Dealing with government on antisemitism

March 16, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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  1. Members of our Victorian Jewish community were left shocked, appalled and angered after widespread national coverage from J-Wire, The Australian Jewish News, the ABC and others exposed white supremacists rallying in Western Victoria during the Australia Day long weekend.

Grampians rally Photo: Facebook

From October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry recorded 188 attacks and 143 threats as a part of their annual Antisemitism in Australia report. This has come after years of reports have highlighted a consistent and disturbing upward trend in the rate of antisemitic incidents. One of the more troubling incidents recorded was the heart-breaking revelation that two Jewish students at Brighton Secondary College had been subject to months of ongoing physical and emotional antisemitic abuse from peers in 2019 and 2020.

“Sadly, these incidents are neither rare nor isolated”, said Zionism Victoria president Yossi Goldfarb, who in response to the latest incidents reached out to the Victorian premier’s office to explore meaningful responses. “It’s important that we engage with government in a strategic fashion to combat antisemitism”, Mr Goldfarb said. “Shouting at the government every time there’s a single antisemitic event is not going to create the change needed to address this issue.

Together with JCCV interim president Frank Greenstein and CEO of the CSG Justin Kagan, Yossi Goldfarb met last week with government representatives including local MPs Nick Staikos and Paul Hamer (who is also co-chair of the Victorian parliament’s Israel friendship group), representatives from the Premier’s office, Victoria Police, and senior officials and advisers from the Multicultural Affairs portfolio to understand the government’s direction on antisemitism.

A briefing from the police demonstrated the importance with which the government is responding to incidents like that at the Grampians and highlighted the close working relationship between CSG and Victoria Police, in which both groups remain in regular contact discussing any threats facing the Victorian Jewish Community. Most importantly, was the discussion of plans to convene an anti-racism taskforce.

All three community leaders were vocal in their belief that there would need to be significant Jewish representation on any proposed taskforce, and that the issue of antisemitism should not be subsumed under the general scope of the initiative.

“It’s vitally important that this critical taskforce includes a significant Jewish voice”, Mr Goldfarb said. “Anti-racism efforts by the government should be welcomed as they improve life for all Victorians. The Jewish community knows only too well however that antisemitism is the ‘canary in the coal-mine’ insofar as broader racism is concerned, and we have much to contribute in that regard”.

Throughout the meeting, the community leaders highlighted the very serious threat of antisemitism in Victoria and presented areas of investment the government could explore as a part of any potential work this taskforce may do. The group pointed to the work already done by Victorian Minister of Education, James Merlino in partnership with Gandel Philanthropy to increase the quality and depth of Holocaust education in Victorian schools, as an example of what can happen when the State Government and the Jewish community work together.

Mr Goldfarb also highlighted that further investment could be made within the Connecting Cultures program, a free Zionism Victoria initiative aimed at fostering cross-cultural awareness through Jewish cultural and historical education in non-Jewish day schools that in “regular times” engages around 1,500 Victorian students annually.

The meeting proved to be a productive first step in a more comprehensive long-term approach of influencing government through strategic discussions. All three leaders are hopeful of positive and productive outcomes moving forward.

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