Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The Last Word: An Intolerable Tolerance

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Jeremy Jones


Michael Backman, who wrote a disgusting, vile piece of anti-Jewish fiction masquerading as an opinion article in the business section of the Age newspaper, was rightly criticised by the editor of that paper, competing media outlets, politicians and others.

The column, which consisted of little more than a string of caricatures, slanders and factual inaccuracies, had been approved for publication by those responsible for putting out the newspaper (in the regular editor’s absence). By doing so, serious questions were raised as to why they should ever be trusted to know the differences between news and slander, or between argument and libel.

Those responsible deserve to be held in disgrace and the swift and forthright condemnations of them by Michael Danby MP and Senator Michael Ronaldson were examples of moral leadership on the subject of racism.

Another example of immoral contributions to the debate came in the behaviour of a person who, after overcoming considerable hardship, is now a self-described “human rights” activist.

In emails in late December, he wrote “you the Jews are real motherf--ker bastards”; that he is “often provoked” to “think that the Jews were not as innocent as we speak (sic) when Hitler was persecuting them”; Israel “is actually overstepping what Hitler did to the Jews”; “Jews like you are the dirty scums... I wonder why God himself hate (sic) the Jews”, and more – to at least three different Jewish people who had each been active in human rights advocacy but who didn’t believe Israel had been unprovoked in attacking Hamas in Gaza.

I stress this was not a single email, but a series, all of which contained hateful and vicious rhetoric supplemented by statements such as “As a human rights activist I speak with evidence rather than emotion” and that, as “a devout Catholic”, he offered a prayer for Jews to have the “ability to be fair, honest and grateful at least”.

One of his themes, that Jews are as bad or worse than Nazis, has been a feature of many of the anti-Israel demonstrations and rallies which have taken place in Australia in December and January.

Mixed with chants such as “Bomb the Jews” and children bearing placards bemoaning that Jews didn’t get enough Nazi treatment, were many posters and signs claiming Israel/Jews were perpetrating a Holocaust, that the Star of David was the same as the swastika and/or that the Jewish people are involved in genocide.

The Socialist Alliance was just one group which advised its supporters to campaign on the theme of Israel as the equivalent of Nazi Germany, even providing a web-site from which one could print a placard on this theme.

This analogy, which is as ridiculous as it is offensive, was named by Irish diplomat and intellectual Conor Cruise O’Brien (whose recent passing, this column notes with sadness) as Anti-Jewism – which he said was an ugly word which suited an ugly phenomenon. Emanuele Ottolenghi noted in a recent article in the Jewish Chronicle that “intelligent people should be able to see the difference and refrain from such comparisons”, before asking whether those who make it are “stupid or malicious?”.

It is not a new phenomenon but, unlike the outrage it provoked in previous years, in the summer of 2008-09 in Australia, its graphic presence did not appear to worry those church officials, mainstream Muslim figures, Greens, Australian Democrats and others who have pretence to moral leadership, but who made no moves to dissociate themselves from this abominable campaign of disinformation, distortion and defamation.

In many parts of the world, including our near neighbour Indonesia, synagogues have been sought out by anti-Israel demonstrators. The intensity of anti-Jewish activity led to a friend recently telling me she was afraid, for the first time in her life, as a Jewish person living in London.

Antisemitism is not new and antisemites seeking to cause harm to Jews in Australia is hardly a novel phenomenon. But for antisemitic activity to not be swiftly, publicly and unambiguously condemned is a disturbing indication that too many are willing to tolerate the intolerable.

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