Hatred is a virus that weakens the nation
OVER the past two months, we have all woken up to a new, frightening reality. There are alarming developments and chilling signs that are making the Jewish community here less comfortable, less confident and very worried that the flames of anti-Semitism are burning more furiously at home. This hatred is so vitriolic and so insidious that it is hard to take. The ugly demon of anti-Semitism has risen with such a searing intensity that I am worried.
I shuddered when I learned last week that teenagers boarded a school bus in Sydney, screaming “Heil Hitler” and “kill the Jews”, and threatened to slit the throats of Jewish students as young as five, or that anti-Semitic graffiti was daubed on the Carmel school in Perth, or that Jewish students were verbally abused, intimidated and physically harassed on our university campuses and excluded from entering a meeting because of their religion, or when a visiting rabbi was assaulted in Perth, or when a Jewish man was slashed by two men who shouted “Jewish dog” in Arabic and made references to the Gaza conflict.
It’s amazing how anti-Semitism is excused when the atmosphere allows it to masquerade as criticism of Israeli policies. Since the onset of Operation Protective Edge, Australian Jews have been unfairly blamed and singled out for events unfolding in Gaza and Israel.
The cumulative effect of such contemptible behaviour, and its sharp escalation, is that Australian Jews are increasingly feeling insecure about their safety. It should come as no surprise that some are scared to admit that they’re Jewish, or visit Jewish places, or wear religious clothing and items that identify them Jews. This is simply unacceptable.
Anti-Jewish prejudice, mingled with inflammatory, obsessive Israel demonisation and defamation, has been mainstreamed, finding ready acceptance in large parts of social and traditional media. I shook with disbelief when I saw a Fairfax cartoon depicting a Yarmulke-wearing, hooked-nose old Jew, comfortably sitting in a chair emblazoned with the Star of David, holding a remote-controlled detonator in his hand, bombing Gaza. All Jews were now being portrayed as cold, heartless murderers with a lust for blood.
A box of lies, libels and stereotypes has been opened, and it’s not closing any time soon.
Public displays of hate have become disturbingly prevalent. In pro-Palestinian rallies across Australia, Israel is frequently likened to Nazi Germany and accused of perpetrating a new Holocaust, with posters intertwining the Star of David with a Swastika. In a protest in Melbourne over the weekend, Adam Bandt charged Israel with committing a massacre while surrounded by banners labelling Israel a terrorist state, calling for its boycott and proclaiming “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”- a well-known call for Israel’s annihilation.
GLOBALLY, violent anti-Semitic rhetoric and acts are exploding. In France, Jewish areas have been subjected to mob-like looting, synagogues have been firebombed and shops smashed, while cries of “Death to the Jews” were chanted in Paris; in Germany crowds howled “Jews to the Gas”, while Molotov cocktails have been hurled at synagogues; in Belgium, a woman was turned away from a shop and told: “We don’t currently sell to Jews.” And the list goes on.
And two days ago, Rabbi Joseph Raksin was fatally shot while walking to a North Miami Beach synagogue.
Hitler is dead but, as one commentator observed, his children are thriving throughout.
Anti-Semitism contravenes the moral code of inclusiveness and a fair go Australians have always held dear. It doesn’t have a place in our country. And this is not just about the Jewish community. Anti-Semitism stirs up and promotes racial hatred that is harmful to Australian society as a whole. Because where Jewish-hatred flourishes, you will always find racism, religious bigotry, Islamophobia, ethnic purity, homophobia, misogyny and loathing of minorities.
Anti-Semitism undermines our proud social cohesion and leads to violence. One writer noted: “Hate incubates. It festers and grows – multiplies exponentially until words become chants, lies become truths and ideologies that seemed ridiculous no longer do. And when poisonous ideologies pervade and consume, blood will be spilled. And will continue to be spilled.” A civilised society that cherishes democracy, multiculturalism and equality simply cannot look away from this threat and allow it to be normalised. Anti-Semitism is a virus that spreads, and the only way to pulverise this evil is to fight back through education. That is why the Anti-Defamation Commission, through its Click Against Hate program, equips students with the tools and knowledge to stand up and speak out against bullying, racism and discrimination.
One of the lessons of the Holocaust is that we must all be vigilant and be mindful of the perils of unchallenged extremism and of words that stoke the flames of intolerance and division.
This article was originally published in the Herald Sun, August 12, 2014