ECAJ gives expert evidence on antisemitism to Inter-Parliamentary Taskforce
ECAJ Co-CEO Alex Ryvchin was invited to give expert evidence to the members of the Taskforce to assist in their formulation of policies to combat antisemitism globally. The Taskforce also heard from ECAJ’s Victorian councillor Dr Andre Oboler and CSG’s Justin Kagan.
Below is a transcript of Alex Ryvchin’s address to the Taskforce. You can watch a recording via the link below or on YouTube here.
First of all, I wish to thank each of the members of this taskforce, and to acknowledge the Australian representatives, Josh Burns MP and Dave Sharma MP, who bring great intellect, experience and sincerity to this taskforce and to recognise the chair of this session, Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz.
Antisemitism is an evil that has not only inflicted misery and destruction on millions of our people, it has brought ruin to the societies where antisemitism has been most intense. But this taskforce, and the willingness of the great nations represented here, to confront antisemitism, gives me hope.
To be a Jew in Australia is a great blessing. But we are not immune in this country to the disturbing trends, to the dark theories that circulate, to the movements that take hold throughout the world. In 2014, after Australia experienced its first case of jihadist terrorism on home soil, it was estimated that some 150 Australians had left the country to fight with groups like ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Dozens returned. We know from jihadist operations in Europe and from the assessments of authorities in Australia, that the Jewish community remains a major target for jihadist attacks. The threat posed to Jewish and Israeli targets around the world by Hezbollah is ever-present, which is why its listing as a terrorist organisation is so important.
In September this year, footage surfaced of a prominent Islamic cleric, the spiritual leader of the group, Hizb-ut-Tahrir publicly calling for beheading of those who recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and warning that the Jews will “cry blood.” He had earlier referred to the Jews as “the hidden evil” and called for ‘jihad against the Jews.’
We can assess therefore, that we have those who in this country who are in positions of influence over their communities and wish to incite violent attacks on the Jewish community and we have those who have either travelled to conflict zones or are sympathetic to the cause and may be willing to carry out such attacks.
In the past two years, we have also observed disturbing trends in far-right, neo-Nazi activity. Several avowed neo-Nazis groups emerged in Australia around 2016, engaging in recruitment, dissemination of information, graffiti attacks and an attempt to infiltrate a major Australian political party. Some of these groups appear to have disbanded but this has only made it harder to research, track and predict their activities and the fear is always that individuals associated with these groups or influenced by their propaganda carry out attacks independently.
The murderer of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, an Australian, had contact with far-right groups in this country and the ideology that motivated him, a belief in an impending white genocide, the replacement of white culture and influence, is a constant theme prevalent in far-right discourse in Australia, often framed as a plot devised and controlled by the Jews.
A further aspect of antisemitism facing Australia is far more banal than jihadist attacks or far-right conspiracy theories but it impacts the lives of many Jewish families on a daily basis. For many years, organisations like mine have received distressing accounts from parents of Jewish students suffering relentless antisemitic harassment and bullying.
This issue came to national and international attention last year with accounts of a 5 year old Jewish boy in Melbourne being called “Jewish vermin and a cockroach” and being repeatedly taunted for being circumcised, to the point where he began to wet himself in class rather than go to the toilet. In another state school, a 12 year old Jewish student was repeatedly subjected to antisemitism abuse, humiliation and violent assaults by classmates. These are not isolated incidents. They are a merely the rare cases that become public.
I have spoken with the parents of the 5 year old boy and heard the impact that his abuse has had on the boy and his family. As a father and as a Jew, I can feel their sorrow, their anguish and their rage. Such incidents have revealed not only a gross failure of education whereby students would treat their Jewish classmates in such ways, but a failure by schools to adequately train teachers to protect the victims and discipline those responsible. In most cases of antisemitic bullying and harassment, it is the Jewish students who leave the schools and not their tormentors. This is unacceptable.
There is no easy solution to these problems. We know from the immense corpus of antisemitic history that hatred of the Jews takes many forms and emanates from a variety of ideologies. It is a disease without a cure. But there are responses that can protect Jewish communities and protect our free societies. Adequately funding the security of Jewish institutions is critical. As is school education on Jewish peoplehood and the Holocaust, which can drive out the ignorance from which antisemitism stems. All responses begin with leadership and the bipartisan resolve to act, which is why this Taskforce is so important and why its esteemed members have our abiding admiration and support.