Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

'Sue me Jew' part 2: hate-speech off campus and online?

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Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

On Monday, AIJAC reported on the first two days of vicious anti-Jewish hate-speech on the Facebook page for an anti-Israel rally held this afternoon at the University of New South Wales ('UNSW') to protest the opening of a Max Brenner chocolate shop.

Yesterday, the story made the front page of the Australian. As reported by Christian Kerr, Prime Minister Julia Gillard has condemned the protest and the BDS movement.

The negative media attention that the protest received appears to have had an impact. As the AAP reports, despite the Facebook page having over 175 confirmed guests, only around 20 turned out on the day. The Australian's Ean Higgins put the number at 30. The small crowd of anti-Israel activists -- many of whom were not students -- gathered in front of the UNSW library to rant indecipherably into a megaphone, before embarking on a 'march' to the proposed site of the new Max Brenner. At some points, there seemed to be more journalists present than protesters.

AIJAC has learned from members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students who attended the rally that the event seemingly achieved little more than annoying the UNSW student population for an hour. Some nearby students expressed mild annoyance, including a pair of students attempting to descend a staircase that was blocked by Trotskyists grumbling "can't you boycott faster?". Others reacted with all-out ridicule, such as passers-by on skateboards who were heard shouting "we love chocolate! Who wants chocolate?" Most, however, simply rolled their eyes and went on with their day.

Thankfully, the event saw little identifiable antisemitism -- although those present were likely 'on their best behaviour' due to the significant media presence. Nevertheless, the real story remains the Facebook page. Below is a continuation of yesterday's account.

Some resistance gathers

Screenshots taken in the evening of 23 April.

In the previous post, Muslim community leader Rebecca Kay may have come across poorly for apparently overlooking the vile comments being posted around hers. This was perhaps unfair. To her credit (and as noted in the previous post), she later condemned the comments that had been made and apologising for any hurt caused:

Also, whilst the same bigots had continued their activities, a number of students -- both Jewish and non-Jewish -- had begun to speak out against them and counter their misinformation:

This included students addressing the claims being made by the organisers about the actual boycott. Again, these students were subjected to racist invective:

The page had even caught the attention of Charlotte Lewis, the Ethnic Affairs Officer for the UNSW Students Represetative Council -- who was later quoted in the Australian, speaking about the harm that the boycott had done to students. Lewis added to the voices pleading for the hate-speech to stop:

Other students openly began submitting screenshots of the bigoted comments to Lewis. In response, the perpetrators continued to harass the students who had been complaining, with such nasty comments as "suck it up move on. Screenshot this princess [sic]./make a collage, paste it on your bedroom wall and cry yourself to sleep every night".

For a while, it almost seemed as though the organisers of the rally -- also the moderators of the page -- were going to do something to curb the hate-speech. They endorsed Kay's post and have since pinned their plea for an end to abusive language to the top of the page.

Sadly, actions speak louder than words. the vast majority of overtly anti-Jewish comments remained untouched:

A particularly ironic moment came when the organisers acknowledged that they had been deleting posts, but claimed that they "delete[d] posts that go out of hand with insults and abusive language towards individuals".

Two comments prior, 'Ayms' had said "oh shit the witch is back" -- referring to Jewish student Rachel Rothstein, who had been criticising the organisers for failing to delete abusive comments and instead deleting comments that disagreed with their political viewpoint. Apparently, "oh shit the witch is back" did not, for the organisers, constitute "insults and abusive language towards individuals".

And yet it continued

In the face of the mounting protests identified above, the vilification of Jews seemed to be escalating. Appearing on the scene were some new characters, such as Mohommad "who cares about the holocaust [sic] I sure don't" Najjar and Ramsen "long live THE HOLOCAUST" 'Ohyeh'.

Meanwhile, long time anti-Israel activist Patricia Philippou had joined the ranks of those who, while not necessarily contributing to the hate-speech going on around them, did not seem to think much of it:

Enter the truthers

Screenshots taken on 27 April.

As the date of the rally drew closer, the page took yet another turn for the worse, as one 'Andrew Magee' decided to explain to everyone that 9/11, 7/7, and all other high-profile terrorist attacks were really Israeli conspiracies:

Meanwhile, putting to rest the issue of how sincere the event's organisers were about controlling the racist invective on the page, as of Saturday the 27th of April, most of the antisemitic comments had not been removed:

Notably, the page had also been reported to Facebook for hate-speech by numerous students, yet little seemed to have been done.

Drawing to a close

Screenshots taken on 28 April.

As these final screenshots demonstrate, even a week after they had been alerted to what had been going on, neither the organisers of the rally/page moderators nor Facebook had taken sufficient action to end the vilification of Jews on the event page.

Particularly relevant is page member Elle Najjarine. As readers of the first post will recall, Najjarine may have 'liked' and voiced support for some antisemitic posts, at first, she was a little tentative in joining the harassment of the Jews on the page. Fast-forward one week and Najjarine has become an out-and-proud antisemite – accusing the Jews of being behind 9/11, making statements like "lesson one: never trust a Jew", and even threatening Jewish members of the page.

Meanwhile, another person making borderline racist comments was 'Abbas El Hajj Hussein', who told Jewish commenters to "stop pretending you're Jewish":

Hate speech and the limits of debate

The rally was unsuccessful, but it was also not the real story. The activities on the Facebook page gave a rare public insight into the true culture of the BDS movement.

Numerous lessons can be drawn from this incident. Many of these -- such as the academy's tolerance for extreme views, and the harmful nature of the BDS movement's actual agenda -- were enumerated in the Australian's excellent editorial this morning. What it ultimately demonstrated, however, were the consequences of failing to take action against hate speech.

Despite being repeatedly exposed, denounced, and debunked, the bigots on this page grew increasingly bold and the comments became worse and worse. Extremists are not swayed by rational arguments, denunciations, pleas for civility - or even negative publicity. Only by imposing tangible consequences on their actions can we hope to prevent the harm that their victims suffer -- such as the numerous Jewish students who may well have been intimidated into withdrawing from participation in campus life.

Regrettably, it seems that the Jewish community has not been the only ethnic group in Sydney subjected to this kind of vilification on Facebook in recent weeks. As Katrina Yu from SBS reported on Monday, the Sudanese and Indigenous communities in Sydney were subjected to similar racial abuse on a page called 'Had a dream I was in Africa, woke up, still in Blacktown'.

Racial harassment and vilification can have very serious consequences for its victims. It may be time for a conversation in Australia on how to avoid these incidents in the future - both on social media and everywhere else.

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