Neither Jews nor Israel were the issue, nor were there any signs of antisemitism, at the Reclaim Australia rally and the counter rally in Sydney on Sunday. Nevertheless, the series of rallies and counter rallies around Australia, in April and over this weekend, and at other times, and the movements behind them, are of concern to the Jewish community.
The Sydney Reclaim rally on Sunday was unmistakably against Islam and Islamist terrorism. There were Australian flags, Eureka flags and an Aboriginal flag. The speakers included Pastor Danny Nalliah, a Sri Lankan born Christian, Shermon Burgess, leader of the United Patriots Front and gun enthusiast, and a woman who spoke of being raped by a gang of Muslim men. The crowd of around 200 were generally well behaved, although at times ugly chants of “Filth!” referring to Muslims who had committed violence were heard. The rally was attended by various right wing groups under the Reclaim Australia banner – Party For Freedom, Rise Up Australia, Concerned Citizens, Australia First Party, and others.
The counter rally in Sydney was organised by socialist groups, mainly Socialist Alternative, Socialist Alliance, and Solidarity. There were plenty of banners, and the rally was unmistakably anti-Abbott, anti-police, anti-Nazi, pro-Muslim, and pro-Aboriginal. The crowd of around 400 were rowdy, with several attempts to break out of the police blockade, and angry speakers often accusing the police of protecting the Reclaimers, while the crowd chanted “Nazi scum” at various times. Speakers included Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, Rahaf Ahmed of the University of Technology Sydney Muslim Society (and of Palestine Action Group), several Aboriginal speakers, and others.
Police and the riot squad were out in force with several hundred officers determined to keep both rallies separate and apart. They formed a blockade around each rally, and had a police presence in the city blocks of Martin Place in between the two rallies. The aim was to avoid the violence that had featured in previous protests. Arrests were made in both Sydney and Melbourne.
From a Jewish community perspective, both the far right Reclaimers and the far left counter groups of socialists include individuals and groups who are hostile to Jews and/or to Israel as a Jewish state.
Reclaim rallies have included neo-Nazis, and other far Right people, Pauline Hanson as a speaker, white pride groups, racist sentiment, and swastika tattoos. One major Reclaimer, neo-Nazi Neil Erikson, was convicted of making abusive and racist phone calls to a Melbourne rabbi. Australia’s most prominent neo-Nazi, Ross ‘The Skull’ May, has given support to Reclaim.
Reclaimers also oppose multiculturalism. All ethnic and religious communities in Australia have the right to maintain and express their traditions, within Australian law. The Jewish community is a prime example of how an ethnic and religious minority can maintain traditions and still be integrated into Australian society. Multiculturalism is a decades old government policy that reflects Australia’s make-up and encourages social cohesion. Muslims, as Australians, are also clearly entitled to practice their religious traditions along with every other Australian, as long as it is within Australian law.
The anti-Reclaimers are often touted by themselves and by the media as “anti-racist” but this is simplistic and inaccurate. In their activities, forums and protests, the only communities they show support for are the Muslim community and sometimes the Aboriginal community. Racist sentiment and incidents against other communities like Indians, Chinese or Arab Christians do not rate a mention. Their opposition to Islamophobia is consistently coupled with opposition to the Abbott government. It is as though support for Muslims is predicated on opposition to the federal Liberal government.
In addition, the organisers of the anti-Reclaim rallies are generally the same people who organise anti-Israel rallies, including the annual al-Naqba rallies, the weekly protests against Israel during the Israel/Gaza war in 2014, and other anti-Israel protests. At these protests, anti-Jewish chants of “Khaybar Khaybar” and the chant calling for the destruction of Israel “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” are common. Placards equating the Jewish Star of David to the Nazi swastika and other Jewish/Israel equivalence with Nazism are increasingly a standard component. Other placards have been reminiscent of the Blood Libel, accusing Jews and Israel of deliberately targeting and murdering children in a ritual bloodlust. Australia’s most prominent neo-Nazi, Ross ‘The Skull’ May, has attended Al-Naqba rallies, in a show of support for the destruction of the Jewish state.
Neither the Reclaim groups nor those who protest against them exhibit a vision of a democratic Australia built upon multicultural diversity, social harmony, and opposition to all forms of extremism. Instead, they each promote their own forms of intolerance, bigotry, and divisiveness.
Mainstream Muslims are an intrinsic part of the solution to Islamist violence, despite what the far Right and far Left would have us believe. By placing all Muslims in the ‘bad’ basket as the far Right do, and by the Left denying or ignoring the problem of Islamist violence around the world, neither are producing solutions, only scapegoating and blame.
While pro and anti-Reclaimers organise and hold their street rallies, shouting abuse at each other, perhaps it is time Australians of good-will, across the religious and ethnic spectrum, sat down with Australian Muslims and came together to discuss how we can all counter both Islamist extremism and Islamophobia, as well as other forms of extremist violence, bigotry and racism, including antisemitism.