This long weekend we celebrate and reflect on the story of Australia.
For Jewish Australians it is a weekend of mixed emotions. Yesterday we reflected on our country with Australia Day and today, we pause for Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Like so many migrant and religious groups, historically Australia has been generous to Jewish people. For Jewish Australians, Australia has been one of the few nations of the world where Jews have not experienced any form of discrimination.
Australia is so different from the rest of the world. As a people we’ve chosen to import heritage but not conflict; we celebrate our collective gifts and not grievances; and we take history as a teacher rather than a master.
This acceptance of all people is the gift of Australia.
I like to think my life reflects it. I’m a Jewish Australian, who was educated in an Anglican school, worked at a Catholic University, has a best friend who is a Muslim, enjoys the company of my Indigenous friends, and who is always made welcome by the monks at the local Buddhist monastery, and worshipers at the Hindu Mandir and Sikh Gurdwara. That’s Australia – and as one lark said to me, I’ve been hedging my bets in the afterlife.
This acceptance of people no matter their race, religion, gender, sexuality or any immutable attribute is something we must treasure as Australians. However, I don’t believe that history is linear, or as many believe, the “long arc of history [automatically] bends towards justice”. As we have discovered in recent times, freedom must always be defended.
Though our history when it comes to Jewish people is a shining light, in more recent times we have seen the poison of anti-Semitism finding a new foothold in the country we love.
Whilst anti-Semitism has come to the fore in the months following the inhumane Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, it has been festering for some time.
On October 5, two days before the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel, High Court Justice Jagot called out the growth of anti-Semitism on Australian campuses in her Sir Zelman Cowen lecture.
Justice Jagot, quoting the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion and belief, reminded us that anti-Semitism is “the canary in the coalmine of global hatred”. More than a threat to Jewish people, anti-Semitisim is a broader symptom of an underlying loss of confidence in liberal, democratic ideals and practices.
Anti-semitism has always existed amongst the tin-foil nutcases of the far right, but more recently, it has been growing exponentially amongst the inner-city left. It is festering in universities where vice chancellors are turning a blind-eye, and in the inner cities where it is now a feature of the Greens extremist agenda.
The petri dish for growing anti-Semitism in Australia are our university campuses.
This is backed by empirical evidence. Last year, prior to the Hamas attacks, the Social Research Centre released the Australian Jewish University Experience Survey.
The survey found 64% of Jewish university students in Australia had experienced anti-Semitism at university – and 88% of these had experienced anti-Semitism on campus over the preceding year
As well, 57% of Jewish students had hidden the fact they were Jewish at university and 19% had at some point stayed away from campus because of anti-Semitism.
When anti-Semitism occurred, 85% of students did not make a complaint. Those that did complain, 61% were dissatisfied with the outcome.
The cause of this is clear, it is what is taught on campus. In recent years, the teaching of universities has gravitated to seeing the world through the lens of oppressed and oppressor. From disciplines as diverse as engineering to journalism, concepts such as “white privilege” “decolonisation” and “intersectionality” have taken hold across the curriculum.
This is not only an Australian phenomenon. A recent Harvard Harris poll found that two thirds of American voters aged 18-24 believed Jews were a class of oppressors. This compares to 9% over the age of 65. Think about that – a group of people who faced the brink of extinction three quarters of a century ago and who have been scattered to the four corners of the Earth as refugees are now considered oppressors.
University classes as well as sharp propaganda videos promoted on the Chinese Communist Party owned social media company Tiktok argue that justice in the world is denied because of privilege, and if you want to strike down privilege, then you must start with the Jews. The arguments of the 1920s and 1930s have found new life again in the 2020s.
In Australia, the Greens have been at the forefront of making anti-Semitism part of their political agenda. The battleground of anger towards Jews has been in inner city areas where the Greens are seeking political dominance over Labor. On social media and on the streets, the Greens are driving anti-Semetic rhetoric and feeling in our country.
Given that the overwhelming number of Australians want no truck with anti-Semitism and the racism that accompanies it, we must ask ourselves what actions can we take to tackle anti-semitism and anti-Jewish sentiment?
First, we must enforce the existing laws about hate speech and discrimination. The fact is more than 100 days have passed since “Kill the Jews” and “Gas the Jews” was chanted at the Opera House and no one has been held to account. More recently, hate preachers who have sought to incite violence against Jewish people have been ignored by state and federal authorities. In both cases no arrests, no prosecutions, no fines, no imprisonment – nothing!
Peter Dutton is right to say that this is a time of moral clarity, but sadly we have not seen it, particularly from the gigantic and well-paid equality and anti-discrimination apparatus that operates within state and federal governments. Mostly, they have been silent. Their silence has sent its own message: Jews need not apply for protection – in the workplace and on the streets. As British author David Baddiel pointed out when it comes to these groups: Jews don’t count
Second, we need a formal independent inquiry into anti-semitism at Australian universities. Long before the terror attacks of 7 October, a multiparty group of MPs including myself, Labor’s Josh Burns and the Independent, Allegra Spender wrote to universities across Australia calling on them to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Allaince’s definition of anti-Semtism. Of Australia’s nearly 40 public universities only Monash, Melbourne, Macquarie, Wollongong and the University of the Sunshine Coast have fully signed up. The other Vice Chancellors need to be held to account and our universities must reject the encroaching anti-Semitisim that has taken hold in too many university communities.
Third, the major parties and the teals must commit to preferencing the Greens last. Throughout my political careers, I have always put One Nation last. I did so because I abhor racism. One Nation has its racists and kooks, but it has never supported the genocide of a people. The Greens actions over recent months have been so extreme, they must be put last. No party should preference them and none should ever go into coalition with them.
Finally, Australia must be unequivocal about anti-Semitism here and around the world. On the morning after the Hamas attacks, which was the most horrific day for Jewish people since the Holocaust, Penny Wong called on Israel to show “restraint”. On the following day, the NSW Police Minister green-lighted the disgraceful demonstration at the Sydney Opera House. Most days, from the assembling to mobs outside to synagogues to votes at the United Nations, government response to the entreaties of Jewish-Australians has been half-hearted at best.
Jewish Australians love this country. It represents the best the world can be. In 2024, it is beholden on all of us as Australians to defend the values we have shared for so-long and resist the ideas of hatred and discrimination that have taken hold in too many other countries across the world.