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Australian MPs must reject support from antisemitic anti-lockdown groups

Michael Visontay
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Published: 5 October 2021

Last updated: 4 March 2024

MICHAEL VISONTAY: By not explicitly disavowing these groups, politicians embolden them to continue their activities; the US Capitol riot showed where that can lead

THE INTERNET HAS created many types of relationships that never existed before. One of the most insidious is the “unwanted attachment” – the link or tie that occurs by the ability of others to find, follow and attach themselves to you online. Once stuck on, it’s very hard to free yourself of these unwanted friends or followers.

On a personal and individual level, this ranges from stalking to intimidation, revenge, extortion and much more. The inability to get rid of these aggressors can drive victims to despair, mental breakdown and even worse.

However, the morality of these attachments becomes more complex in the public sphere. When a public figure – be it a politician, academic or celebrity – uses the internet or other public media to project their message, values or popularity, they are inviting others to take note of what they do.

If individuals or groups engage with public figures, they cannot pretend that it has nothing to do with them. It is a result of their behaviour, their messages.

In turn, if individuals or groups respond and engage with them, public figures cannot pretend that it has nothing to do with them. It is a result of their behaviour, their utterances, their messages.

Last week, The Jewish Independent published an investigation detailing the large number of Australian anti-lockdown groups - 24 of them, with some 100,000 followers - that are espousing antisemitic or neo-Nazi views and messages.

These groups, operating on social media platforms such as Telegram, are either being infiltrated by right-wing and nationalist groups which exploit the popularity of the anti-vaxxer, anti-lockdown movement to spread threats and ugly conspiracy theories about Jews and Israel.

The overwhelming focus of their online discussion is on vaccine reactions and anti-lockdown politicians. The antisemitism is thrown in but crucially, it has not been disavowed or rejected by the groups’ online administrators.

More significantly, these webmasters are regularly promoting and expressing solidarity with right-wing politicians Craig Kelly, head of the United Australia Party, and George Christensen, from the National Party, both of whom are outspoken advocates of the anti-vax and anti-lockdown movement.

When asked to comment on whether they would publicly reject the endorsements they are receiving from these groups, both men insisted they have no control over the groups’ activities.

Kelly said: “the United Australia Party has no connection or ties to any violent or other antisemitic group,” and that the UAP would not accept endorsements “from anyone that preaches hate, discrimination or vilification”.

Christensen: “I’m sure that there’s people who hold antisemitic or racist views who support lockdowns just as much as there are who oppose lockdowns but the issue has nothing to do with race!” He added: “I oppose antisemitism and discrimination.”

Neither man, when pressed, would publicly reject the groups that were endorsing them. Whether their attention was unwanted, these politicians cannot dodge responsibility for the reactions to their public utterances.

While it may not be easy to separate themselves from the flock, it is not good enough for politicians to say it is out of their hands.

By not explicitly disavowing them by name, Kelly and Christensen embolden these groups to continue with their messaging and confer a sense of respectability on them via the one-way attachment.

While it may not be easy to separate themselves from the flock, it is not good enough for politicians to say it is out of their hands and default to platitudes. They have a responsibility to show the public that unwanted endorsements do not become rusted on through lack of effort on their part.

We have seen what can happen when political leaders treat right-wing fringe groups with kid gloves.

In a televised presidential debate last October, former US President Donald Trump refused to condemn the white supremacist group The Proud Boys, instead telling them to “stand back and stand by”. Three months later this group was front and centre in the insurrection of the US Capitol building.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has indulged in a similar blind eye towards Kelly and Christensen over their dog whistle rejection of Covid vaccines and lockdown policies in the name of civil liberties.

The consequences of his inaction could have ongoing repercussions: greater numbers and more strident anti-vaxxers, more street protests leading to more super-spreader events, an increased spread of Covid in the community, more pressure on hospitals, and so on.

And incubated along the way, the spread of more extreme civil liberty “resistance” views that search for easy targets on which to focus their paranoia.

The Opposition Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, Kristina Keneally, summed up this process in her comments to The Jewish Independent for last week’s investigation: “Those in the Government who give credence to COVID disinformation have been celebrated in far-right and ultra-nationalist social media groups. As a result, extreme views are given credibility and a sense of respectability as they have been taken from a social media echo chamber to the floor of parliament.

“Mr Morrison’s continued failure to call out his own MPs who disseminate disinformation along with his failure to proscribe extreme right-wing groups as terrorist organisations, is another example of too little too late from a Prime Minister who doesn’t “hold a hose, mate” and doesn’t step up to take any responsibility for anything.”

The buck starts with elected politicians and stops with their leader.

About the author

Michael Visontay

Michael Visontay is the Commissioning Editor of TJI. He has worked as a journalist and editor for more than 30 years. Michael is the author of several books, including Who Gave You Permission?, co-authored with child sexual abuse advocate Manny Waks, and Welcome to Wanderland: Western Sydney Wanderers and the Pride of the West.

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