Australian police arrested six teenagers who boarded a school bus and threatened to cut the throats of the young Jewish students on board.
The incident, which occurred in Sydney on Wednesday, left the victims, who ranged from five to 12 years old, “terrified,” The Australian Jewish News reported.
Witnesses, including the students and their parents, told the Jewish newspaper that the teenaged perpetrators, who were reported to be drunk during their verbal assault, “were being anti-Semitic and saying things about Hitler and nasty stuff about the Jews.”
Phrases including “Heil Hitler” and “kill the Jews,” as well as threats to cut the students’ throats were all uttered, a mother interviewed by the AJN said.
“The kids were all crying.
They were all traumatized.
There were tears flying and everyone was crying,” she recalled.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry, a Jewish umbrella group, cited a “disturbing rise of anti-Semitic incidents” in Australia and linked it to the wider rise in such incidents worldwide in the wake of the latest round of violence between Israel and Hamas.
“There is a clear correlation between any escalation of the various conflicts in the Middle East and incidents of anti-Semitism in Australia,” the group said in a statement. “It is completely unacceptable and morally repugnant to scapegoat or hold responsible Jewish Australians, including children, for events overseas. It is completely unacceptable to view Jewish Australians as a legitimate target for abuse and violence, regardless of one’s political views.”
While criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, the ECAJ added, the “use of classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and canards in the guise of political comment is unacceptable.”
The communal body also blamed media coverage of Operation Protective Edge for raising the heat of Jews in the Diaspora.
Reporting that “focuses on the Israel-Palestinian conflict to the near exclusion of other conflicts, which are far more costly in human life and suffering, or which distorts or decontextualizes the conflict and the actions of the parties, also serves to inflame tensions and can serve to incite hatred against Australian Jews,” the group said.
Local MP Malcolm Turnbull condemned the attack, saying it struck “a chill into the heart of every parent, indeed every Australian.”
Australia, he said, has a “vital vested interest in a harmonious multicultural nation.”
Anti-Semitism is generally considered to be less of an issue in Australia than elsewhere, although incidents do occur.
Australia expatriate Arsen Ostrovsky, a human rights lawyer and the director of research at the Israeli-Jewish Congress summed up the prevalent Australian Jewish attitude, said the attack was “very much out of the ordinary for Australia, which is one of the most tolerant countries and welcoming for Jews anywhere in the world.”
Several incidents targeting Jews have occurred over the past month, according to the AJN, including the spray painting of the phrase “Zionist scum” on a Jewish school, the verbal harassment of a rabbi and the beating of a man wearing an IDF T-shirt.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, 14 percent of Australians harbor anti-Semitic attitudes, with 41% of those surveyed by the Jewish group agreeing that Jews are more loyal to Israel than their countries of residence.
According to news.com.au, a national media outlet, the Jewish community has increased its security, quoting an AJN editor as saying that “the Jewish community is scared that this will continually escalate, as it is around the world, to a more dangerous time.”
“Sometimes I’ll pay cash instead of credit card because I don’t want people to see my surname. That’s not something you should have to do in Australia,” Joshua Levi told the website.
Local Jews are concerned with seeing a rise in anti-Semitism like that in Europe in Australia, Vic Alhadeff, the head of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies told news.co.au.
Alhadeff recently resigned as chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission after local Muslim groups protested his public assertion that Hamas was guilty of “war crimes.”
Titled “Israel under fire” and sent in his capacity as chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Alhadeff’s email earlier this month claimed Israel was operating with “care to avoid civilian casualties” but made no reference to Palestinian fatalities.
“Israel has made it clear that it is not interested in further escalation, but will do whatever is needed to defend its citizens,” Alhadeff wrote to members of the Jewish community.
“All options are on the table.”
JTA contributed to this report.