Current trends in antisemitism in Australia

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) has just released its annual Report on Antisemitism in Australia. There were 478 antisemitic incidents logged across Australia in the 12 months to September 30, 2022.

This is an increase of more than 40 per cent over the last two years, made up of a 6.9 per cent increase during the year ending September 30, 2022 following the 35 per cent increase reported during the previous year in 2021.

Most of the incidents in 2022 comprised verbal abuse, graffiti and propaganda material (e.g. posters, stickers), with the latter category seeing a 70 per cent increase over the previous year.

Two questions arise: What is driving the current spate of antisemitism? And what can be done about it?

A major source of antisemitism is the burgeoning neo-Nazi movement which is active across Australia. It began, in its contemporary manifestation, in late 2016 as a small but dedicated group named Antipodean Resistance, which then morphed into several other groups, most notably the National Socialist Network (NSN) and its partner, the European Australian Movement (EAM), together with other affiliated groups, often geographically based.

These neo-Nazis espouse genocidal hatred of Jews and look to Adolf Hitler as their inspiration and role model. They have adopted National Socialist (Nazi) ideology, imbued with its conspiracy theories about Jews. They often dress up their Nazi beliefs as white nationalism, with slogans such as “White Revolution” and “Australia for the White Man”, in order to dupe unsuspecting young males of European background into joining their cause.

In the streets, neo-Nazi groups actively propagate their ideology, mainly by placing stickers on poles and leaflets in letterboxes. In one brazen act, NSN/EAM members stood outside the Holocaust Museum in Adelaide and performed Nazi salutes. This act was photographed and posted online, where mainstream media found it and publicised it.

On encrypted internet sites, neo-Nazis and their fellow travellers (a mix of white supremacists, Christian nationalists, conspiracy theorists and other antisemites) exchange their views, distribute propaganda material, post about their latest acts of hatred, and dream of an Australia devoid of Jews, Africans, Asians and LGBT people.

It would be wrong to dismiss them as a tiny lunatic fringe of racists. They are growing in numbers, and are led by more politically savvy people. They are not the head-thumping, romper stomper goons of the past. Their long-term goal is to seize political power and take over the Australian government by force, as the vanguard of their so-called “white revolution” to “save” Australia from non-European races. Intrinsic to their ideology is the intention, sometimes stated openly, to commit “a Holocaust” against Australia’s Jewish population.

For now, these neo-Nazis are promoting their racist ideology, producing hate propaganda material, recruiting new members, and engaging in legal activities aimed at bonding and planning, and solidifying the efficacy of their organisations.

State governments and police have recognised that neo-Nazis are a growing threat and may instigate violence in the foreseeable future. Police closely monitor many of them, and new laws have been introduced banning the public display of Nazi hate symbols. Although the ban will not stop neo-Nazis, it sends a message to everyone that racist hate will not be tolerated.

At the other end of the political spectrum, a different threat has emerged, not one engaged in overtly anti-Jewish incidents, but one which is more insidious.

Ostensibly left-leaning, progressive groups, including so-called “anti-racism activists”, are mainstreaming antisemitism and/or actively undermining the fight against antisemitism. They do this in multiple ways, either intentionally or inadvertently.

Many wrongly see antisemitism as existing only in far-right circles, and ignore antisemitism emanating from other sources. Others falsely perceive Jews as wealthy and powerful, and therefore excuse any attacks on Jews as “punching-up”, and not as racism. Some ignore anti-Israel discourse which crosses the line into hateful conceptualisations of Jews.

An example is the campaign by anti-Israel activists to oppose the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism from being adopted by parliaments, universities and community organisations.

This campaign has falsely claimed that the IHRA definition prohibits free speech and any criticism of Israel, despite the fact that the definition states explicitly that “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”

The IHRA definition has been widely accepted by governments, the UN and other bodies, and Jewish communities throughout the world, as a non-legally binding standard definition and educational tool to identify and combat antisemitism in all its forms.

The opposition to the IHRA definition is often expressed in a way that downplays the extent and severity of antisemitism, or suggests that the concerns of the Jewish community about antisemitism should be dismissed or minimised, or implies that the broad Jewish community organisational support for the IHRA definition is disingenuous, or part of a conspiracy.

Antisemitism cannot be eradicated – it is too ingrained in the psyche of European and Middle Eastern cultures. But it can be mitigated and thwarted.

Effective counter-action against antisemitism takes three main forms.

  • First, we need the right messaging from political leaders, academics, journalists, faith and community leaders, and others in positions of power or influence. They need to vigorously condemn antisemitism whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head.
  • Second, we need federal, state and territory legislation that is comprehensive and effective against vilification and advocacy of violence. These laws should be complemented by the establishment of a national database of hate-motivated crime.
  • Third, education is required to inform people about the particularities of antisemitism itself, its history and the various ways in which it manifests, so people can recognise it and act against it when they see it.

The 478 incidents documented in the 2022 ECAJ Report on Antisemitism are only a fraction of incidents occurring in Australia. It is crucial that all incidents of antisemitism are reported to the ECAJ, or the state Jewish representative body, or to local CSGs.

This is essential to equip the Jewish community with the most comprehensive and accurate information about incidents to take to police, legislators, educators and others. Such information helps us to develop better protective measures for the Jewish community, and to assist in implementing government and community strategies to fight antisemitism.

About the Author
Julie Nathan is the Research Director at the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, and is the author of the annual ECAJ Report on Antisemitism in Australia.
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