Eight or so young men shouting anti-Semitics epithets viciously attacked four
men and a woman – visibly Jewish – as they returned home from a Shabbat evening
meal in Bondi Beach, Australia, this weekend.
The Jewish group sustained
injuries that include a fractured skull, facial fractures, a broken nose, cuts
TV footage shot after the incident showed victims bleeding
profusely from their heads and faces. Included in the group was Shlomo Ben-Haim,
educational representative for the New South Wales Jewish National
Although some websites jumped to the conclusion, based on
inconclusive security camera footage that captured part of the attack, that the
assailants – two 16-yearolds and a 23-year-old – were Muslims, an Australian
source said that only the adult’s name was released, and it sounded “southern
The attack surprised leaders of Australian Jewry. “Who would
have believed something like that could happen in Australia,” JNF executive
director Ygal Shapir said. Peter Wertheim, president of the Executive Council of
Australian Jewry, said the attack “appeared to be the most serious incident of
spontaneous anti-Semitic violence in Australia in living memory.”
Jones of the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council, who has been tracking
anti-Semitic incidents for 25 years, told The Jerusalem Post this was the most
extreme incident of anti-Semitism that he had heard of in the
There are “over 530” anti-Semitic incidents a year – including
assaults, harassment, hate mail, threatening telephone calls, graffiti, leaflet
campaigns and email, according to Jones.
Prof. Robert Wistrich, head of
Hebrew University’s Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of
Anti-Semitism, noted in a section on Australia in his 2010 book A Lethal
Obsession: Antisemitism – From Antiquity to the Global Jihad that about
two-thirds of attacks on Jews appear to have come from extreme Right or neo-Nazi
groups, “which are numerous and rather diverse in Australia;” and the remaining
third of the anti-Semitic perpetrators seem to be evenly split between the
extreme Left and a number of Arab-Muslim groups. Today the Muslim population in
Australia is about double the Jewish population of approximately 120,000 and is
concentrated mainly in Sydney and Melbourne like the Jewish
Surveys do not show Australia to be a particularly anti-
Semitic country. True, a full 69 percent of Australians see Israel’s influence
as “mainly negative,” according to a BBC World Service Poll published in May.
This was higher than the world average of 52 percent but about the level in
Britain, France and Germany.
Consecutive Australian governments have been
pro- Israel, and the newly elected Liberal-National coalition government headed
by Tony Abbott has followed in that tradition. Indeed, after the US and Canada,
Australia is Israel’s closest ally.
Wistrich reckons Australia’s
pro-Israel sentiment might have something to do with the country’s frontier
society that very much identifies with the spirit of enterprise and initiative
that Israel embodies.
Australians’ ties with Israel go back to the
central role it played in creating the British Mandate in Palestine by securing
Britain’s victory over the Ottoman Empire in the First World War. And while
there are expressions of xenophobia, particularly against immigrants,
traditional anti- Semitism is quite low in intensity in Australia, compared to,
say, Britain, a country with a comparable culture. The superbly organized and
affluent Jewish community is well integrated into Australian society.
Australia’s multi-culturalism and tolerant credo have been remarkably
Nor was Australia seriously affected by the financial
Nevertheless, Australian Jewry is compelled to spend large sums
for its security, not because politicians or other prominent public figures
promote a hostile climate – they do not. Rather, precisely because of the
ever-present possibility that someone, influenced by the sorts of stereotypes
about Jews that never really go away, might commit an anti-Semitic attack such
as the one committed on Shabbat.
As Wistrich notes, there has been a
general pattern of rising antagonism against Jews in recent years. Apparently
even Australia’s Jewry is not immune to this trend.