitement laws but also systematic education programs at schools and universities and responsible messaging from community and political leaders”, Ms Nathan concluded. “It’s not just a government responsibility. Everyone stands to lose if racism continues to worsen. The responsibility falls on all of us”.

It is known anecdotally that many incidents of antisemitism in Australia occur but are not formally reported either to appropriate Jewish authorities or to the police. Thus, the statistics in this report represent only a proportion of incidents actually occurring in Australia. It is not known how many incidents are not reported.

As has been the pattern in previous years, verbal abuse, intimidation and harassment of Jews occur regularly around synagogues on the Jewish Sabbath on Friday evenings and on Saturday mornings, and on other Jewish holy days and festivals, when Jews are walking to and from synagogue, and attending religious services.

There has often been a correlation between spikes in violence in any of the various conflicts in the Middle East (and a concomitant increase in media coverage), whether or not the conflict involves Israel, and an upturn in antisemitic incidents. In addition, when issues involving Jews or Israel receive prominent coverage in the mainstream media, this has often led to a rise in antisemitic commentary and incidents.

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