Friday, 1 November 2013

30/10 To Jewish leaders, incidents prove you can never stop fighting anti-Semitism

To Jewish leaders, incidents prove you can never stop fighting anti-Semitism

Ernie Friedlander
Holocaust survivor and community leader Ernie Friedlander, in Sydney yesterday, has warned of a rise in anti-Semitism in recent years. Picture: Sam Mooy Source: TheAustralian
THEY were two very different events: one the bashing of a Jewish group at Sydney's Bondi Beach that put some victims in hospital; the other a juvenile anti-Semitic act by students in a university council election.
Yet they occurred within hours of each other, in the same city, and have led Jewish leaders in Australia and Israel to question whether complacency over anti-Semitism is starting to creep back into Australian society as it is in the US and Europe.
According to a victim of the bashing incident, about 10 youths allegedly shouted "dirty Jews" before hitting several people returning home from a religious observance in Bondi, in Sydney's east, early on Saturday morning. Two 17-year-old boys and one 23-year-old man have been charged with affray over the incident.
The Jerusalem Post yesterday reported that Efi Stenzler, world chairman of the Jewish National Fund, had announced he would convene an emergency meeting of his organisation's international representatives following the event. "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," the Post quoted Mr Stenzler as saying.
Holocaust survivor Ernie Friedlander yesterday warned of an alarming rise in racial intolerance, including anti-Semitism, in recent years.
The 77-year-old, who today heads the anti-discrimination unit at Sydney community organisation B'nai B'rith, lost almost his entire family during the Nazi occupations of Austria and Hungary. He escaped certain death by fleeing from German soldiers outside Budapest and worked as a nine-year-old in the city's ghetto, breaking ice and shovelling snow for extra bread to feed himself and his mother, until the Soviets liberated them in February 1945.
Although Australian children were being taught to respect others, Mr Friedlander warned some would not shed their "tribal outlook" unless they were exposed to other cultures. "We are relatively lucky in Australia that (anti-Semitism) is not severe, but unless we watch it, it can become severe," he said.
Racially inspired physical violence against Jews in Australia remains rare, according to the director of international and community affairs with the Australia/Israel & Jewish Council, Jeremy Jones -- but only because "people no longer think they can get away with it".
Mr Jones said non-physical abuse was on the rise, including emails, posts on social media and remarks in the street or in social or political settings where people thought they could get away with it.
On Friday, in the heat of an election campaign forum for the University of NSW student representative council, two drama club members, Stuart Maclaine and Dom Foffani, danced around a political opponent, Jake Campbell, doing Nazi salutes and singing Springtime for Hitler.
Mr Campbell, a prominent Jewish masters student on campus who is an office-holder in the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, had run unsuccessfully on the Stand Up ticket associated with the Labor Right.
Mr Maclaine, supported by Mr Foffani, won a seat on the council on the Voice ticket, associated with the Labor Left.
Mr Campbell was incensed, and took to social media. "Today I had the worst experience of anti-Semitism in my life and it was in student politics," he posted on his Facebook page. "Clearly, anti-Semitism is still sadly a problem and I would hope to never see this in a student election ever again."
Mr Maclaine and Mr Foffani quickly issued apologies, explaining that they had both performed in a production of The Producers, a musical by the Jewish producer Mel Brooks, which among other songs features Springtime for Hitler.
They claimed they had no idea that Mr Campbell was Jewish.
"Today during the campaigning of the SRC elections at UNSW I partook in anti-Semitic actions thinking of them innocently and lighthearted, which were regarded as a personal attack on Jake Campbell . . . I must apologise for this conduct wholeheartedly and emphatically," Mr Foffani posted on his Facebook page.
Mr Maclaine similarly apologised unreservedly, and posted on Facebook: "It has been suggested by friends of Jake that I participate in a volunteering program with a Jewish organisation and visit the Sydney Jewish Museum, something I will be making arrangements for and gladly undertake."
"I did something inexcusably insensitive . . . if Jake and the Jewish community require . . . my resignation (from the SRC), I will act accordingly."
Mr Campbell told The Australian he did want Mr Maclaine, who could not be reached yesterday, to resign from the SRC, but he was prepared to leave it at that and did not want to further publicise the affair.
He said he fully accepted the apologies, did not believe the act was racially inspired, and did not want to victimise Mr Maclaine. "I am very happy with the way he has responded; I don't want his life ruined," Mr Campbell said.
A UNSW spokeswoman said: "The university does not condone any form of racist comment or behaviour on campus", and said the matter was under investigation.
Mr Jones and other Jewish leaders said the UNSW episode was particularly alarming because the perpetrators were not rednecks or racist extremists, but university-educated students who subscribed to the mainstream ALP.
A spokesman for AUJS, Dean Sherr, said: "Student politics is supposed to be very liberal and progressive, (but) you don't expect that people would be going around singing Springtime for Hitler and doing Nazi salutes."
What also concerns Jewish leaders is that while Mr Maclaine and Mr Foffani have apologised and are clearly contrite, others in the social media sphere, many of them presumably university students, have backed them, made light of their antics, and urged Mr Maclaine to not resign from the SRC.
UNSW has been one of the hot-spots for the boycott, divestment, sanctions campaign against Israel, with protests against the establishment of a Max Brenner chocolate shop on campus, on the basis that the parent of the original Max Brenner chain in Israel had connections with the Israeli military.
Alexander Ryvchin, the public affairs officer for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said it was significant that the incident occurred at UNSW "just months after the anti-Israel Max Brenner protests there attracted appalling anti-Semitic hate-speech to social media".
The head of Sydney University's Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, Jake Lynch, who supports BDS, rejected the suggestion. "The campaign for an academic boycott of institutional links with Israeli universities is a non-violent campaign for peace with justice in respect of militarism and lawlessness," Professor Lynch said.
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