‘Poisonous’ act that’s on the rise in Aus

As part of our coverage of the crisis in the Middle East, news.com.au has asked members of the Australia’s Jewish and Palestinian communities to write about the impact the violence in having in our country.

Dvir Abramovich writes below about the rise of anti-Semitism in our country, while Amin Abbas writes about the role Australia can play in the crisis.

I began this morning, as I do every morning.

I prayed for the conflict between Israel and Hamas to come to an end.

And I shed a tear for the families, on both sides, who lost loved ones. Their pain is our pain. This sadness was compounded by the knowledge that there are troubling signs here at home.

As the fighting between Israel and Hamas continues to escalate, the poison of anti-Semitism has seeped into our collective fabric and timber, threatening to sabotage our cherished unity, shared values and ethnic harmony.

At the outset, let me be very clear. The right to express one’s view about this current dispute is a cornerstone of our democracy. And yes, Australians can have fundamental disagreements about matters of great importance, even international issues. But that should not destroy the affection and respect that we hold for each other.

And still, that core ideal is slowly fading as the moral guardrails of restraint have come off as anti-Semitism, dressed up as criticism, is polluting the debate.

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In recent years, anti-Semitism has reached unprecedented levels in Australia. It is a societal virus that is impervious to facts, is available to everyone, anytime, on billions of pages and on posts, and crosses every line of ethnicity, socio-economic background, and political stances.

And it is the young, who rely on the internet most, who are most susceptible to believing the lies.

Over the last week, I have read reports and seen images of demonstrators in our streets carrying banners comparing Israel to Hitler’s Germany. Equating Israel’s actions and treatment of the Palestinians to the Final Solution that led to the extermination of six million Jews by the Nazis is classic anti-Semitism.

This exploitation of the Holocaust is offensive, ugly and must be called out.

In another, a protester replaced the Star of David within the Israeli flag with the Nazi swastika.

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Such practises cross the line. Big time.

This is not legitimate political expression or a questioning of Israeli policies. It is hate-speech and has no place in our country.

Chilling cries of “From the River to the Sea” have also rung out in some rallies. This phrase may not be understood by those who chant it, but it is a call for genocide.

A quick history lesson is warranted.

Before and following the establishment of Israel in 1948, Arab leaders often threatened that they would “push Jews into the sea.” So, when Jews spot signs with this slogan, they understand that it carries the message of erasing Israel off the map and annihilating its Jewish population.

Elsewhere, demonstrators have hurled the libellous slander that Israel is an apartheid state, a lie that has repeatedly been used to defame and de-legitimise the state and to suggest that it promotes abhorrent racial policies similar to those of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The problem is that in today’s Australia, anyone who endorses Israel to defend its citizens from the barrage of rockets fired by Hamas at cities and civilian centres is risking being demeaned and maligned.

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There has been a sharp upsurge of social media abuse. I have heard stories of Jewish students being verbally abused by classmates because of their association with Israel. In fact, the volume of anti-Israel opprobrium is frightening in its intensity.

I have seen numerous posts that deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination in their own land, who claim that the mere existence of Israel is a war crime and that Zionism is an act of racism.

Many other ‘observations’ are laced with ugly conspiracies that blame the Jews for the world’s ills.

On Monash Staklerspace, a Facebook community message board for Monash University students with more than 90,000 members, the beast of malice, vilification and intimidation has been unleashed, targeting anyone who professes any support for Israel.

Young Jewish students have been called, “terrorist sympathisers”, “bootlickers”, charged with playing “the victim card”, and of being “Palestinian killers”. This creates a polarised and fraught atmosphere on campus that cannot stand.

I have spoken to Jewish students who are concerned about wearing anything which will visibly identify them as Jewish for fear of physical attacks.

Others told me that they feel that their faith and connection to Israel make them a pariah on campus, that unless they condemn Israel, that they will be shut down and be targeted for vicious abuse.

This is not who we are as a nation.

The problem is that too often, when Jewish people raise the spectre of anti-Semitism, they are either dismissed or accused of trying to stifle debate. History has taught us that writing off and turning a blind eye to hatred of Jews leads to murder.

As President Barack Obama noted, “When any Jews anywhere is targeted for just being Jewish, we all have to respond. We are all Jews.”

The resurgence of anti-Semitism and a collective forgetfulness about what happened 80 years ago is giving oxygen to people’s ugliest instincts and a license to spew once unspeakable prejudices in an unfiltered way.

One doesn’t have to look to Europe, which has become uninhabitable for Jews, to see the disturbing manifestations of Jewish hatred.

“It couldn’t happen here in” is no longer true.

Anti-Semitism is on our doorstep, surrounding us in concrete and visible ways, as the restraints have dropped off.

Australia is not immune from this disease, and the rising statistics, that are at historic levels, are being played out every day.

And this conflict is providing a neat cover for those base impulses to surface.

Several public figures, commentators and organisations have used their voice and platform to comment on the present conflict. But instead of using measured tone and the facts, they have inflamed the situation with irresponsible, incendiary language, stoking local tensions and fuelling divisions.

This helps no one. Rather, it creates cleavages and divisions that are dangerous. Such incitement can radicalise, heighten bigotry and may end in tragedy.

Now is the time to find common ground. Now is the time for good people to bridge the local divide that is dangerously widening, to help in building a more cohesive society, to urge a de-escalation in sentiments, and to remind everyone that we are brothers and sisters.

I have never met a Jew who valued Palestinian life less than an Israeli one, or who delights in the loss of life in Gaza.

The Jewish, Muslim communities and Christian communities in Australia have for decades worked hard to build bridges of understanding, trust and communication.

Now is the time to marshal those reservoirs of good will and friendships and to ensure that the bloodshed of a conflict that is unfolding in the Middle East does not infiltrate and invade our streets.

Dr Dvir Abramovich is Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, Australia’s leading civil rights organisation.

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