Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: The Oldest Hatred Revisited

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The Oldest Hatred Revisited

Australia is not exempt from many of the contemporary expressions of antisemitism, which are addressed by a panel of experts in this month’s Australia/Israel Review.

The reality is that antisemitism has not disappeared. It may have just changed form, from explicit, crude expressions, to more subtle, thinly veiled quasi-intellectual arguments.

According to Prof. Robert Wistrich, “governments are reluctant or afraid to address the newer forms of antisemitism - anti-Israel and anti-Zionist - especially those adopted by radical Islamist, anti-Western currents in the Muslim community. The infiltration of Islamism into the Western Muslim diaspora is alarming and brings with it a serious problem for Jewish communities, which is aggravated by the general mood of appeasement.”

Indeed, we are all too aware of the sympathy expressed by some prominent Australian intellectuals and academics for Islamist fanaticism, and the apologies and excuses they make for terrorist atrocities, blaming Israel and targeting diaspora Jews for supporting Zionism.

Left-wing fringe groups, in publications such as the Green Left Weekly, have become fixated with portraying Israelis, and, by extension, Jews, as the modern-day Nazis, with Palestinians cast into the role of the new victims.

It’s not just in fringe media that such comparisons fester, with cartoonist Michael Leunig one prominent mainstream figure who helped contribute to this antisemitic myth.

This comparison offends Jewish victims of the Shoah (Holocaust) and their descendants and offends against truth and history. Despite this, it has had considerable currency since the outbreak of sustained Palestinian violence in September 2000.

Rather than protesting against the brutal suicide bombing campaign waged by the Palestinians against Israel that led to the construction of Israel’s West Bank security barrier, opponents are falsely alleging Israel is acting on the model of apartheid South Africa.

Age-old antisemitic canards are also still in circulation, with caricatures of Jews as misers, or being exceptionally wealthy, or having political and other powers beyond all proportion. Couple these stereotypes with the ludicrous myths promoted in the current political climate, and the ugliest conspiratorial constructs appear. Recent events such as the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and Pentagon, and even Bali, come together as one great conspiracy by Israelis and/or Jews supposedly committing these mass murders to further their own agendas. Such wild theories are frequently articulated among Arabic-speaking communities in Australia, and extend into left wing groups that have an anti-Israel mindset.

Accusations such as these have often led to violence and other hostile expressions of antisemitism, with 440 reported cases of anti-Jewish violence, vandalism, harassment and intimidation recorded by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry in the period between October 2005 and September 2006. These figures represent a dramatic 47% increase above the previous average.

Yet unlike in many other countries, Australian Jewry has been successfully defending itself, according to antisemitism expert Prof.Dina Porat of Tel Aviv University. Australia has in place legislative measures that restrict some of the latest manifestations of antisemitism, including Holocaust denial, from being expressed in this country. “[Australian society] is Anglo-Saxon and places enormous stress on law and order,” Porat commented.

That said, Australian laws may need to be expanded or improved, to avoid situations such as the soft treatment given, for example, to the Death Series DVD, which has been the subject of attention in the mainstream media for the past few weeks.

Featuring former Sydney Sheikh Feiz Mohammed, the DVD, as the title suggests, is a call to arms, promotes jihad and child martyrdom, and refers to Jews as “pigs”. The series was given a PG rating by the Office of Film and Literature Classification, meaning children as young as 12 years old have legal access to it.

In the current international climate where radicalisation of some individuals has repeatedly led to serious domestic terrorist acts in various countries, and where antisemitic violence has often emanated from radicalised segments of local Muslim communities, this state of affairs cannot be allowed to continue.

Ratings decisions that declare that DVDs and videos spewing vile and murderous hatred of Jews and non-Muslims are suitable viewing for children obviously highlight serious shortcomings in censorship regulations.

The law needs to be changed so that verbal advocacy of terrorism, violence and racial hatred in books and films  is treated at least as seriously as graphic depictions of sex and violence.

Federal Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock has proposed new changes to media classification laws which will do just this. These should be supported. State governments, who in principle all support tough laws to deal with terrorist incitement, need to match their rhetoric with action, and accept expeditiously at least the core of the Commonwealth proposal on media law reform to deal with this problem.

Of course, such legislation will not stamp out this type of material entirely. Nor will it stop radical imams from preaching messages of hate and intolerance amongst their own community.

But it is an essential step in the right direction in curbing, not just antisemitic rhetoric, but active incitement to violence which affects the Australian community as a whole.

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