As Islamic State Sows Fear in Australia, Jews Launch Initiative Against anti-Semitism

Anti-Jewish incidents have spiked since Gaza war, while Islamists sow fear throughout continent.

Australian Federal Police Handout via Reuters TV

SYDNEY, Australia – As Australia reacts to the shocking revelations that Islamic State terrorists were planning public beheadings here, a group of Jews in Sydney, prompted by the spike in anti-Semitism during the war in Gaza, are backing a new Anti-Semitism Action Plan to prevent the “lucky country” becoming like Europe.

“Sadly, for the first time in living memory, a small number of Jews in Sydney are scared to be Jewish publicly,” according to Daniel Grynberg, the chief executive of the Jewish Communal Appeal. In an email urging people to come to a series of briefings this week about the new plan, Grynberg wrote: “We still live in the most peaceful and wonderful community on the planet, and yet we know that things can change ... Look at France. Look at the U.K. Look at South Africa. The time to act is before we get there.”

Grynberg, 44, told Haaretz this week he was amazed at the response, especially from “Generation X”, many of whom had previously not been engaged in communal affairs.

“About 250 people have signed up for 10 events in the next six days,” he said. “It’s a generation standing up saying, ‘We live in the best place on Earth and we want to keep it that way.’”

The launch of the Anti-Semitism Action Plan (ASAP), a joint initiative of the JCA and the Jewish Board of Deputies in Sydney, comes as Australia’s government raised its terror threat level from medium to high last week, meaning a terror attack on Australian soil is now officially considered “likely.”

On Thursday morning, in the largest anti-terror operation in Australia’s history, federal police raided sites in Sydney and Brisbane, detaining 15 people amid claims by Prime Minister Tony Abbott that Islamic State was planning public executions in Australia. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on Thursday that it understood Mohammad Ali Baryalei, Australia’s most senior Islamic State member, had issued instructions to kidnap people in Brisbane and Sydney and have them executed on camera.

“The anti-Israel protests during the Gaza war saw swastikas and Islamic State flags on the streets of Sydney,” said Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the Board of Deputies. “These and other incidents are part of a changing landscape. It is our responsibility to respond to that.”

“We see what’s happening in London, in Paris, in Brussels, in Oslo and we’re not immune to the forces of globalization,” added Grynberg, who was appointed last year to run the JCA, effectively the community’s purse, which raises more than $10 million annually to disburse to more than 20 Jewish constituent organizations in Sydney and Canberra.

This week’s ASAP briefings are not exploiting the climate of fear in Australia following the torrent of anti-Semitic incidents, Grynberg said.

“They [the people driving this] don’t think of it as a fear campaign; they think of it as an investment,” he said, explaining that ASAP has been described as a battle for market share.

“Five-10% of people hate us, 5-10% love us and 80-90% are in the middle ground, undecided. Because we are so small, we need to reach out to them and educate them. Otherwise life will get increasingly unpleasant.”

One of those who attended a briefing this week was Murray Manoy. “There is a committed group of people doing something in a positive way,” he told Haaretz.

Manoy, who has three children at a Jewish school in Sydney, said there has “definitely” been a change for Jews since the Gaza war.

“I feel a change in the air and it has moved from Israeli politics to racism. I went to the Bledisloe Cup [rugby union match between Australia and New Zealand] on the train the other night and my son was wearing an Israel Defense Forces hoodie. We walked across central station and I felt decidedly uncomfortable when previously I wouldn’t have even thought about it.”

Manoy added: “I think it has actually made me more strongly openly Jewish out there, but more scared.”

One of the driving forces behind ASAP is Gavin Solsky, a board member of the Sydney Jewish Museum. He wants to double the number of non-Jews who come through the museum each year, which is presently around 20,000. To do so, they would need to hire more teachers and guides, and that would require more funding, which the JCA and the Board of Deputies hopes will come as a result of this week’s briefings.

During the Gaza war, anti-Semitic incidents were widespread across the continent: in Perth, a visiting Israeli rabbi was harangued by a gang of youths, while the state’s only Jewish school was daubed with anti-Semitic graffiti. In Sydney, dozens of Jewish schoolchildren were terrorized by a gang of drunken youths who boarded their school bus and allegedly threatened to “slit your throats.” In Melbourne, a man was beaten and called a “Jewish dog” by two Arabic-speaking men.

The Sydney Morning Herald issued an apology for publishing a cartoon described by some Jewish leaders as “crudely anti-Semitic” after it was threatened with legal action, while one of its high-profile columnists resigned after verbally abusing Jewish readers who complained about the anti-Israel invective in his columns. On social media platforms, at pro-Palestinian rallies and on student campuses, Australian Jews have been targeted.

“The objective [of ASAP] is building bridges, breaking down barriers and combatting anti-Semitism,” Alhadeff said.

Henry Benjamin / J-Wire