Article Library / 2015

2014-2015 Annual Assessment

Anti-Semitism in Australia appears to be increasing. Between September 11, 2001 and the end of 2003, the number of incidents almost doubled, with 63 percent of such attacks occurring in New South Wales.13 Since then, the number of incidents has continued to increase, and in 2014 they increased by 35 percent over the previous year.14 Incidents have included abusive e-mails, graffiti such as “Bomb the Jews,” threatening mail, and reports of telephone threats, verbal harassment and abuse, including the bullying of Jewish children at school by both Christian and Muslim children, and actual physical violence against individuals and institutions.

The GEN08 survey’s report on anti-Semitism argues, though, that the increase is not significant, as much of it is due to increased hate e-mails, which may be sent out by a handful of individuals.15 However, the survey found that Australian Jews in the 18-24 age cohort reported personally experienced anti-Semitism, with 71 percent reporting such experiences, compared to an overall 58% of survey participants. In addition, almost half of those between ages 18 and 24 reported having experienced an incident in the last 12 months, compared to only around 30 percent of those aged 25-64.16

As in other parts of the word, increasing anti-Semitism in Australia derives from three main elements: classical anti-Semitism, Muslim anti-Judaism, and left-wing anti-Semitism. Classical anti-Semitism draws on the traditional anti-Jewish stereotypes of Jews as greedy misers out to control the world. These views are still prevalent, fostered by some small, extreme right-wing parties. On Rosh Hashanah 2014, neo-Nazi leaflets were dropped into the letterboxes of residents in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, where there is a high percentage of Jewish residents.

More insidious are the findings of a recent study by Gross and Rutland, which demonstrated that these classical anti-Jewish stereotypes are perpetuated on the school playground, transmitted by children from one generation to the next. The study found that that there is a clear disconnection between official school policies on racism and what is actually happening on the playgrounds.17 Jewish students were reluctant to report these incidences. Many preferred to conceal their Jewish identity and even attend non-Jewish Special Religious Instruction/Special Religious Education (SRI/SRE) classes, so that other students would not know that they were Jewish. On the other hand, the study found that both parents and educators tended to either deny or minimize the extent of the problem. Anti-racist policies are officially promoted by the government, but findings show that these are not being seriously implemented in the schools.

A recent incident highlighted these problems. During the 2014 Gaza war, a group of six Sydney schoolboys boarded a government bus carrying 25 Jewish day school students. They threatened the children, screaming “Heil Hitler,” “Kill the Jews” and telling them that they would “cut their throats.”18 Some of the boys were arrested, and later one appeared before a juvenile court with his parents where he faced one of the victims and her parents. His sentence was to undertake a tour of the Sydney Jewish Museum and enroll in a school harmony project run by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.19 The bus driver made no attempt to restrain these non-Jewish boys, and the government decided that the Department of Transport should deal with the incident, rather than the Department of School Education, even though the boys attended a local government school and were wearing partial school uniforms.

Often fostered by radical preachers in mosques and Muslim websites, Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment is also manifested in the attitudes of Muslim school children in government schools. The growth of Australia’s Muslim population is a recent phenomenon, beginning in the 1970s with the end of Australia’s “White Australia Policy.” With this radical change in immigration policies, the Muslim community has grown remarkably since 1971, when it numbered only 20,000, a mere 0.2 percent of the population. In the quarter of a century to 1996, Muslims increased ten-fold to 200,000, or 1.1 percent of the total population. According to the recent Australian census (ABS 2011), they have continued to increase and numbered 476,300, or 2.2 percent, in 2011. As with the Jewish community, the majority of Muslims live in Melbourne and Sydney, but the two population groups rarely intermix. A qualitative research study, drawing on data from teachers, largely non-Jewish, working in government schools with a large percentage of Muslim students, revealed a pattern of anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs.20 Yet, the government is failing to deal with this problem. There is significant concern about Islamophobia in the general Australian society, and policies in place, but Muslim anti-Jewish attitudes are largely denied or ignored.

In addition, the anti-Israel narrative promoted by the radical left also tends to foster anti-Semitism, which at times manifests in physical violence during periods of tensions with Israel (such as the Gaza Campaigns of 2008/9, 2012, and 2014). The BDS movement, again promoted by left-wing academics and political parties, such as The Greens and Socialist Alternative, has also led to physical violence against Jews, most particularly during the 2011 demonstrations against the Max Brenner chain of chocolate stores in Australia.

This increased anti-Semitism has placed a huge security burden on the Jewish community, with much of the work being carried out by voluntary communal security groups in each state. In 2004, during a parliamentary debate on anti-Semitism, John Brogden, then the New South Wales Liberal opposition leader stated:

On Saturday tens of thousands of Jews across New South Wales and Australia will attend synagogue. However, unlike other people involved in religious observance, they will pass security guards as they walk through the door. Thousands of children attending Jewish schools in this country will also pass security guards as they walk in and out of their school gates. Very few, if any, other religious groups or followers of a faith have security guards at their places of worship.21

Maintaining security at synagogues, Jewish schools, and communal institutions has placed a significant financial burden on the Australian Jewish community, but has been necessary, especially since the Australian police claim that the Jewish community is a top terrorist target. In order to meet these increased costs in Sydney, where the largest Arab Muslim population resides, the organized Jewish community through the NSW Jewish Communal Appeal (JCA) organized a capital appeal for security in 2008. With this funding, security facilities have been upgraded for the community’s most public institutions, such as the Sydney Jewish Museum, near the city center.

In the 2014 ECAJ report, Julie Nathan argued that through the combination of these three factors, anti-Semitism in Australia has become “mainstream,” especially in the media. In particular, she highlighted problems with ABC, the Australian national broadcaster, and the anti-Semitic Le Lievre cartoon, published by the Sydney Morning Herald during the Gaza campaign to illustrate a highly critical opinion piece of Israel, which used Jewish symbols to illustrate these critical views.

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