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Greens say they condemn antisemitism – but not with any conviction  

Dan Coleman
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Greens leader Adam Bandt in parliament earlier this year (AAP).

Published: 7 December 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

Statements from Adam Bandt and other Greens on Israel and antisemitism have avoided spelling out the detail that conveys a sincerity behind their words.

“What’s the problem with being ‘not racist’? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: ‘I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism’. But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. The opposite of ’racist’ isn’t ‘not racist’. It is ‘antiracist’.” ― Ibram X. Kendi, How to Be an Antiracist.

Kendi is a best-selling author and director of the Center for Antiracist Research at Boston University who rose to prominence after the George Floyd murder in 2020.

Now, reread Kendi’s quote above, substituting the word “antisemitic” wherever Kendi has written “racist”. Doing so illuminates much of what has been deemed antisemitic from the post-October 7 left and why forthcoming Liberal Senator Dave Sharma recently accused the Greens of “turning a blind eye to antisemitism”.

When Greens senator Mehreen Faruqui stands beside a poster proclaiming, “clean the world”, with a picture of the Israeli flag going into a trash bin, a sentiment updating a trope that long predates the Holocaust, it is not enough to delete the image with the claim that she is not antisemitic.

To be anti-antisemitic, to borrow Kendi’s phrasing, might have led her to explain why the poster, for many, implies the extermination of millions of Jews and that Faruqui utterly opposes that eventuality. Without that explanation, she steps onto the slippery slope that leads from “anti-antisemitic”, to “not antisemitic”, to actually “antisemitic”.

Victorian Greens Member for Richmond, Gabrielle de Vietri, stepped onto this slippery slope recently when she repeatedly side-stepped a question from 3AW’s Neil Mitchell on whether she supports Israel’s right to exist.

Bandt's articulation of what his condemnation of antisemitism might entail is sadly truncated.

Is de Vietri content to leave the fate of Israeli Jews in the hands of their murderous jihadist neighbours? If not, she has passed up a golden opportunity to explain her notion of an alternative and to demonstrate anti-antisemitism.

Greens Leader Adam Bandt has done no better. Although he insists the Greens have “very, very clearly” condemned antisemitism, his articulation of what that condemnation might entail is sadly truncated.

As a party leader, expressing a stance of anti-antisemitism would have called out with specificity the brutal massacre, rape, mutilation, and kidnapping of over a thousand Jewish civilians, from infants to octogenarians, often dragged from their homes, tortured, and murdered in front of their children, all to the gleeful celebration of the perpetrators.

Senator Mehreen Faruqui (NCA Newswire)
Senator Mehreen Faruqui (NCA Newswire)

In naming these atrocities, Bandt could have explained how they reverberate through centuries of Jewish experience, and how the commitment to “never again” is ever more essential in the face of the genocidal agenda of Hamas and its Iran-backed allies across the region.

More heartening, if not quite a breath of fresh air, senator Jordon Steele-John, alone among Greens MPs, managed to describe how he “watched in horror at the brutality and callousness of Hamas’s October 7 attacks on innocent civilians”.

How do otherwise well-meaning politicians like Faruqui and de Vietri consistently fail to clear the bar of anti-antisemitism?

How do otherwise progressive and well-meaning politicians like Faruqui and de Vietri, joined by many others around the world, consistently fail to clear the bar of anti-antisemitism? How do they fall into the category, described by Martin Luther King Jr, of “liberals unaware of their latent prejudices”?

The work of Princeton University historian David Nirenberg sheds some light on this question. In his encyclopaedic work Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition, Nirenberg writes: "Anti-Judaism should not be understood as some archaic or irrational closet in the vast edifices of Western thought. It was rather one of the basic tools with which that edifice was constructed.

“We live in an age in which millions of people are exposed daily to some variant of the argument that the challenges of the world they live in are best explained in terms of ‘Israel’.”

When it comes to antisemitism, or in Nirenberg’s term “Anti-Judaism”, much of the world are like the customers of Madge the Manicurist in the old Palmolive dish soap commercials: “You’re soaking in it!”.

This was the lesson I learned when I entered politics many years ago and took a workshop on unlearning racism. I may have been working for racial justice, I might have had Black allies, but I had grown up in a society steeped in racism and I was deeply infected with racist attitudes and stereotypes.

What I learned is that, in Kendi’s words: “Like fighting an addiction, being an antiracist requires persistent self-awareness, constant self-criticism, and regular self-examination.”

The same goes for anti-antisemitism.

The Greens are far from alone in failing to be anti-antisemitic. Discussing the student strike for Palestine last week in The Jewish Independent Media, Oscar Kaspi-Crutchett claimed that “whether or not striking students’ condemnation of Israel represents a double standard, ulterior motives, antisemitism or misinformation is, perhaps sadly, entirely beside the point.”

But, if there is no double standard, how is it that the atrocities in Xinjiang, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Syria, and Myanmar [Genocide Watch reports 20 active genocides], to say nothing of the treatment of our own First Nations peoples, have not led to a student strike? And, if there is no antisemitism, why is it that, unlike the brutal massacre by Hamas, none of these atrocities inspire celebration by the far left?

To be anti-racist, to be anti-antisemitic, requires constant examination and illumination of prejudice, both within oneself and in society at large. The world will be a better place to the extent that political leaders eschew simplistic slogans and speak the hard truths of the bitter inequities and hatreds afflicting the world.


About the author

Dan Coleman

Dan Coleman is a former member of the Carrboro, North Carolina Town Council, and a former political columnist for the Durham (NC) Morning Herald. He is the author of Ecopolitics: Building A Green Society. He lives in Melbourne.

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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