Anti-Semitism on the rise in Australia as conflict in Israel escalates
As part of our coverage of the Middle East crisis, news.com.au asked members of Australia’s Jewish and Palestinian communities to write about the impact of violence in our country.
Dvir Abramovich writes below on the rise of anti-Semitism in our country, while Amin Abbas writes about the role Australia can play in the crisis.
I started this morning, as I do every morning.
I prayed that the conflict between Israel and Hamas would end.
And I shed a tear for the families, on both sides, who have lost loved ones. Their pain is our pain. This sadness was compounded by the knowledge that there are disturbing signs here at home.
As the fighting between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate, the poison of anti-Semitism has seeped into our collective fabric and wood, threatening to sabotage our cherished unity, common values and ethnic harmony.
To begin with, let me be very clear. The right to express your point of view on this current dispute is the cornerstone of our democracy. And yes, Australians can have fundamental disagreements on matters of great importance, even international ones. But this should not destroy the affection and respect we have for one another.
And yet this fundamental ideal is slowly fading as the moral safeguards of restraint have loosened as anti-Semitism, disguised as criticism, pollutes the debate.
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In recent years, anti-Semitism has reached unprecedented levels in Australia. It is a societal virus insensitive to facts, accessible to all, at any time, on billions of pages and on messages, and which crosses all ethnic, socio-economic and political lines.
And it is young people, who count the most on the Internet, who are most likely to believe lies.
Over the past week, I have read reports and seen images of demonstrators on our streets carrying banners comparing Israel to Hitler’s Germany. Classic anti-Semitism is to equate Israel’s actions and treatment of Palestinians with the final solution that led to the extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis.
This exploitation of the Holocaust is offensive, ugly and must be exposed.
In another, a protester replaced the Star of David in the Israeli flag with the Nazi swastika.
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Such practices cross the line. Highligths.
It is not a legitimate political expression or a questioning of Israeli policies. It is hate speech and has no place in our country.
Frightening cries of “From the river to the sea” were also heard at some gatherings. This phrase may not be understood by those who sing it, but it is a call for genocide.
A quick history lesson is warranted.
Before and after the establishment of Israel in 1948, Arab rulers often threatened to “push the Jews into the sea.” So when Jews spot signs with this slogan, they understand that it carries the message to wipe Israel off the map and wipe out its Jewish population.
Elsewhere, protesters launched the slanderous slander that Israel is an apartheid state, a lie that has been used repeatedly to defame and delegitimize the state and to suggest that it promotes heinous racial policies similar to those of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The problem is that in today’s Australia, anyone who supports Israel in defending its citizens against the barrage of rockets fired by Hamas into towns and civilian centers risks being humiliated and maligned.
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There has been a sharp upsurge in abuse on social media. I have heard stories of Jewish students being verbally abused by classmates because of their association with Israel. In fact, the volume of anti-Israel opprobrium is appalling in its intensity.
I have seen many articles which deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination in their own land, which claim that the mere existence of Israel is a war crime and that Zionism is an act of racism.
Many other “sightings” are linked to ugly plots that blame the Jews for the evils of the world.
On Monash Staklerspace, a Facebook community bulletin board for Monash University students with over 90,000 members, the Beast of Wickedness, Defamation and Bullying has been unleashed, targeting anyone who professes support for Israel.
The young Jewish students have been called “terrorist sympathizers”, “bootlickers”, accused of playing “the victim’s card” and of being “Palestinian killers”. It creates a polarized and tense atmosphere on campus that cannot stand.
I have spoken to Jewish students who fear wearing anything that visibly identifies them as Jews for fear of physical attack.
Others told me that they believed their faith and connection to Israel made them an outcast on campus, that unless they condemn Israel, they would be shut down and targeted for vicious abuse.
This is not who we are as a nation.
The problem is that too often when the Jewish people raise the specter of anti-Semitism, they are either dismissed or accused of trying to stifle debate. History has taught us that dismissing and turning a blind eye to hatred for Jews leads to murder.
As President Barack Obama noted: “When a Jew anywhere is targeted just for being a Jew, we must all respond. We are all Jews. “
The resurgence of anti-Semitism and a collective oblivion of what happened 80 years ago gives oxygen to people’s ugliest instincts and a license to spew out once unspeakable prejudices in an unfiltered way.
It is not necessary to look to Europe, which has become uninhabitable for the Jews, to see the disturbing manifestations of Jewish hatred.
“It couldn’t have happened here” is no longer true.
Anti-Semitism is on our doorstep, surrounding us in concrete and visible ways, as the constraints have diminished.
Australia is not immune to this disease and the rising statistics, which are at historic levels, are playing out every day.
And this conflict provides neat cover for those basic pulses on the surface.
Several public figures, commentators and organizations have used their voices and platform to comment on the current conflict. But instead of using measured tone and facts, they inflamed the situation with irresponsible and inflammatory language, stoking local tensions and fueling divisions.
It doesn’t help anyone. On the contrary, it creates cleavages and divisions which are dangerous. Such incitement can radicalize, intensify bigotry and end in tragedy.
Now is the time to find common ground. Now is the time for the right people to bridge the dangerously widening local divide, to help build a more cohesive society, to urge a de-escalation of feelings, and to remind everyone that we are brothers and sisters. .
I have never met a Jew who values Palestinian life less than Israeli life, or who rejoices in the loss of life in Gaza.
Australia’s Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities have worked hard for decades to build bridges of understanding, trust and communication.
Now is the time to bring together these reservoirs of goodwill and friendship and ensure that the bloodshed of a conflict unfolding in the Middle East does not seep into and invade our streets.
Dr Dvir Abramovich is Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, Australia’s leading civil rights organization.