Jenna Price: Why you should argue with racists

The following article was written by published in The Sydney Morning Herald.


Why you should argue with racists

Jenna Price
The Sydney Morning Herald
November 06, 2018

The man accused of murdering 11 Jews in Pittsburgh has a lot in common with people much closer to us all – those who were encouraged to resign from the National Party last month.

They all – from Pittsburgh-accused Robert Bowers to those former Young Nationals who are members of Antipodean Resistance – harbour a focused hatred of Jews. In a mainstream political party anti-Semitism was allowed to flourish until it was outed by ABC journalist Alex Mann in October this year. The National Party refuses to release a complete list of those it banned.

Pittsburgh

The Daily Telegraph says a dossier of 40 members shows extensive links to neo-Nazi, fascist and alt-Right groups such as the Antipodean Resistance; and “some Nationals members have posted photographs of Nazi guards outside the Holocaust extermination camp at Auschwitz and posted comments celebrating Adolf Hitler. One female member created a National Socialist (Nazi) Women’s group online”.

My life is shaped by being Jewish. I’m not a great Jew; not even a good Jew but it’s who I am and I have lived with anti-Semitism my whole life. What is happening now terrifies me. Just five years ago, I wrote foolishly that anti-Semitism in Australia was finished. “My synagogue was once firebombed and graffitied. People got over it, and I rarely experience anti-Semitism any more.”

I could not have been more wrong. Anti-Semitism is on the rise internationally and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry is set to release a report at the end of November which will reveal a third annual consecutive increase in hate acts and threats against Jews. It will also include major research on groups such as Antipodean Resistance.

The World Jewish Congress says there has been a 30 per cent increase in online anti-Semitism in just two years and Andre Oboler, the chief executive of the Online Hate Prevention Institute and a lecturer at La Trobe University, says that’s also reflected locally. He asks us to recognise that once what he calls anti-Semitism 2.0 happens online, it becomes normalised so it can be acceptable elsewhere.

“Today we are in a new phase . . . it is not the racists who are under challenge but those who stand up to them. These are very dangerous times. Shifting those attitudes may well take a generation.”

Oboler says social media platforms are doing a better job of trying to remove online comments – but the increase is still swamping their efforts. Last week, Instagram removed more than 12,000 posts using the hashtags “#911wasdonebythejews” and “jewsdid911”.

This is not the Australia – and not the social platforms – we want. We must be united against anti-Semitism, against Islamophobia, against the constant barrage suffered by Indigenous Australians, against the anti-Asian sentiment expressed by job-loser Ross Cameron on Sky; against the sentiments expressed by the likes of Peter Dutton, who feeds anti-African attitudes.

How can we unite?

I rang Deborah Lipstadt for help, for guidance, for something. She wrote the book on Holocaust denial and then had to go to court to defend it against infamous denier David Irving; she and her publisher Penguin won comprehensively. In February next year, Lipstadt’s new book Anti-Semitism will be published by Scribe in Australia not because the legendary academic could predict a rise in hate acts against Jews but because she says anti-Semitism has never gone away.

“It’s like herpes, it comes out at times of stress or when one segment of the population feels ignored or abused . . . Jews are an easy target, easy because anti-Semitism has persisted for so many years that people think: ‘Well, Jews must have done something to deserve it’.”

Lipstadt says there is no simple way to combat racism. “But we need leaders who will condemn it – and not those who condemn it with one hand and encourage those who commit it with the other… as is the case here in the United States.”

It’s not only leaders who must speak up – although seriously, wouldn’t it be great if they did? We must also do it ourselves and that can be confronting.

On the eve of the Wentworth byelection, a well-educated woman I know used the phrase “Jewish mafia” to describe Dave Sharma. I interrupted her to tell her that I was definitely Jewish and Sharma was definitely not and then tried to explain why that phrase was bigoted – but nothing would stop her. Lipstadt says we must speak out no matter how difficult it is.

“If you hear something, say something. Don’t let the comment pass. You may not change the mind of the person who said it but you can make it clear to those within earshot that such comments are not acceptable.”

For a lesson in how to behave in the face of racism and bigotry, I urge you to see the Spike Lee film BlacKkKlansman, where two police officers, one black and one Jewish, work together against the Ku Klux Klan. Set in the seventies, and based on a true story, it ends with the footage of the Charlottesville marchers chanting: “The Jews will not replace us.”

Racism and bigotry have a purpose. Those who tear the hijabs off women at ATMs are no different to those who would gas Jews, no different to those who call Indigenous people “n—–s” as they pass by, it’s all part of the same framework. These acts do not come from fear. They emerge because of a desire to keep control, to grasp power tightly.

So we must speak up and speak out, loud enough to drown out the hate.

Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a Herald columnist.

Image: A makeshift memorial at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. (Source: AP/The Sydney Morning Herald)