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Op-Ed: Anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in Australia

Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Jeremy Jones, director of Jewish Affairs Council.
Published: Tuesday, April 01, 2014 10:04 PM


“The best estimate of the number of Jews living in Australia is about 120,000. There are many others with one or more Jewish great-grandparents. Approximately 50,000 Jews live in Melbourne, 45,000 in Sydney, and close to between 7,000-10,000 in each of Perth and Brisbane/Gold Coast. There are smaller communities in other state capitals and major regional cities."

Jeremy Jones AM is Director of International and of Community Affairs of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and Honorary Life Member and a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

“It should be emphasized that stereotyped images of Jews do not hold a prominent position. In general, Jews are not seen as distinct from Australians of other religions or cultures. Yet anti-Semitic incidents have an impact on the personal or communal sense of security. This deserves to be treated with seriousness. However, there is little evidence to support the notion that Australia is unsafe for Jews.

“anti-Semitism in Australia has various manifestations and arises from different sources. Some right-wing racist groups include anti-Semitism among their prejudices. Several political groups cynically use anti-Semitism to further their agendas. Various individuals believe that their religions justify or even mandate anti-Semitism and a variety of bigots propagate anti-Jewish stereotypes.

“Some small yet visible groups promote Holocaust denial. One is the Adelaide Institute, now mainly internet-based. Another is the racist Australian League of Rights. There is also a small number of Christian or quasi-Christian ministers who preach Replacement Theology, or other anti-Jewish messages. Among Muslim prayer leaders who claim that Judaism is existentially opposed to Islam, the most notorious is the former Mufti of Australia, Sheikh Tajeddine al-Hailaly.

“Cases of violence are too few to draw broad conclusions about their motivation. Each year, Jewish organizations receive a handful of reports on physical assaults on Jews. Objects have been thrown at Jews walking to synagogue, mainly by young males. There have been a number of incidents directed against buildings, such as fires started in synagogues, rocks thrown through windows or doors of Jewish institutions and other petty vandalism. There are many anti-Semitic comments posted on the internet and sporadic ones elsewhere.

“Anti-Israelism is present among the neo-Nazi far right, the small extreme left wing political parties, significant sections of the Greens Party, entrenched segments of the (Social Democratic) Australian Labor Party and a relatively small ‘Arabist’ group within the governing Liberal/National Party Coalition. It is commonplace however, in far left academia and some European-oriented centre-left media commentators.

“One finds it also in church groups influenced by propaganda from the World Council of Churches and some associated religiously with Middle Eastern Churches as well as from political Arab and Muslim groups. Manifestations include recurring skewed and distorted reports in mainstream media, occasional speeches in parliament and events addressed by speakers defaming Israel. When anti-Israelism is couched in language which attributes the negative behavior of Israelis to Jewishness in general, it is considered anti-Semitism. When Jews, or Israel as the symbolic representation of Jewry, are compared to Nazis, this is included in analyses as anti-Jewish rhetoric.

“There are groups actively promoting boycotts of Israel and Israelis in most major cities. Rallies and demonstrations against Israel take place at times of Middle East tension or on dates of significance to anti-Israel groups. There is regular, organized lobbying of politicians, tours by anti-Israel speakers and organized visits to the Middle East designed to reinforce anti-Israel outlooks.

“The effects of these activities seem minor. Demonstrations outside Max Brenner Chocolate cafes, a popular venue for anti-Israel rallies, have had no negative impact on business. Protests against visiting Israeli entertainers have not seemingly influenced attendance at their events, and anti-Israel activity by academics has spring-boarded more important pro-Israel responses, such as formal arrangements between Australian and Israeli academic institutions.

“The Muslim community numbers about 500,000, originating from many countries. Turks, Indonesians and Lebanese are the most numerous groups. There are many different types of Muslim practices and people with hugely different levels of education, achievement and integration throughout the various communities. Some Muslim groups as well as individuals promote anti-Israelism. There are dedicated, hard line supporters of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel groups including Hizbut Tahrir, Hamas and Hezbollah. Anti-Jewish books have been available on occasion from Islamic bookstores and anti-Jewish speakers have been hosted on lecture tours.

“However, several prominent Muslim figures actively oppose anti-Semitism and seek to provide balanced information on Israel. An important aspect is that the much greater size of the Muslim community is used by anti-Israel politicians to claim that political parties and Australia should adopt anti-Israel policies.

“There have been consistent bipartisan condemnations of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias activity, such as boycotts. Israel’s Independence Day is honored by state and national political leaders. Philosemitism is probably more significant than anti-Semitism in Australia, both historically and presently. The Jewish community actively fights the anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in many ways.”