Australian MPs Pick Up Torch in Fight Against Global anti-Semitism

All 105 federal Liberal MPs and senators join the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism.

SYDNEY, Australia – Despite the 500-plus anti-Semitic incidents in the latest annual report of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the specter of anti-Semitism Down Under is low.

After all, Australia is not Europe. It's still the “lucky country,” especially for the Jews and Israel. Witness the mass signing last week of a declaration pledging to combat global anti-Semitism by more than 100 federal MPs.

The Australians joined a campaign spearheaded by legislators including Canadian MP Irwin Cotler, Israeli MK Isaac Herzog and U.S. Congressman Chris Smith. It's an international coalition of lawmakers, founded in 2009, to combat “an escalating, sophisticated, global, virulent and even lethal anti-Semitism, that is arguably without parallel or precedent since the end of the Second World War.”

About 300 other lawmakers from some 60 countries have signed the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism, a spokesperson from the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism told Haaretz this week. Of them about 50 are Canadians, 18 are Brits, six are Israelis and two are Americans.

Australian legislators now represent the largest contingent of signatories, and more of the nation’s 226 federal parliamentarians in Canberra are expected to sign the declaration this week. British MP John Mann, chairman of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition, was delighted by the support.

“The London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism is a document with clear recommendations to improve the way in which anti-Semitism is being confronted,” he told Haaretz. “We hope that this endorsement from Australia will encourage colleagues in other parts of the world to follow suit.”

The declaration resolves to “expose, challenge, and isolate political actors who engage in hate against Jews and target the State of Israel as a Jewish collectivity.” It also endorses the 2005 definition of anti-Semitism by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, which acknowledges that some attacks on Israel can be anti-Semitic.

Last month Australia’s Julia Gillard became the fourth prime minister to sign, following Britain’s Gordon Brown and David Cameron, and Canada’s Stephen Harper, who in 2010 signed the Ottawa Protocol, reaffirming the London Declaration.

“The London Declaration is, above all, a warning and a witness to those who hold offices of public trust,” Gillard said, urging her fellow lawmakers to sign up. “In the 1930s, another generation of leaders failed the test. We face the same test – and we must not fail it.”

On May 10, Liberal MP Christopher Pyne, a former chairman of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel group, followed Gillard’s lead.

“Activism, boycotts and sometimes sanctions campaigns aren’t always anti-Semitic, but when you target individual businesses because they are Jewish, it is clearly anti-Semitic,” Pyne said, referring to a campaign to boycott Max Brenner, the Israeli-founded chocolate shop that has more than 20 outlets across Australia. On Tuesday, New South Wales Premier Barry O'Farrell and opposition leader John Robertson signed the declaration in Sydney.

A dissenting voice

But not everyone supported this latest bout of philo-Semitism. “The resort to charges of anti-Semitism regarding the worldwide criticisms of the internationally illegal policies of the government of Israel is an age-old technique to stifle any criticism of blatant human rights abuses,” said Prof. Stuart Rees, a trenchant Israel critic at the University of Sydney’s Center for Peace and Conflict Studies.

Rees’ “polemical attack” was a “much more significant trigger for this sweep of signatures than the BDS campaign itself, which has been a conspicuous failure in Australia,” said Peter Wertheim, the executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. He was referring to the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

Admitting that Rees’ remarks added “momentum” to the cause, Liberal MP Joshua Frydenberg rallied his party colleagues in Canberra, and by the end of last week all 105 federal Liberal MPs and senators had signed up to the London Declaration.

"No major political party in any other country has seen all its parliamentary members sign on in this way,” Frydenberg said, denying that Labor had been wedged on the issue just months before an election.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus added: “The prime minister represented our nation, our government and the Parliamentary Labor Party when she signed the London Declaration.”

Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said he expected “no division” between the major parties on the issue. “It will be equally supported by Labor and the coalition. It demonstrates what a terrific country we live in,” he said, adding that he had experienced anti-Semitism firsthand earlier this month.

But not in Australia. He was in Hungary at the annual assembly of the World Jewish Congress when a gang began chanting Nazi slogans at the group of Jewish leaders he was walking with.“I've never seen or heard of anything like that here,” Lamm said.

“You can only find some anti-Semitism in Muslim and radical left circles, but that represents a very small minority,” he told Haaretz on Saturday night from Melbourne’s major sports stadium, where he was watching his Australian rules football team with almost 70,000 fans.

“I'm sitting at the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a kippa on and no concerns.”

Henry Benjamin