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Australia needs an antisemitism coordinator

Antisemitism is a threat not just to Jewish Australians but to the essential values of our whole society. We need to join other Western countries in creating an official position tasked with combatting antisemitism.
The Jewish Independent
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EDITORIAL: Australia needs an antisemitism coordinator

Published: 5 December 2023

Last updated: 9 May 2024

When 35 like-minded countries released a statement condemning antisemitism in the wake of the October 7 attacks, Australia was noticeably absent.

The US, UK, Canada and every member of the European Union signed the joint statement, declaring that “history has taught us that at times like these, we must speak up and cannot be indifferent”.

Why not Australia? Because the statement was published by Special Envoys and Coordinators Combating Antisemitism, and Australia has no such position.

Perhaps Australian governments, proud of a peaceful and cohesive multicultural society, believed we didn’t need one. The unprecedented attacks on and intimidation of Jewish Australians over the past two months make it clear that, if that were ever the case, it is not so now.

The Australian government should appoint an official tasked with combatting antisemitism as soon as possible, with a broad brief to work with the Jewish and wider community to turn back the rising tide of antisemitism.

Antisemitism coordinators (sometimes called envoys, ambassadors or commissioners) are not representatives of the Jewish community, and they are not usually Jewish. Their existence protects not just Jews but everyone who wants a safe and decent society.

Their role is to work with a range of communities to prevent and counter antisemitism. They conduct research, develop policy, advance education, and develop community cohesion. They work with Jewish community organisations, but they work for everyone.

Appointing a public official to respond to antisemitism is a statement that antisemitism is a national problem, not just a "Jewish problem". The burden of fighting antisemitism must be shared, rather than left to the small and exhausted Jewish community.

It provides a mechanism for developing relevant public policy, for cooperation between community and government efforts, for concerted national policy (possibly with state and federal coordinators) and for the sharing of international best practice.

It is incumbent upon the Australian government to protect the Jewish community as Australian citizens. In doing so, it will also protect the wider community from the evils that accompany antisemitism.

Australia already has the Human Rights Commission and various mechanisms for the protection of minorities, including through the court system. The recent Federal Court case which found Brighton Secondary College and the Victorian government culpable over antisemitism towards students at the school is ample evidence that these protections are needed.

But the systems we have are not sufficient either to prevent or to address antisemitism. The Race Commissioner, tasked with developing a national strategy to tackle racism and promote racial equality in Australia, has understandably placed First Nations communities as its primary focus.

Jews are uniquely vulnerable to intolerance and extremism, burdened with more than 2000 years of exile as a minority in inhospitable environments, subject to thousands of years of canards and stereotyping, traumatised by the recent history of the Holocaust. All this makes Jews a canary in the coal mine of societal health.

It is incumbent upon the Australian government to protect the Jewish community as Australian citizens. In doing so, it will also protect the wider community from the evils that always accompany antisemitism: hate, violence, xenophobia, the tyranny of the majority and the loss of inclusion, equality and legitimacy that are at the core of our democratic society. We have seen an equally deplorable rise in Islamophobia, which must also be addressed.

There is no question that we have a problem of increasing antisemitism. Over the past two months we have seen pro-Palestinian demonstrations across the country; graffiti declaring ‘Kill Jews – A Jew lives here’ in a Melbourne suburb; and cases of physical assault on those who declare support for Israel.

Tellingly, Jewish events that have nothing to do with Israel have been impacted. The State Library of Victoria is not displaying banners advertising its Hebrew manuscripts exhibition because of security fears. A public Chanukah celebrations have been moved to enclosed secure venue. Next year’s In One Voice festival, a purely cultural celebration organised by the Yiddish community, has been cancelled. Many Australian Jews report hiding their Jewishness for the first time in their lives.

In sections of society that champion minority rights and diversity, Jews are the exception. We are regularly gaslighted about antisemitism in a way no other group would tolerate. It is not acceptable to tell women that they are not being sexually harassed or Black people that they are imagining systemic racism. But Jews are told it is “not antisemitism” when demonstrators call for the destruction of the only Jewish state (“from the river to the sea”) or display images of our religious symbols spattered in blood or twisted into swastikas. Israelis are condemned as "white colonisers", although Jews are indigenous to Israel and Israel has more dark-skinned Mizrahim than paleface European Jews. The Greens pass meaningless resolutions condemning “all forms of antisemitism” while they refuse to condemn the murder of 1200 Israelis, almost all Jewish.

The wave of antisemitism in Australia in not unique, but part of a global phenomenon. Historically this growth is often characterised by a "mob mentality" with the deep well of antisemitic tropes providing a ready retreat to the worst periods of Western history. We know antisemitism spreads quickly from disinformation to intimidation to outright hatred.

We call on the Australian government to appoint a federal official tasked with working to combat antisemitism early in the new year, as a first step to protecting all Australians from the scourge of antisemitism.


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Amid rising antisemitism, the view for Jews in Canada looks bleak - opinion (Jenny Hazan, Jerusalem Post)
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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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