Tuesday, 5 November 2013

2/11...In a nation of tolerance, anti-Semitism still can erupt

In a nation of tolerance, anti-Semitism still can erupt

Anti-Israel campaign
The anti-Israel BDS campaign has enabled some anti-Semitic elements to vent their prejudices. Picture: Sam Ruttyn Sam Source: TheAustralian
AT 9.20 on Tuesday night Danny Lamm, president of Australia's peak Jewish body, received an email about the violent assault on a Jewish family at Bondi in Sydney's eastern suburbs last weekend. The Jewish community was on tenterhooks after the unprovoked bashing, which left injuries to four men including a broken jaw, glass in the eye and bleeding to the brain.
But when the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry opened the email he was surprised and comforted by what he saw. It was a joint message of solidarity and support for the victims of the Bondi attack from 20 non-Jewish community groups in NSW, including unlikely bodies such as the United Muslim Women Association, the Lebanese Muslim Association, groups spanning the Chinese, Indian and Greek communities, and even Cricket Australia and the Australian Rugby League Commission.
"An attack like the one that has taken place also attacks our overall way of life," they wrote.
"Therefore such incidents, while generally isolated in our society, need to be taken very seriously and need to be used by all of us to demonstrate commitment to Australia's generally successful multicultural model."
The email followed robust condemnation of the Bondi attack from the broad political spectrum, including local federal member Malcolm Turnbull, Jewish Labor MP Michael Danby and NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell. Says Lamm: "It was clear that this violent act received the condemnation of every serious group in this country and I think showed that there was wall-to-wall empathy (towards the Jewish community) about the incident."
Yet the powerful and united reaction to this ugly example of anti-Semitism is matched by the deep unease it has triggered within the nation's 100,000-plus Jewish community as anti-Semitic acts are on the rise overseas. In Israel some have speculated whether the incident is somehow an extension of a global rise in anti-Semitic behaviour, especially in Europe.
"The violent Sydney (incident), which came just hours after an anti-Israel protest in Denver, Colorado, as well as demonstrations in France and Belgium, require that we address the situation immediately," says Efi Stenzler, world chairman of the Jewish National Fund. Stenzler has pledged to convene an emergency meeting of his organisation's international representatives following the Bondi attack. In Australia, ECAJ executive director Peter Wertheim has described the attack as "the most serious incident of spontaneous anti-Semitic violence in Australia in living memory".
A closer examination of the incident suggests it was almost certainly a random assault rather than a premeditated anti-Jewish attack, but it has served to cast a spotlight on anti-Semitism in Australia as some anti-Israel fringe groups are blurring the boundaries between race and politics.
The Bondi attack took place at 12.30 last Saturday morning, when eight young males attacked a Jewish family, including four men aged 66, 48, 39 and 27 and a 62-year-old woman as they were walking home from a Jewish Sabbath dinner. The men were wearing skullcaps and their attackers yelled anti-Semitic insults.
"You certainly don't come to Bondi and expect that," St Vincent Hospital spokesman David Faktor says. "Maybe in Germany in the 1930s and Russia in the 1970s, but certainly in Sydney, Australia, Bondi, you just don't expect an unprovoked attack."
The victims later released a statement saying; "We are concerned about the need for the education of future generations about the importance of goodwill and tolerance, and the need for society to embrace these concepts."
The attack now appears to have been opportunist, with the three detained males, two 17-year-olds and a 23-year-old, having no obvious connection to Islam or far-right groups and the two boys already on bail for previously assaulting a police officer. As Faktor says, the gang of "disaffected youths would have victimised any minority" they encountered.
This incident coincided with another anti-Semitic episode in Sydney the previous day when, during a campaign forum for the University of NSW student representative council, two students danced around a Jewish political opponent doing Nazi salutes and singing Springtime for Hitler.
The victim, masters student Jake Campbell, later wrote about the incident on social media: "Today I had the worst experience of anti-Semitism in my life and it was student politics," he posted on his Facebook page. "Clearly anti-Semitism is still sadly a problem."
The two students later claimed they did not know Campbell was Jewish and apologised unreservedly for being "inexcusably insensitive".
As Lamm points out, Jews are hardly the only minority group in Australia to be singled out for racism, but he says history makes all Jews sensitive to it. "We are not a stand-alone, unique, exceptional group; we've just got a very tough and distressing history," he says.
Paul Valent, a child survivor of the Holocaust and an expert on trauma, says violent anti-Semitic events, while relatively rare in Australia, have a disproportionate effect on Jewish Australians, especially those whose families were linked with the Holocaust.
"I think basically Australia has been a tolerant country," says Valent, a past president of the Australasian Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust group in Melbourne. "But for Holocaust survivors especially, their children and grandchildren, and the wider community of Jews whose forebears would have suffered anti-Semitism in Russia and so on, these sort of events would have a very major effect. It's like their nightmares coming true again."
