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Beyond parliamentary performance, we need action on antisemitism

Australia needs more than words. We need an inquiry, we need better laws, and we need an antisemitism coordinator now.
The Jewish Independent
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Drawing of a map of Australia with cracks cutting through it.

Illustration: TJI

Published: 6 June 2024

Last updated: 11 June 2024

Two events in the Australian parliament this week illustrate the deep concern and powerful feelings around growing hostility to both Israel and the Jewish community in Australia.

The first was solution-focused, the second mere performance.

On Monday, Liberal MP Julian Leeser introduced a private member’s bill to establish an inquiry into antisemitism at Australian universities.

Leeser, who is Jewish, emphasised that antisemitism is not just a threat to Jews but an attack on the social cohesion and essential values of our whole society.

“Australia faces its greatest threat to multiculturalism with the emergence of antisemitism, in particular, the studied indifference to Jew-hatred on our campuses,” he told parliament.

An inquiry into antisemitism on campus is an idea that deserves bipartisan support and immediate implementation. Encampments in support of Palestinians on many university campuses have devolved into hate and incitement, leaving many Jewish students and staff feeling unsafe.

University administrations have consistently prioritised free speech over protecting the welfare of Jewish students, to the point that law firm Levitt Robinson is now driving a push to lodge a Racial Discrimination case against the University of Sydney, with the aim of bringing a class action on behalf of Jewish staff and students. A sector-wide public inquiry with policy recommendations would be preferable, though the two are not mutually exclusive.

The second parliamentary event occurred on Wednesday when the government and the opposition condemned Greens members' involvement in pro-Palestinian protests, accusing the party of inflaming tensions and damaging social cohesion.

In no way can the antisemitism experienced by Australian Jews be blamed on Israel’s response in Gaza.

The prime minister and opposition leader used question time to make lengthy statements, accusing the Greens of not taking strong enough action to condemn the behaviour of protesters.

Of particular note were recent attacks on electorate offices by protesters who disrupted the everyday business of the Australian government.

"The time for senators and members of parliament to continue to attend and inflame tension outside these offices must end,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said. "I've supported justice for Palestinians my whole life and still do. It is tragic that the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people are undermined by some people engaging in activity that completely alienates the Australian public due to the nature of that."

The Prime Minister is right, and it is some comfort to hear him articulate the difference between aggressive and performative demonstrations and genuine support of the legitimate aspirations of Palestinians.

Within the context of a two-state solution, a Palestinian state is supported by many Australian Jews, including the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), the official leadership of the Australian Jewish community.

Protests that incite hate and defame entire groups should be supported by nobody.

But comforting words are not enough. The government needs to expedite its new hate speech laws in the light of this clear and present danger. It needs to take up the call for an inquiry into antisemitism on campuses. And it needs someone who is tasked with driving an action-focused response to antisemitism.

For some months, the government has indicated to the Jewish community that it is considering the appointment of an antisemitism coordinator to provide a mechanism for protecting Australian society against this ancient scourge – together with a coordinator on responding to Islamophobia.

Such a position already exists in the US, UK, Canada and every member of the European Union. It is a simple and effective mechanism for developing relevant public policy, and appointing someone to the role is something that the government can do immediately to act on its professed concern for Australia’s Jewish citizens and for the social cohesion of our entire society.

Since the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, Australian Jews have experienced hatred unlike anything we have seen before. In October and November, the ECAJ logged 662 antisemitic incidents, a 738% increase on the same period in the previous year.

We acknowledge that there is anger and grief over the suffering of civilians in Gaza that is prompting much of this hate, but that response is neither justified nor logical. In no way can the antisemitism experienced by Australian Jews be blamed on Israel’s response in Gaza.

Before Israel had even begun its attempt to root out Hamas terrorists in Gaza, there were protestors outside the Sydney Opera House shouting “Where are the Jews?” and “Kill the Jews”.

Australian schoolchildren and university students who can have no responsibility for Israel’s conduct of the war are suffering.

Australian artists and performers have had performances with no political agenda disrupted and faced death threats, doxing and boycotts.

Australians who have family or friends in Israel, who support a two-state solution, who dare to identify as Zionists because we believe Jews have a right to a homeland, are being abused in the most virulent terms.

The government has been strong in its words. When graffiti reading ‘Jew die’ was painted on Mount Scopus College recently, the prime minister said there was no place for this in Australia. Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles described antisemitism as “an issue for the entire nation”.

We urge them to follow these words with immediate action. Expedite the hate speech laws. Appoint an antisemitism coordinator. Charge the new appointee with running an inquiry into antisemitism at Australian universities.

Take action against antisemitism now.

An earlier version of this article said Israel had not fired a single missile by October 9. That is incorrect.


  • Avatar of Ruth Armitage

    Ruth Armitage10 June at 11:30 pm

    I partcipate regularly in peaceful rallies pushing for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Palestine conflict. I have no connection at all to either side,  but my Christian upbringing tells me that no lasting peace can be attained by constant retaliation on both sides.
    I rely on numerous websites to try to ensure I’m not guilty of antisemitism when choosing a banner to wave or slogan to chant. Reading the various viewpoints expressed in The Jewish Independent newsletter have been helpful.
    However, you do yourselves a disservice when you say things that aren’t true to back up an argument. In attempting to argue that the antisemitism experienced by Australian Jews can in no way be blamed on Israel’s response in Gaza, the article states that  ‘Before Israel had fired a single missile there were protestors outside the Sydney Opera House shouting “Where are the Jews” and “Kill the Jews”. 
    By the time of the 9th October Opera House rally, Israel had already
    • retaliated with air strikes thru the night of Oct 7th into Oct 8th,  killing 313 Palestinians and wounding 2,000
    • bombed a mosque in Khan Younis and refugee camps in Rafah and central Gaza. No advance warnings were given.
    • ordered a total blockade of Gaza and cut off water to some areas
    • vowed to take “mighty vengeance” and threatened to tear parts of the Gaza Strip into ruins.
    [Source: SMH, 8th and 9th Oct 2023]

    An independent expert who analysed recordings from the rally said the phrase was not ‘gas the Jews’,  but ‘ where’s the Jews’. Threatening perhaps, but not antisemitic.
    That being said, there is always the risk that, in a crowd, some individuals will do or say something inappropriate.  As Deborah Conway said of a member of her Hobart audience who attacked a protestor with a broken glass, “Unhelpful”.

The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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