I recently ventured back to my Australian birthplace for a family bar mitzvah. Although the Israeli media has reported a rise in antisemitic incidents Down Under, I was surprised to discover both the extent of these hate crimes and their multiple perpetrators: Arab migrants, the left-wing Green party, the left-wing art scene, and right-wing neo-Nazis. What really triggered my sense that something isn’t right was the way most of my friends and family spoke about these incidents. Since when do Aussie Jews talk in whispers?
Australia is a changed world from the multicultural and safe haven I grew up in. Here’s a brief assortment of antisemitic events that have occurred in Sydney and Melbourne since the Hamas massacres of October 7th:
A recent chronicle of Aussie antisemitism
Licensed to hate — Cars were sighted in the state of New South Wales bearing license plates with antisemitic epithets, such as “OCT7TH” “HEILSS” and “88SIEG.” It’s not clear how these hate-filled customized plates all passed registration requirements with the NSW Department of Transport only six weeks after the Hamas slaughter. After Jewish groups complained about the incitement, these cars are still driving freely on Sydney roads, thanks to the slow wheels of bureaucracy. The standard process to recall number plates takes at least one month. After the Road Minister intervened, the driver was ordered to return the offensive plates, or have the vehicle’s registration cancelled altogether.
University pro-Hamas activists bully without restraint — At a Sydney university information day for students and parents in December 2023, two loud anti-Israel activists interrupted the presenter to push their cause, and effectively terrorize Jewish students. All university officials sitting on the podium, with microphones, did not say a word. Only my friend had the courage to stand up to the activists and call them out for disrupting the event, being disrespectful and offensive. While she recorded them, a university staff member approached her, saying, “Even though there’s security, there’s nothing we can do other than not engage.” This meek response begs more questions than it provides answers: can’t university faculty tell the difference anymore between right and wrong? Have they been cowered into accepting vile hate speech and incitement as the norm? Since when is inaction a better response than action?
No jumping castle for Jewish school — A Sydney business refused to rent a jumping castle to Masada, a Jewish school and my alma mater. The owner responded on Instagram: “There’s no way I’m taking a Zionist booking. I don’t want your blood money. Free Palestine.” Yet another example of antisemitism masquerading as political activism.
Doxxing, harassment and the end of Jewish arts — At a book guild in Melbourne, a Jewish writer’s book was cancelled right before the scheduled book launch, with the excuse, “There are enough Jewish voices.”
A Jewish film editor, who usually has months of work in the pipeline, found all his work dry up as clients pulled out. Australian Jewish artists and performers have been pressured to denounce Israel for war crimes in Gaza, or be excommunicated from the local art scene and find themselves without work. This boycotting of Jewish artists also extends to businesses. The movement is fueled by doxxing, where bullies reveal identifying information online, including the target’s Jewish identity, home address, workplace, phone number and photo. Once personal details are revealed, these artists become targets for death threats. To support each other, 600 Jewish artists joined a WhatsApp group, which was then hacked by pro-Hamas activists, who were quick to publish their Jew list in social media. The feminist writer Clementine Ford, shared this list with her 250,000 followers on Instagram. The group was dubbed “Zio600” and accused of supporting “genocide, racism and white supremacism.”
Doxxing is not limited to Jewish artists. Jewish Member of Parliament Josh Burns has also been subject to repeated attacks and has had his office graffitied, a group of Jewish lawyers for Israel was doxxed, and some businesses literally had to close shop due to a sharp decline in sales.
As a result of this harassment, some families are moving out of Jewish neighborhoods in Melbourne. One Jewish couple who did not comment publicly about the war received a photograph of their 5-year-old child with a note reading, “We know where you live.”
Alex Ryvchin, co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australia Jewry, said that the list called to mind those created by the Nazis as they sought to murder the Jews of Europe. “There is great shock and disbelief that people are once again drawing up lists of Jews,” Ryvchin said. “It has been said to me by numerous community members that they feel relief that their parents or grandparents who survived the Holocaust are not alive to see this.”
Local government councils condemn Israel — City councils in the state of Victoria voted in favor of a motion to “strongly condemn war crimes being carried out by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza.” Another local councillor, Oscar Yildiz, received death threats also directed to his family, after he voted against a ceasefire motion passed by the inner Melbourne council. Not only do local government bodies stick their noses into international affairs that do not concern them, but those who exercise their free will to vote for Israel end up receiving death threats.
Neo-Nazism is alive and kicking — The Sydney Morning Herald (3/2/24) reported the disturbing new “trend” of high school students performing Nazi salutes, drawing swastikas on students’ hands, and praising Adolf Hitler in social media chat groups. Teachers and counsellors have said these are not isolated incidents, but a “simmering problem” especially among teenage boys who dare each other with anti-social behavior, “like testing how far they can hang off the back of a train.” In a Blueprint Institute survey, over one quarter of 500 teachers had experienced or witnessed antisemitic incidents. Since October 7th, social media sites have flooded teens with racist and misleading information, including antisemitic diatribe and Nazi symbols. When school counsellors say, “They don’t really understand what it means. They feel the need to be involved because everyone else is,” I can’t help but draw comparisons with Nazi youth. Today’s neo-Nazi leaders are young themselves, in their mid-20s. What will Australia look like when these neo-Nazi school kids graduate and enter the ranks of society?
