Confronting Anti-Semitism

It isn’t easy reading about antisemitic attacks that take place in France and in America and in Britain.

It isn’t easy reading about our fellows Jews being attacking verbally and physically in all corners of the world.

It isn’t easy knowing that they are attacked, not for what they believe, but simply for what they are.

And it isn’t easy when those attacks happen right in your own town and in your own neighbourhood and in your own backyard.

Yet, such was the case when details were revealed of two antisemitic attacks that took place over the last few months at Melbourne schools.

In the first case, a little 5-year-old boy was subjected to such horrific bullying and intimidation that rather than go to the school bathroom, he would wet himself in class. Five classmates subjected the little boy to some of the most horrific language you can imagine, using terms like “Jewish vermin”, “the dirty Jew” and a “Jewish cockroach.”

The little boy was so stressed he was not able to return to school and the family doctor told the parents that their son was suffering from “an acute state of anxiety.”

Can you imagine? A 5-year-old boy suffering so much stress he cannot even go to the toilet in school. As the parent of a child of similar age, I can only say that my heart breaks reading this. Because no child anywhere should have to suffer abuse like this – let alone one so young they can hardly understand what it even means.

And for those children who hurled those abusive lines, where can 5-year-olds possibly even learn things like that if not exposed to it on a daily basis by those close to them.

In the other case, a 12-year-old boy was lured to a park by a classmate to kick a ball, only to find himself surrounded by about 9 other kids who threatened violence against him if he did not kiss the feet of a Muslim boy. Feeling he had no choice, he complied and the humiliation was further compounded when pictures of it taken place were distributed on Instagram.

But, as what always happens with bullies, appeasement does not satisfy the hunger, but fuels it. And as the second school term began, so the attacks continued where the boy was called “Jewish n**ger”,”Jewish ape,” and “Jewish gimp.”

The attacks were not only verbal, but predatory as well. He was followed home from school to the point he would actually run home, arriving in a cold sweat.
And then the violence began too, where he was attacked in the school corridor leaving him with bruises on his face and back.
Once again, the family doctor diagnosed him with an “acute state of anxiety.”

In both cases there were distinct similarities. The children were bullied and insulted and in the 12 year old’s case, physically hurt. They both suffered serious anxiety. And they both were eventually withdrawn from the schools, because their right to attend those schools, free of being accosted and intimidated, was removed.

And of course they were both Jewish.

Now, at times bullies will use anything they can to attack their victims. They’ll use ethnicities or appearances or religion – it doesn’t matter. And perhaps if they went after another victim, maybe a black person, or an Indian person, they’d use similar insults.

But when you read about the language that was used on both boys, language that would have been commonplace in Nazi Germany, or in Middle Age Europe during their constant expulsions of Jews, or in the Arab world and Iran which continues to hold their annual hate fest of Holocaust denial, it’s hard to deny that there was not at least an element of antisemitism to these attacks.

Good old fashioned Jew hatred.

But deny the schools did, using vague weak language to say the school was against bullying and the well-being of students was their highest priority, yet still failing to address the nature of these specific attacks or outline the consequences for those who perpetrated them.

Now let’s be honest – Jews can be sensitive about some of the things that are said to us. And not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic either. However, we have good reason to be sensitive. We have good reason to take things like this seriously. Because we have experienced the very real effects of it – not in some theoretical model, but in physical reality –the scars of which are still felt by us daily.

What starts out as words often escalates to acts and finally results in violence.

These acts of antisemitism cannot be seen in isolation for the levels of antisemitism in the world has increased to such an extent that there are virtually no places immune from its tentacles. Even just today, I read a report of how hate crimes against Jews in New York City alone has risen to 311 compared to 250 for the same period last year.

As Jews, we are always on the defence to some degree. We have to be alert and we have to be vigilant and we have to be aware. And whether we’re in Israel or in the Diaspora we too are entitled to the same rights as others – to live freely and happily and confidently – even as many strive to take that way.

It has become a major issue of our generation and we have to confront it and we have to deal with it – so that no 5 year old has to panic when going to the bathroom and no 12 year old has to worry about running home in case he gets attacked.

We have to fight it with words and with actions to hold accountable those who should be held accountable and to confront those who should be confronted.

To call out what should be called out.

It’s not always easy and it’s often uncomfortable and unpleasant and perhaps the disease of antisemitism cannot ever truly be beaten, but that doesn’t mean you give up either.

Because as history has proven time and time again, if we do not deal with it, then no one else will.

About the Author
Justin Amler is a South African born, Melbourne based writer who has lived in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia.