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Israel has warned of a risk of terrorism in Australia. Is it justified?

Josh Roose
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A large presence of 'Public Order and Riot Squad' police was out in force for a Pro-Palestinian rally in the CBD

A large presence of ‘Public Order and Riot Squad’ police was out in force for a Pro-Palestinian rally in Sydney (Alamy).

Published: 7 December 2023

Last updated: 5 March 2024

The convergence of far right, far left and some Muslim attitudes to Jews and Israel is creating an unprecedented threat, argues extremism expert JOSH ROOSE.

Israel has warned its citizens to reconsider travelling to Australia over fears of antisemitism. The threat level to Australia, the UK, France, Germany, Brazil, Argentina, and Russia were all raised to level two by the Israeli National Security Council (NSC) this week. 

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has defended Australia as a safe place to travel.

This may be fundamentally true, but we cannot ignore the reality that Australia, if safe, is less safe than it used to be for Jewish people.

Since the October 7 Hamas attack and subsequent Gaza war, we have seen unprecedented antisemitism and these shocking cases do not exist in isolation.

We are subject to the same forces that fuelled acts of terror such as the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue attack and the Christchurch Mosque attack in 2019.

The rise, fall and re-emergence of the Islamic State movement prompted global terror attacks in Western capital cities. The election of president Donald Trump created a permissive environment that emboldened far-right extremists. The emergence of new conspiratorial movements such as QAnon that are deeply ridden with antisemitic tropes was fuelled by new forms of social media such as Telegram, which allowed extremist actors to bypass regulation. The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns left a legacy of anti-government extremism driven by a conspiratorial framing of the world. The cost of living and housing affordability crisis has added to seething resentment and distrust in government among sizeable elements in the wider community.

The incidents coming from the far right are well known. Extreme far-right groups such as the National Socialist Network posing with Hitler salutes near known Jewish community areas, pamphleting local homes, graffitiing local areas, spreading hate online and, most notably, boarding a train in Melbourne and asking at least one passenger whether he was Jewish.

But it is not only the far right that is becoming caught up in extremist and conspiratorial thinking.

Since the October 7 attack, many in Jewish communities have been shocked by the extreme rhetoric from some on the left of the political spectrum. They have shown little, if any, sympathy for those affected by the terror attacks, framing them as a direct result of Israel’s “oppression”, “apartheid’” and “colonisation” of Palestinians.

There is also an element within Australia’s diverse Muslim communities that is importing Middle East hatred. While Hamas is a proscribed terror organisation in Australia, some small, but not insignificant elements of Australia’s Muslim communities have made assertions straight out of the Hamas playbook, echoing its attitudes to destroying both Israel and Jews.

Opponents of Israel’s military actions and policies are not restricting their criticism to the Netanyahu government or the army’s tactics. They too often denounce the rights of Jews to a country and demonise Israel, slipping into antisemitic behaviours and beliefs, as outlined in the IHRA Definition

We have thus seen a convergence of extremist actors from the far right, far left and some elements of Muslim communities that creates a threatening environment for Jews and Israelis. The recent events in Caulfield and Coogee, which brought physical hostility to the doorsteps of Jewish communities, crossed a line.

What does this mean for the security of Jewish Australians or for visiting Israelis? Has it really got bad enough to justify the Israeli government’s increase in threat level for Australia?

Or is the Israeli action a matter of political posturing, perhaps a diversion attempt given the growing disquiet over the nature of the military campaign in Gaza or a reinforcement of Israeli primacy in the face of a re-emergence of Diasporism?

The far right should always be taken seriously as a potential violent threat. It has not grown substantially in Australia, but its adherents have become far more active over the past couple of years. They are not concerned with the nuances of antisemitism and embrace it wholeheartedly. It is central to their world view and actions. Their recent stunts of marching through public spaces and intimidating the public is an example of their willingness to make physical threats to individuals. In the short term they are also focused on building a mass movement and avoiding further crackdowns, surveillance, and sanctions. But any protection that distraction provides will build more medium-term danger.

As the Director General of ASIO, Mike Burgess, has noted, there is a strong concern that the far right could produce individuals at the fringes who act alone to carry out an act of terror, in the style of the Norway and Christchurch attacks.

The driving force behind the current security concerns has been the convergence of far left and Islamist elements at protests. The fact that demonstrators actually confronted family members of Hamas hostages at Crown Plaza Hotel in Melbourne must have been shocking to Israelis, as it should be to Australians.

These protests might not have menacing violent potential of a far-right protest or stunt, but they have increased psychological pressure on Jewish communities and are making them feel unsafe. The rhetoric used by some protesters at recent protests ("Gas the Jews" and "From the river to the sea") can certainly have the impact of making Jews feel they are facing an existential threat not only in Israel but even in Australia.

Working at a university, I have personally heard many instances where Jewish university students do not feel safe to voice their opinions on campus and hide outward expressions of their faith. I have seen numerous examples on social media that justify this belief. This requires a deeper conversation about the safety of universities for students and a redoubling of efforts from our university leaders to address antisemitism and prejudice against all faith groups from academics and students alike.

Notwithstanding the support of mainstream politicians and business leaders, we are arguably seeing a hatred expressed not only toward Israel, but toward Jews on a global scale that has not been experienced for generations. This is deeply concerning.

I am hopeful that as events in the Middle East subside, this particularly heated moment will pass, and work can be undertaken to repair fractured relationships across the political and religious spectrum. However, it is important to acknowledge that many of the preconditions for antisemitism and anti-Jewish violence remain: deep economic challenges, a strong thread of antisemitic conspiratorial and anti-democratic thinking, populist leaders seeking to exploit division, a highly polarised political environment and a continued failure to adequately regulate social media.

We may not be in extremis, but we cannot take safety for granted. Much more work is required to address these challenges.


Marles says Australia a safe destination as Israel issues travel warning (SMH) 

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles has defended Australia as a safe place to travel after the Israeli Security Council raised its threat level for several countries, advising its citizens to exercise extra caution due to a rise in attempted attacks and expressions of antisemitism. 

Israeli ambassador ‘very sad’ about rise in antisemitic incidents in Australia (Guardian) 

Amir Maimon urges government ‘to take all necessary measures’ to ensure ‘different people of different faiths’ feel secure.

Israel warns European countries over massive network of Hamas operatives (Jerusalem Post) 

Personal letters to about 20 European leaders warning of the growing activism of Hamas across Europe. 

EU pledges €30bn to protect mosques and synagogues amid hate crime rise (Guardian) 

Tensions surrounding Israel-Hamas war has provoked rise in antisemitism and Islamophobia in Europe. 

Brazilian Hezbollah suspect cased out synagogues in Brasilia, documents show (Reuters) 

A Brazilian man arrested on suspicion of ties to Hezbollah had taken videos and photos of two synagogues and a Jewish cemetery in Brasilia just weeks before he was arrested on terrorist charges last month, court documents show. 

About the author

Josh Roose

Dr Josh Roose is a political sociologist and Associate Professor at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Deakin University, 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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