Anti-Semitic Incidents on the Rise in Australia, Report Shows

Anti-Semitism remains on the fringe of Australian society, but 'Prisoner X' affair triggered use of age-old stereotypes.

Dan Goldberg
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Dan Goldberg

SYDNEY − The total number of reported anti-Semitic incidents in Australia last year was the second highest on record, according to the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s annual report.

The “Report on Anti-Semitism in Australia,” tabled at Sunday’s annual general meeting in Melbourne, revealed 657 reports of racist violence against Jewish Australians and Jewish community buildings between October 1, 2012 and September 30, 2013.

The incidents, logged on the ECAJ’s national database since 1989, constituted a 21-percent increase over the previous 12-month period, according to the report.

But serious physical attacks were at the lowest since 2005.

“In general, it can be said that Australians neither particularly like nor dislike Jews,” wrote the authors, Julie Nathan, the ECAJ’s research officer, and Jeremy Jones, director of international and community affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

“Although stereotypes of Jews remain part of the culture in Australia, these are not as deeply ingrained or hateful as in Europe and Middle Eastern cultures," reads the report. “Anti-Semitism remains at the fringes of Australian politics and society, and though there are exceptions, anti-Semitism is not generally part of the mainstream discourse.”

The 202-page report does not include the recent brutal assault of five religious Jews walking home from Shabbat dinner in Bondi on October 26, which will be contained in next year’s report.

Jones, a former ECAJ president who has compiled the report on anti-Semitic incidents since 1989, told Haaretz it was an “unprecedented” anti-Semitic incident, saying there had never been an attack of its kind in the last 24 years. Four men and a woman were beaten up in a brutal fistfight that left Eli Behar, 66, with a brain hemorrhage. He was released after two nights in hospital.

'Prisoner X' affair evoked anti-Semitic seterotypes

The report does, however, include the fallout sparked by explosive revelations that Israel’s “Prisoner X” was Ben Zygier, a Melbourne-born Mossad agent who committed suicide in his maximum-security prison cell in 2010. Some of the coverage of the Australian link to the affair − revealed in February in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation documentary − triggered the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes and canards, the report stated.

“A tragedy involving a single individual was used in some media to impugn the loyalty to Australia of Australian Jews as a group,” the authors wrote. “[It] … was used as a pretext by anti-Semites to accuse Jews in Australia of disloyalty.”

But Zionist Federation of Australia President Philip Chester retorted that allegations of Jewish disloyalty evoked “age-old anti-Semitic stereotypes.”

“To suggest that this tragedy was brought on by inherent conflicts of loyalty and identity casts dangerous and unwarranted aspersions on the entire Jewish community,” Chester said.

Among the most disturbing of the 657 incidents was vandalism of Jewish communal property, including a public giant hanukiah in Sydney, as well as missiles thrown at synagogues. But most of the reported incidents were threats and abuse, primarily by email, rather than physical attacks on persons or property.

Abusive, threatening and other anti-Semitic email was at the second-highest rate ever, according to the report. Threats conveyed through the telephone, mail, leaflets, posters or email were 60 percent above the average.

Rightists more supportive of Jews

The report also argued that new alignments had emerged, with some right-wing nationalist groups supporting Jews and Israel and opposing anti-Semitism, while others supported far-left and radical Islamist groups in merging anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic themes.

Right-wing nationalists who had become more supportive of Jews and Israel did so “based on the view that Islam and Muslims currently pose a greater threat to their interests than Jews,” according to the report.

“As radical Islamists are seen to be at the forefront of attacking Jews, particularly in Europe, some far-right nationalist groups have even sought an alliance with Jewish communal organizations, but with no success whatsoever.”

The anti-Israel movement in Australia is attracting “hard-core anti-Semites to its ranks, from neo-Nazis to radical Islamists, which both openly advocate genocide against Jews,” the authors continued.

They said there were two disturbing aspects to this. “Firstly, they tend to deny that any criticism of Israel could be anti-Semitic, and tend to accuse Jews of using anti-Semitism as a means to stifle debate on Israel. Secondly, the anti-Israel movement tends to avoid accepting any responsibility for anti-Semitic commentary posted on the online media of their respective organizations and displayed at their events.”

The annual report comes as Robert Goot, a Sydney-based barrister, was confirmed as incoming president of the 110,000-plus Jewish community, succeeding Dr. Danny Lamm who served for the past three years. Goot, a vice-president of the World Jewish Congress and director of the Claims Council, previously served as president from 2007 to 2010.

The Australian Jewish community continues to operate within high levels of security, the report confirmed. “The fact remains that Jews in Australia worship, study and work under the protection of high fences, armed guards and other security facilities. This will remain the case for the foreseeable future.”

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