Anti-Semitism in Australia

Australian Jewry is compelled to spend large sums for its security because of the ever-present possibility of an anti-Semitic attack such as the one committed Saturday.

Sydney, Australia Opera House view 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Sydney, Australia Opera House view 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 and bruising.
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 Fund.
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 European.”
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.”
Jeremy 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 country.
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 population.
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 successful.
Nor was Australia seriously affected by the financial crisis.
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.