A View from Down Under: Anti-Semitism rising in NZ

This dark phenomena that has plagued Jewish life through much of the past 2,000 years, has hardly disappeared but merely lay dormant like the volcanoes that scatter beautiful New Zealand.

Anti-semitism (photo credit: REUTERS)
(photo credit: REUTERS)
I love New Zealand, and in particular Mt Eden.  It’s a beautiful suburb near the city center of Auckland, where the grass is so green, it almost looks like it’s been painted.  There’s a cosmopolitan of people who live there which is echoed in the choices of foods available.  Within the space of a few meters, you can get a packet of poppadoms, an order of falafel to go, an Italian pasta, and even visit a tea shop with more kinds of tea than I thought possible.  To visit Mt Eden is almost like stepping into the idyllic suburb of your imagination.
Streets lined with beautiful trees that rise up into the sky, providing shade and comfort.  And, like many parts of New Zealand, it hosts dormant volcanoes which pop up along the landscape.  I was fortunate to live there for a time, and within a few hundred meters from where I used to live, was a volcano called Mt Eden, which I would frequently visit.  From there lay a view that took in the landscape of the beautiful city of Auckland. 
Unfortunately, on the last day that beautiful view was soured by the bitter taste of anti-Semitism.  A four-year-old boy had been walking home from his preschool, accompanied by his mother and brother when a man reportedly of “Middle-Eastern appearance” approached the boy smacked him hard on the top of his head, then jumped into a car, laughing, with other men and sped off.  What did the boy do?  Well, nothing, other than wearing a yarmulke on his head.  This incident has, of course, left him and his mother traumatized.
It is easy to dismiss this as an isolated incident, but in recent times there have been a few incidents that appeared to target Jews – including one last month where men in a car yelled insults at a Jewish boy in the nearby suburb of Remuera.  The Prime Minister of New Zealand John Key, who is a non-practicing Jew, even had his recent campaign election poster defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti.
Even when I lived there a few years ago, the Jewish cemetery in Auckland had been vandalized with swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti, and even the old cemetery in Wellington had its tombstones kicked over and desecrated.  At the same time, an Australian report recently released indicated a threefold increase in anti-Semitic physical assaults reported in Australia over the past year. Clearly, anti-Semitism is on the rise, and despite its rejection by what I believe as most decent members of society, even that has not stemmed its flow.
Why now?  And why here – in countries that are generally among the most tolerant in the world?  Much of it can be attributed to the media’s reporting.  Any reporting of Israel and its recent Gaza war, is absolutely and even universally biased against Israel.  In the eyes of the general population, whose opinions are forged by the media, Israel remains a bully suppressing a “defenseless and innocent population” in “the world’s largest open air prison.”  The fact that this is a lie is irrelevant – and most peoples’ attention spans don’t last long enough to verify or find out the truth themselves.
But the reasons that Jews are targeted is because despite what any individual Jew’s personal political views and opinion towards Israel – Israel remains the national state and symbol of the Jewish people.  If a member of society wants to lash out against Israel – the easiest target is the Jew walking down the street, or the kosher bakery selling challah for Shabbat, or the shop selling Israeli pickles. 
This is the raison d'etre for the entire Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement that continues to target Jewish businesses or even any business selling kosher foods, such as in the recent article I wrote in The Jerusalem Post, where a pig's head was placed in the kosher section of a supermarket, which also happened in a town in which I used to live. It may not be logical, but no-one ever said that anti-Semitism was.
This media campaign that portrays Israel as the bad guy – and therefore Jews along with it – has given confidence to the crackpots that litter society that attacking a Jew is justified in some kind of warped way.  There are people who don’t like Jews because of Israel, and there are people who don’t like Israel, because of the Jews.
But probably the scariest part of all is that a mere 70 years after the most vicious anti-Semitic campaign in history, this dark phenomena that has plagued Jewish life through much of the past 2,000 years, has hardly disappeared but merely lay dormant, like the volcanoes that scatter beautiful New Zealand. 
And like the challenge of any volcano, it needs to be constantly monitored and watched, because although there are often signs that something is happening, we still don’t know when or where they can suddenly erupt.
Justin Amler is a South African born, Melbourne based writer who has lived in South Africa, New Zealand and Australia and is currently working in the Information Technology industry. He is an avid contributor to discussions on Israel, writing frequently to local newspapers. He has a keen interest in politics and creative writing.