Spike in Antisemitic Incidents in Australia in the Wake of the Recent Conflict in Gaza

7th August 2014

We are deeply concerned by accounts of an incident involving racial abuse and threats of violence directed towards Jewish primary school students on a bus in Sydney’s eastern suburbs yesterday afternoon.

Initial police reports indicate that the incident was opportunistic rather than premeditated.

We are grateful to the New South Wales Police for their swift action in response to this incident, which has resulted in the arrests of five teenagers.
The gravity of this incident should not be underestimated. It is unacceptable for school children aged between 5 and 12 to be subjected to such a terrifying ordeal. Any abuse directed at children is deplorable. It is particularly so when that abuse is racial in nature and accompanied by threats of extreme violence. It demonstrates a hatred and cowardice that should concern all Australians.

We, as a community, are profoundly troubled by this latest event and the sequence of antisemitic incidents that has preceded it.

On August 4th, a visiting Rabbi from Israel and his assistant were set upon by a group of up to six youths shouting anti-Israel slogans outside a shopping mall in Perth. In the last fortnight, antisemitic graffiti has been spray-painted on a wall of the Carmel Jewish School in Perth and a house in Melbourne. In July, a Jewish man was called a “Jewish dog” and beaten on a street in Melbourne by two men.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has reported on trends in antisemitism in this country since 1989. There is a clear correlation between any escalation of the various conflicts in the Middle East and incidents of antisemitism in Australia. Especially troubling is the rise in overt and extreme expressions of antisemitism on social media platforms, often unmoderated, and the possible long term effects of this abusive discourse on users of social media, especially younger Australians.

It is completely unacceptable and morally repugnant to scapegoat or hold responsible Jewish Australians, including children, for events overseas. It is completely unacceptable to view Jewish Australians as a legitimate target for abuse and violence, regardless of one’s political views.

Antisemitism is a constant presence in public rallies which supposedly support the Palestinian cause. Individuals who legitimately wish to express their support for Palestinians or opposition to Israeli government policy are habitually exposed to vile forms of stereotyping of Jews.

Media coverage of the conflict, which focuses on the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the near exclusion of other conflicts which are far more costly in human life and suffering, or which distorts or decontextualises the conflict and the actions of the parties, also serves to inflame tensions and can serve to incite hatred against Australian Jews.

No reasonable person will suggest that all criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Israel is a vibrant democracy with an enormous plurality of views on all aspects of government policy. Some of the staunchest critics of Israeli government policy are Israelis. However, it would be foolish and indeed dangerous to believe that no criticism of Israel is motivated by a hatred of Jews. The use of classic antisemitic stereotypes and canards in the guise of political comment is unacceptable. Its effect is to give licence to people who harbor anti-Jewish prejudices, but would ordinarily keep them well hidden, to give vent to their hatred. It should be condemned in the strongest possible terms.

In light of the disturbing rise of antisemitic incidents in our society, we call on Australian leaders across all spheres of our society, to show moral leadership and condemn unequivocally yesterday’s incident and the underlying causes of it.

Robert Goot AM SC,
Peter Wertheim AM,
Executive Director

For further information:

Peter Wertheim AM | Executive Director
phone: 02 8353 8500 | m: 0408 160 904 | fax 02 9361 5888
e: pwertheim@ecaj.org.au | www.ecaj.org.au