The response to the murderous attacks in Paris and Copenhagen in January and February was encouraging. There was widespread condemnation from across all levels and sectors of Western societies. Presidents and Prime Ministers, Christians, Muslims, Jews and others marched in the streets of Paris against the terrorist murders.
Importantly, there was widespread recognition that violent antisemitism in Europe is getting worse and having a destructive effect on society as a whole. However, there were some sections of the mainstream media and society which took a decidedly different tack, including in Australia.
The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) published an article by Liz Alderman extolling the terrorists for not killing women. The article was titled “’I’m not going to kill you because you’re a woman’: Charlie Hebdo shooters spared female journalists”.
And yet, Elsa Cayat, a woman, was in fact murdered at Charlie Hebdo. She was also the only Jewish woman at Charlie Hebdo that day, and the only female death. Why was the murder of Elsa Cayat ignored? Was it to downplay Jewish deaths? Or worse still – did Cayat’s death not count because she was Jewish? Why did extolling the terrorists take precedence over acknowledging her death?
After the Copenhagen murders, again the SMH (and The Age) again shifted their focus away from the brutal criminality of the terrorists. An article by Gwynne Dyer attacked Israeli PM Netanyahu’s call for European Jews to move to Israel to escape violent and murderous antisemitism. Dyer proclaimed that nine dead Jews (killed in terrorist attacks in Belgium, France and Denmark over the past year) were not enough to cause an exodus. He did not specify how many Jews he thinks should die before they have a right to be fearful and leave.
If Dyer was seeking the truth about antisemitism, instead of using the murders as an opportunity to polemicise against Netanyahu, he would have considered the 2012 murder of four Jews in Toulouse, including three young children. He would have found that European Jews are consistently subjected to high levels of antisemitic harassment, abuse and violence. He would have acknowledged that 50% of racist attacks in France are against Jews, yet Jews are only 1% of the population. But Dyer appeared to have no interest in antisemitism, except as a rhetorical tool with which to bludgeon Netanyahu.
On the ABC, presenter Michael Edwards’ report on the Paris terrorist attacks stated: “Amedy Coulibaly, who held up the Jewish deli, claimed to be acting on behalf of Islamic State.” Edwards makes it appear as though it were a robbery gone wrong rather than a targeted attack at a Jewish shop. He glosses over the fact that the intent was to capture and murder Jews, not rob the till.
A few days later on another ABC report, Nariman House, the Jewish centre in Mumbai, was omitted from a list naming the targets of the Mumbai terrorist attack in 2008. At Nariman House, the rabbi, his pregnant wife and four other Jews were mutilated and murdered because they were Jews. In these two instances, the ABC presenters clearly minimised or omitted any mention of Jews who were murdered.
Julian Burnside, a prominent barrister and human rights advocate, also made statements minimising the murder of Jews. On ABC radio, as reported in The Australian, Burnside stated that “one of the casualties was a Muslim policeman” while “another in a related episode in the kosher grocery (was) a Jewish man”. Burnside omitted to even acknowledge the deaths of several other Jews.
Burnside declared in a tweet: “Charlie Hebdo was terror attack, but Paris march decisively rejected Islamaphobia (sic).” In fact, the Paris street march condemned and rejected antisemitism, not Islamophobia.
Elsewhere, Burnside has consistently claimed that “Islamophobia is the new anti-Semitism”. In fact, antisemitism persists with undiminished vigour and has mutated into new and more insidious forms. Jews are subject to a much higher rate of attack than are Muslims; for example, in the USA, a Jew is six times more likely to be attacked than a Muslim, and in Britain, four times more likely. Burnside’s erroneous claims do justice to neither antisemitism nor to Islamophobia.
Rod Benson of the NSW Council of Churches published an article entitled “Anti-Semitism takes on a new direction in France”. Despite the title, the article is not about antisemitism at all. Instead, it is about discouraging Islamophobia. So why the reference to antisemitism in the title?
When mainstream society, including media, a church organisation, and a human rights advocate, ignore and obfuscate the murder of Jews, they are subtly downplaying antisemitic murder.
To counter antisemitism, the first step is to acknowledge its existence. One must then acknowledge that antisemitism is evil, that it affects everyone not just Jews, and that it must be fought.
While ever some in positions of power and influence relegate antisemitism to a lesser status, for whatever reason, through minimisation or omission, the virus of antisemitism will continue to spread and threaten to engulf whole societies. What happened in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s seems to have been all but forgotten.