Antisemitism in Australia

July 2, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Research Director for The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Julie Nathan has givev a presentation on antisemitism in Australia at the launch of the report on “Freedom of Religion in Australia: a focus on serious harms”.

Julie Nathan

The report was published jointly by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC).

Julie Nathan is responsible for the annual antisemitism report published by the ECAJ.

The following is the full text of Julie Nathan’s presentation.

Incidents – categories: 

There are 8 categories of incidents: 

Four categories relate to physical attacks against persons or property and include:

physical assault; verbal abuse/harassment/intimidation; vandalism; graffiti. 

The other four categories relate to threats of physical harm and include threats by: email, postal mail, telephone, posters/stickers. 

We do not include as incidents: online content, or cases of discrimination, or incidents of casual antisemitism. 

Online:

I am sometimes asked why we do not include Online hate as incidents – the reason is fairly simple. 

Firstly, online postings are discourse, ie what people are saying about Jews rather than what is being done to Jews. 

Secondly, the sheer amount of online antisemitism is like counting raindrops or sand or stars – it is almost limitless – such is the nature of the internet.

For example, so far in this reporting period, which began last October, there have been hundreds of antisemitic comments posted on the social media sites of some major Jewish organisations. 

In addition, there are antisemitic posts, comments and images, on websites and other social media sites. Since October, I have collected well over two thousand pages of these posts, amounting to several thousand, perhaps up to eight or ten thousand, antisemitic postings, by Australians. 

By counting and including online hate content as incidents, this would have an intense distorting effect on the number of incidents, and thereby would not give a true or accurate picture of what is happening to the targeted population. It would adversely affect the credibility of the data, and hence would be counter-productive to countering antisemitism. 

The 2019 Antisemitism Report:

There were 368 Incidents, which is an increase of only 2 incidents over the previous year. However, the previous year, 2018, saw a 59% increase, so this high level remained much the same over the last two years. 

In 2019, there were increases in specific areas. There was a 30% increase in abuse, harassment, intimidation. Graffiti – there was a 107% increase. Emails were up 61%.

The average number of reported antisemitic incidents each year from 2013 to 2019 was 272 incidents. So, over the last two years, the number of reported incidents is well above the average with 366 and 368 incidents over the last two years.

Notable incidents over 2019:

Harassment in Melbourne of two Jewish schoolchildren, a 5-year-old and a 12-year-old, which are detailed in the Report and in the Victorian Inquiry (into anti-vilification laws).

Graffiti in Melbourne, in Prahran, over a building complex, with lots of graffiti, including: “Gas the Kikes”, “Reject Jewish poison”, “Hitler was right”, and “Jews out”. 

Graffiti in Sydney, in Epping, over the back walls of many buildings shows the genocidal nature of antisemitism. The graffiti called for Africans, Asians and Pakistanis to “Go home” or to ‘eff-off’ but when it came to Jews, the graffiti said to “Kill the Jews”. It shows a difference with antisemitism, compared to other forms of racism.

The Jewish community in Australia:

There are approximately 120,000 Jews in Australia, ie 0.4% of the population, so a very small proportion of Australians. Approximately half were born here, and half are migrants from Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, South Africa, Russia, North and South America. The community is highly concentrated geographically, with 85% of Jews living in two main areas – the eastern suburbs of Sydney, and Caulfield/St Kilda areas in Melbourne.

The Australian Jewish community has the highest proportion of Holocaust survivors outside Israel. This means that for Australian Jews, antisemitism and the Holocaust are something they are very much aware of and it touches their lives personally through family members or friends.

There is some history of government discrimination against Jews, particularly policies limiting and banning Jewish immigration especially in the 1930s and 40s, and yet the fact that Australia has had two Governors-General who were Jewish, shows a certain level of acceptance of Jews. If we look today, Jews are well-integrated into Australian society, and yet antisemitism persists, both in the mainstream and on the fringes. 

Current situation for Jews in Australia:

The current situation for Jews in Australia is that security is a major factor. The Jewish community’s places of worship, schools, communal organisations and community centres need, for security reasons, to operate under the protection of high fences, armed guards, metal detectors, CCTV cameras and the like. This necessity is recognised by Australia’s law enforcement agencies and arises from the entrenched and protean nature of antisemitism in western and Middle Eastern cultures, resulting in a high incidence of physical attacks against Jews and Jewish communal buildings over the last three decades in Australia, and continuing threats. 

In practice, it means every time a Jew goes to synagogue or a Jewish school or other Jewish facility, they go through security, armed guards, and the like. It is a normal part of life for Jews in Australia. 

In the public sphere, Jews who are identifiably Jewish eg by wearing a Jewish skull cap, or a Star of David necklace, or carrying Jewish items, are at greater risk of harassment or worse. 

Many incidents occur around synagogues on Friday evening and Saturday as Jews walk to and from synagogue. It is common that people drive their cars around the area looking for Jews to verbally abuse, do a gun gesture with the hand, throw items at them eg eggs or cans of drink. Sometimes people in a car will go to a couple of synagogues in order to abuse more Jews. 

Casual antisemitism is the one form of antisemitism that every Jew has faced – whether it is jokes or stupid comments or stereotypes about Jews being rich or stingy or controlling the world, and the like. These comments often come from work colleagues, neighbours, in social settings and elsewhere. Casual antisemitism, in general, makes one feel very uncomfortable, but not necessarily physically threatened. 

Jews have faced antisemitism for over 2,000 years, so it is something that is part of normal life for Jews, but something that can suddenly explode and our lives are changed. 

Antisemitism differs from other forms of racism in one major way – it is based on false myths, entrenched stereotypes, and on conspiracy theories that “the Jews” are all-powerful and absolutely evil, and who work together as one entity in order to destroy non-Jews and to dominate the world. 

The important lesson for all is to take a stand against racism and other forms of bigotry, to call it out, to condemn it, and to ensure it is pushed back out of mainstream society. It is especially important that: 

1. there are effective and appropriate laws, both civil and criminal, to protect against harassment, vilification and incitement; 

2. that educational programs are in place to educate people about the evils of racism and other forms of bigotry; and 

3. that political leaders, and others such as academics, clergy, journalists, business people, trade unionists, human rights advocates and others, publicly and forcefully denounce racism and other forms of bigotry, in order to set the bounds of what is acceptable and unacceptable in Australian society.

The report is available HERE

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