The Green political movement in Australia is known for its virulent antisemitic views. Member of Parliament, Jenny Leong, made use of one of the oldest and darkest antisemitic tropes when referring to the Jewish lobby and Zionist lobby: “Their tentacles reach into the areas that try and influence power, and I think we need to call that out and expose it.” In case you forgot, tentacles were graphically depicted in a Nazi-era cartoon of the Jewish people as an octopus, with its tentacles stretched around the globe.
Whose side is the police on anyway? After the infamous and vile pro-Hamas demonstration at the Sydney Opera House on October 9th, the NSW police commissioned a forensic analysis of the video and audio footage. The police concluded: Although the protesters said “F* the Jews,“ they didn’t actually shout “gas the Jews,” but rather “where’s the Jews?” By denying what was said and broadcast around the world, the NSW Police effectively removed the grounds for prosecution. According to the NSW Crimes Act, “gas the Jews” meets the threshold to prosecute for incitement, while “where’s the Jews” or “F* the Jews” does not. Prior to the demonstration, Jews were warned to stay away for their own safety. One Jewish supporter, Mark Spiro, proudly displayed an Israeli flag, but was then promptly arrested by police for “breaching the peace.” So Pro-Hamas supporters could shout antisemitic chants, wave their flags and ignite fires next to the Opera House, while the only person arrested was a Jew holding an Israeli flag.
Blood libel in Melbourne – In November 2023, a modern-day blood libel played out violently on the streets of Melbourne, Victoria. The Jewish community was blamed for setting fire to the Arab-owned Burgatory shop. After several organizations called the fire a “hate crime,” a violent pro-Hamas protest took place on shabbat in the Jewish suburb of Caulfied. A synagogue was forced to abandon Shabbat services, Jews were injured, and hundreds couldn’t walk the streets of their own neighborhood. After a police investigation, two Arab Australians were charged with igniting the blaze, athough the Arab shop owner still insisted it was a hate crime. The shul rabbi and president wrote: “it left a terrible feeling in our hearts. To think that here in Melbourne, we might feel so threatened that we could not complete a Friday night shule service.”
What’s even more disturbing than the hateful acts themselves is the generally slow and phlegmatic response of the police and government authorities. Police have hardly acted to prevent hate crimes against the Jewish community, including vandalism, arson, and the widespread boycotting of Jewish businesses. The timing and location of this violent demonstration were even approved by the Victoria police.
Do non-Jewish Australians oppose antisemitism?
Similar to righteous gentiles during World War II, there’s a handful of non-Jewish Australian activists who are not afraid to speak up. Aboriginal activist, Nova Peris, fully supports the Jewish community and is grateful for the efforts of Jewish lawyers who were instrumental in helping the Aboriginal people secure recognition as the indigenous people of Australia. She recognizes the Jewish people as the indigenous people of Israel, with a 3,000 year-old history to prove it, and is incensed that Australian pro-Hamas and anti-Jewish supporters have misappropriated the Aboriginal flag for their own political agenda.
Anglican minister Mark Leach and his politician daughter Freya Leach are also vocal supporters who oppose antisemitism in Australia.
What’s the response of the Jewish community?
In response to this antisemitic hate fest, the Executive Jewish Council of Australia has opened an online form for people to report antisemitic incidents. Besides collecting event data, the Jewish Council is quick to respond to antisemitic incidents in the local press.
In better days, educational programs about the Holocaust were run at public schools. It’s difficult to gauge if these programs are still relevant or effective for the generation of social media, which has become the biggest and most noxious vehicle for antisemitism. Social media is a modern-day Goebbels propaganda platform, or in the words of Guy Rolnick, “a disaster.” According to Rolnik, social media platforms incite large audiences in different places using customized propaganda that’s disseminated using a massive army of bots, avatars, and sock puppet accounts.
The Executive Jewish council is further limited in that it cannot implement action or enforce laws against hate crimes, but is dependent on the local state police and lengthy legal processes to bring about change.
When studying the history of World War II, we wonder why more Jews didn’t leave Europe. After all, there were plenty of warning signs that things weren’t boding well. Either Jews were comfortable, they thought they couldn’t afford to leave, or things would somehow get better.
It is difficult to predict what’s going to happen with the current Australian wave of antisemitism: is it going to subside and pass over, or is it going to become a tsunami? Without sounding gloomy, now is the time to take note about what’s happening in Australia. When you can’t rely on the local police or authorities or place your trust in them, then it’s time to move.
One can only hope that Australian Jewry will wake up in time to the new reality that confronts them, a reality that certainly wasn’t part of my landscape growing up.