Australia’s social media war against Jews

Twelve thousand people turned up to a rally in Sydney over the weekend to protest against a surge in antisemitism in Australia. Speakers included former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who condemned all acts of antisemitism and called for solidarity with Australia's Jews. (courtesy)
Twelve thousand people turned up to a rally in Sydney over the weekend to protest against a surge in antisemitism in Australia. Speakers included former Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who condemned all acts of antisemitism and called for solidarity with Australia's Jews. (courtesy)

Young Sarah is a 20-something Instagrammer and when I take a random scroll through her public posts it’s clear she loves sport, her cat, the beach, a beer on a hot day. There was several years of mundane posts recording her life of natural, ordinary pursuits and seemingly zero interest in politics or world affairs. But that all changed dramatically after October 7. Within days of the slaughter of Israelis at the hands of Hamas, Sarah’s Instagram focus was on one thing and one thing alone, the Israel/Gaza conflict.

From that day forth there is post after post about the ‘Zionist colonial settler project’, ‘Free Palestine’, ‘From the river to the sea’ and it was angry. No more beers on a hot day. But Sarah is by no means an outlier. Once you start doom scrolling through accounts like Sarah’s the algorithm will keep delivering similar servings expressing similar views and then you soon discover there’s a large cohort of women between the 20s and 40s posting and sharing like material many of whom had clearly never taken prior interest, at least not via their Instagram account, in any other world conflicts. On Sarah’s account there’s no Uighurs, Rohinga, Christians being slaughtered in Nigeria by Islamist terrorists, no mentions of Iran’s Women, Life, Freedom Movement, Ukraine, or anything else remotely similar. Just Gaza and Israel. And this movement is getting uglier and uglier by the day.

While the war in Gaza continues, there’s this other war raging on the pages of Australia’s Instagram users (and undoubtedly elsewhere). It’s a social media war where those identifying themselves as ‘progressive left’ battle it out with the ‘Zios’ (short for Zionists) and Australian Jews deeply fearful of the sudden surge in antisemitism.

In what appears to be an overwhelmingly woman led attack by left leaning creatives in Australia thousands of posts have been made denigrating Israel in ways that could be interpreted as camouflaged antisemitism and some of it anything but camouflaged. There’s nothing wrong with criticising the Netanyahu government and its policies. I certainly do. That’s not antisemitism. But, while some have legitimate grievances about the war in Gaza, so much more of what is being written on social media has become an opportunity for closet antisemites to reveal themselves disguised as anti-Zionists.

A WhatsApp group operating under the title of Jewish Creatives and Academics with about 600 Australian artists, writers, actors, and the like formed organically in the wake of October 7. I was one of them. Initially it formed as a support group for traumatised Jews seeking solace and comfort. This soon morphed into activism and discussions about how to respond to the sudden surge in antisemitism, particularly in the Australian arts and LGBTQ communities.

Eventually a mole within the group leaked the WhatsApp discussion thread to anti-Israel/Pro-Palestinian social media influencers. Just over a week ago the names of those 600 Australian Jews were drawn up into a list and published online as an excel spreadsheet along with photos of at least 100 of the group under the title “Z600”, the ‘Z’ being short for Zionist and which prominent Australian feminist commentator Clementine Ford urged her followers to view. The excel spreadsheet contained all manner of details, LinkedIn links, where they were employed, what job they did.  In one post, urging people to download the list of those ordinary Australian Jews they were described as having “colonial and genocidal goals…Nazi behaviour”.

The last time a list of Jews was drawn up and published was the 1930s and 40s in Germany and for this to happen today in Australia and to a community with among the largest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the world is particularly triggering for many. Jews in Australia are now the hunted online with hundreds now deactivating social media accounts and removing photos online of family and friends for fear of being targeted. Imagine that, Jews going into hiding in Australia. Of all places. Already Jewish businesses have been attacked, ugly emails and text messages sent and Police are investigating death threats to some of those on the published WhatsApp Z600 list.

Some super starlets have emerged with big social media followings. Self described feminists and influencers using their moderate social media celebrity status to vilify Israel and in some cases, whether consciously or unconsciously, Jews. Clementine Ford, Constance Hall, Lauren Dubois, Elsa Tuet Rosenberg and Michael Chun are among the vanguard of this campaign. Constance Hall was compelled to apologise on Instagram after ridiculing “the chosen people” in a video post.

When you read the Jewish Creatives WhatsApp discussion you see the group primarily addressing antisemitism with minimal discussion or debate about the tragedies unfolding in Gaza and Israel although when it is discussed there is ample reflection on the traumas of the poor Palestinian population of Gaza. There’s lots of talk about letter writing and signing petitions. Not a huge amount was actually achieved though. It was mostly trauma, anger, shouty, fear.

Of course none of this was helped by the NSW Greens MP, Jenny Leong, who it was revealed recently had said the following at a public meeting in Sydney on December 13:

“They rock up and they’re part of the campaign and offer support for things like the campaign against the 18C racial discrimination laws, they offer solidarity, they rock up to every community event and meeting to offer that connection because their tentacles reach into the areas that try and influence power. We need to call that out and expose it.”

Just read that again! I did several times because I could not believe that an elected official in an Australian Parliament would or could say such a thing and to be absolutely clear, she’s saying it about Australia’s Jews. Imagine for a minute being actually condemned for wanting to be involved and included as part of the wider community to help advance social causes but that’s precisely what Leong has done. Staggering.

I have throughout my life been extremely reticent about labelling anyone’s comments as antisemitism for fear of diluting the real meaning and power of the word when it’s necessary. But I really, for the life of me, can’t think of any other way of describing this toxic accusation Leong has cast against Australia’s Jews.

Leong has since apologised on Facebook for using the word ‘tentacles’ but what about the rest of the statement? Her apology was a classic “sorry, not sorry”.

The war in Gaza has unleashed the worst campaign of antisemitic harassment and intimidation I have witnessed in my life here in Australia and it needs to be called out in this beautiful multicultural country where all of us should feel safe.

The publication of a list of the names and details of 600 Australian Jews made the front pages of Australian newspapers. The situation has ignited such deep concern that Australian Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, condemned these antisemitic attacks and announced that the federal government would seek to amend Australia’s privacy laws to prevent the future publication of personal details for malicious intent.

One day, Sarah and her Instagram friends will attend a rally to protest somewhere and discover they’re in the company of black-clad neo-Nazis and she and her friends will get the shock of their lives when they discover that she and the neo-Nazis are on the same page.

About the Author
Stuart Cohen has worked in the Australian media for more than 30 years both as a journalist and in public affairs and today works as a freelancer producing films about the Australian environment.
Related Topics
Related Posts