For the most part Australia has been a welcoming country for Jewish immigrants and while anti-Semitism has always existed here, only rarely has it been virulent or aggressive. The rise of prominent Jews such as John Monash, the respected World War I commander of Australian forces, and governor-general Isaac Isaacs has been reflective of the relatively easy assimilation of Jews into all aspects of Australian society. Even so, anti-Semitism was a constant, if low-level, feature of the incipient Australian nationalism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The National Archives of Australia notes: "Sections of the labour movement promoted stereotypes of Jews as manipulative bankers and profiteers while, at the turn of the century, The Bulletin (magazine) claimed that the Boer War had been precipitated by Jews for their own (financial) ends."
In December 1982 the Hakoah Club and Israeli consulate in Sydney were bombed on the same day, injuring two people. Since then, while physical attacks on Jews have been rare, there have been at least 10 recorded attacks on synagogues since 1990, with firebombs or other forms of arson.
Australia's first convicted terrorist, Jack Roche, was jailed for conspiring to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra in 2000.
"It is difficult to objectively assess the place of anti-semitism in Australian racism, as no comprehensive statistics exist on the subject of general racist violence, vilification, harassment and intimidation, which would supplement or give context to the data collection and analysis of the Jewish community," says Jeremy Jones, director of international and community affairs with the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.
Jones has been compiling annual reports of anti-Semitism in Australia for the past 25 years and, while he does not pretend it is a perfect measure, his research shows anti-Semitism remains a constant issue, even if it only rarely grabs headlines.
"Anti-Semite individuals can be found among the political Left and Right, among Christians and Muslims, among Australian-born and immigrant, those with formal education and those without, among those with intense contact with Jews and among those who have never knowingly met a Jewish person," says Jones. He says his soon-to-be-released statistics for anti-Semitic behaviour in the latest year to September - which records anything from verbal abuse to physical violence - will show more than 650 cases of anti-Semitism, a 20 per cent increase on the previous 24-year average. But he cautions the figures are notoriously bumpy each year and do not indicate any clear long-term trend.
However, they do indicate that the nature of anti-Semitism is changing in several ways. Although incidents of physical violence were down by 14 per cent on the long-term average and graffiti down by 23 per cent, there was a steep rise in the number of hate emails and a 20 per cent jump in verbal abuse, much of which is hurled from moving cars. Social media is also offering an ugly new platform for anti-Semites.
Jones says his research shows anti-Semitism flourishes most when people feel they won't be punished legally or be publicly shamed by anti-Jewish rhetoric.
"One thing I have learned over many years is that generally if there is an increase in anti-Semitism it is because people think they can get away with it. But when there are strong public pronouncements, and when political and religious leaders say it is completely unacceptable, then you see people thinking twice."
One of the recent anti-Semitic trends in Australia that concerns Jewish leaders has been what they see as a gradual blurring in the boundaries between politics and race when it comes to criticism of Israel and its foreign policy.
A BBC World Service poll last year found 69 per cent of Australians see Israel's influence as being "mainly negative", up from 65 per cent in 2011 and higher than the world average of 52 per cent.
Yet Australians traditionally have been able to robustly criticise Israel's Middle East policies without sliding into racism.
Some Jewish leaders are concerned this is breaking down in relation to the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. The Australian reported this week the Federal Court will be the battleground for claims made by an Israeli organisation that the BDS campaign is racist and discriminatory.
The BDS global campaign seeks to boycott Israeli businesses as a means of pressuring Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories and improve the rights of Palestinians. In Australia the movement has targeted Max Brenner chocolate shops on the grounds that its parent company in Israel also provides food to the Israeli military.
The movement, a loose alliance of the radical Left as well as pro-Palestinian groups, strongly denies it is anti-Semitic and argues its campaign is anti-Israeli rather than anti-Jewish.
The Abbott government, a strong supporter of Israel, has said it will block all federal funds to individuals and institutions who speak out in favour of the BDS campaign. Yet Jewish leaders say the campaign is being used as an excuse for some to attach themselves to the cause to vent anti-Semite views.
"There are definitely people who are anti-Semitic who are attracted to that movement," says Jones. "You see it whenever there is social media advertising for a BDS event. Some people write 'we want a Middle East where everyone lives in peace' and 'a two-state solution' but then you find the pages quickly fill up with people who say 'Hitler didn't do a good enough job' and these sort of anti-Semitic comments."
But Jones admits there are still far fewer problems between Jews and non-Jews in Australia than in almost any other predominantly Christian country.
Perhaps the most measured assessment comes from Arsen Ostrovsky in an opinion piece for The Jerusalem Post: "The Australian response of zero tolerance, education and unequivocal political and social condemnation ought to be an example to all those fighting this oldest and most enduring forms of hatred."
- See more at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/features/in-a-nation-of-tolerance-anti-semitism-still-can-erupt/story-e6frg6z6-1226751425780#sthash.M3ZN6pbN.dpuf

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