Thursday, October 31, 2013

Anti-Semitism in Australia?

From JPost, 29 Oct 2013, by ARSEN OSTROVSKY* :
           
Brawl in Sydney, Australia.
Brawl in Sydney, Australia. Photo: Screenshot Sky News
           
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.

Although 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 fractured skull.

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.

So, 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 anti-Semitism.

Australia always has been ...an incredibly open, diverse, peaceful and tolerant society, and importantly, one of the safest places in the world to be Jewish.

....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 Muslim community.

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 family.”

...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...

The rise in social media is also offering a new large-scale platform for today’s bigots.


...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 appeared.

Today, they are playing catch up, and some may say, are even too late.

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.
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