Last Friday, a Jewish family of five was walking home after Shabbat services and
dinner in Bondi, in the heart of the famous beachside suburb in Sydney,
Australia, when they were viciously assaulted by a gang of youths in one of the
most horrific anti-Semitic attacks in Australia in memory.
police investigations are ongoing, three of the attackers have already been
arrested, with police confirming they were part of a group of eight mainly
Pacific Islander youths, who had no connection to Islam. The victims, which
included a couple in their 60s, have now all been released from hospital,
although each sustained serious injuries, including bleeding of the brain and a
News of the incident has now reverberated around the
world, with many commentators quick to say it is no longer safe to be a Jew in
Australia or that Down Under is quickly turning into the next Europe.
allow me please to dispel some of these theories.
As horrific and
unquestionably anti-Semitic as this was, it was an isolated and spontaneous act
committed by a group of thugs with criminal histories.
The attack in
Bondi was not the beginning of a pogrom and Australia is not in danger of
turning into Europe, where a recent survey showed that a quarter of European
Jews are afraid to openly identify as Jewish for fear of
Australia always has been, and will remain, an incredibly
open, diverse, peaceful and tolerant society, and importantly, one of the safest
places in the world to be Jewish.
Why do I say that? For one, before
recently making aliya from Sydney, I grew up and lived in Bondi and know exactly
where this incident occurred. I was also for many years involved with the Jewish
community, both in a volunteering and professional capacity, so I know the
At the same time, in my current capacity as the
director of research at The Israeli- Jewish Congress, one of our key missions is
combatting anti-Semitism in Europe, in which we work together in close
partnership with the Jewish communities of Europe, the Knesset and Government of
Israel, and European Parliamentarians.
Bondi has one of the largest
concentrations of Jews in Australia, replete with synagogues, kosher bakeries,
cafes and butchers and a number of Jewish communal centers. You are just as
likely to see a beachgoer with their surfboard as you are a Chabad Lubbavitcher
in the area. In over 20 years, I never once experienced or witnessed an act of
anti-Semitism, albeit that does not mean none occurred.
There are also
other important factors differentiating this from Europe.
What is perhaps
most important to note is the reaction following the incident, which has
received immediate and unequivocal wall-to-wall political condemnation,
including from the highest echelons of federal and state government, social and
community leaders, the media and from different faith groups, including from the
The police have already caught three of the attackers
and expect to apprehend the remaining few shortly.
It is also important
acknowledge the brave individuals, including the security guards from a nearby
bar, who ran to help the victims, and a taxi driver who stopped to apprehend one
of the attackers. As Peter Wertheim, president of the Executive Council of
Australian Jewry, the umbrella organization for the Australian Jewish community,
noted, “the brave and selfless actions of these bystanders is a much more
accurate reflection of the attitude of Australians to their Jewish fellow
citizens, than the hate-filled violence of the group who allegedly attacked the
New South Wales, the state in which Bondi is located, also has
exceptionally stringent laws against racism and racial hatred, with the
authorities not hesitating to invoke them in circumstances where there has been
a breach of the law.
At the same time, there is a strong emphasis on
cross-cultural education and awareness, both in the schools and public service
institutions, and Australia’s policy of multiculturalism has been an
overwhelming success in welcoming and integrating members of different ethnic
groups into broader society.
Australia also has neither the rise of
far-right neo-Nazis or Muslim extremism that is rampant in many parts of
In fact, whereas the Muslim community in Australia outnumbers the
Jewish community of approximately 120,000 by about five to one, the two
communities enjoy very warm and cordial relations.
Though famous for its
open, laid back and tolerant lifestyle, Australia is not perfect and a degree of
racism, and anti-Semitism, does exist.
The Boycott, Divestment &
Sanctions (BDS) Movement continues to demonize Israel and Jews, students on some
campuses will incur verbal anti-Semitic attacks (most frequently from the far
Left) and sporadic graffiti and vandalism attacks still occur (albeit well down
on previous years).
The rise in social media is also offering a new
large-scale platform for today’s bigots.
Notwithstanding, according to
Jeremy Jones, the international affairs director at Australia/ Israel &
Jewish Affairs Council, who has been maintaining records of anti-Semitic attacks
in Australia for over 25 years, there has never been an attack of this nature
before, with “a family group like this attacked by another group.”
adds there is no indication or “trend” to suggest an overall rise in
anti-Semitism in Australia, certainly not in violent attacks.
Australia has one of the lowest levels of anti-Semitism in the world, albeit it
can of course always be lower and we must remain vigilant.
Australian Ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, noted following the incident,
“such prejudice has no place in Australian society or values.
anti-Semitism wholeheartedly and can assure you that the vast majority of
Australians are adamantly opposed to such views.”
One of the reasons
there has been such a spike in anti-Semitism across Europe is because the
political and social leadership failed to act when the warning signs first
Today, they are playing catch up, and some may say, are even
While anti-Semitism will always exist no matter where, the
Australian response of zero tolerance, education and unequivocal political and
social condemnation ought to be an example to all those fighting this oldest and
most enduring forms of hatred.The author is director of research at The
Israeli-Jewish Congress. Originally from Australia, he was also active in the
Sydney Jewish community, including serving as a policy analyst at the
Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.