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Gaza war lets the anti-Semitic genie out of its Australian bottle

The Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has triggered a dramatic rise in global anti-Semitism. This has significantly undermined the collective well-being of the Jewish people. While the intensity of anti-Semitism…

Anti-Semitism never takes long to surface, ranging from the desecration of Jewish graves and memory to violent attacks on people. AAP/NZN/Alastair Bull

The Israel-Hamas war in Gaza has triggered a dramatic rise in global anti-Semitism. This has significantly undermined the collective well-being of the Jewish people. While the intensity of anti-Semitism varies from country to country, it has been felt everywhere, including Australia.

This anti-Semitism has two dimensions: what is said about Israel and Jews, and what is not said about other regimes and Hamas.

In Melbourne, a man of Jewish appearance was jumped on by Arabic-speaking men who railed about Gaza as they attacked him. It is, of course, as logical to attack Jews for Israeli policy as it is to attack Australians overseas for this country’s horrific asylum seeker policies, but anti-Semitism has never been about logic. It’s about hate.

Zachary Gomo describes being attacked in Melbourne.

At La Trobe University, the Socialist Alternative put up posters with the names and photos of a Jewish student and her supporters claiming they supported “genocide”. All that was missing was the word “wanted”. The Socialist Alternative made up for that by instructing supporters to approach this Jewish student with verbal abuse.

After being called a “genocidal pig” and “a Zionist piece of shit”, the Jewish student has felt unable to attend class, while the Jewish student society feels incapable of holding events on campus out of fear. It doesn’t appear to have dawned on the Socialist Alternative that they are levelling accusations of genocide against Jewish students while employing the tactics of those who engaged in genocide.

Tragically, however, the anti-Semitism has not been limited to street thugs and students campaigners, and it gains traction not only from those who espouse hate but also those who fail to act against it. If the La Trobe University administration is anything to go by, anti-Semites can act with virtual impunity.

Hateful stereotypes re-appear

The Sydney Morning Herald published a cartoon with a hooked-nosed Jew, wearing a traditional skullcap, on a chair with a Star of David as he detonated a bomb on Gaza. It is hard to think of another community that would be portrayed in this way, so once again we see the characteristics of anti-Semitism with Jews selected for special treatment.

While the newspaper later apologised for publishing the cartoon, this does not mitigate the fact that it regarded this image as legitimate in the first place. It worryingly confirms that you don’t need to be rabid anti-Semites to buy into and perpetuate anti-Semitic imagery.

Veteran journalist Mike Carlton, whose article the cartoon illustrated, responded to an aggrieved Jewish reader by saying:

You’re the one full of hate and bile, sunshine. The classic example of the Jewish bigot. Now f..k off.

That Carlton is not a member of the socialist revolutionary left or neo-Nazi far right is cause for concern, because if “mainstream” people such as Carlton regard Jews in this way, how can they be objective and fair when it comes to reporting about Israel? It’s like asking an Islamaphobe to comment on an Arab or Islamic country.

While criticism of Israeli policy is legitimate, the use of Holocaust imagery as seen on the streets and social media is not. This is another dimension of anti-Semitism because it debases the Holocaust of meaning, desecrates the memory of its victims and appears to be more about offending Jews than conveying political facts.

A double standard of condemnation and silence

Anti-Semitism is thus evident in what is said about Israel and Jews, but we can also identify it in what is not said about others by Israel’s critics.

Two women recently stepped out of a kosher bakery in Melbourne to be verbally accosted about events in Gaza. Across the road at the Russian delicatessen, none of the shoppers were abused, establishing that it is almost exclusively the Jewish diaspora that gets vilified when people don’t like what is going on in their homeland.

Double standards have always been the litmus test of anti-Semitism. When human rights are only selectively advocated – as protestors rage about Israel but remain mute on Syria and Iraq – compared to which the deaths in Gaza, tragic as they are, pale in comparison – Jews are left with the feeling that many of the protests are more about a pretext to attack Jews than the application of universal rights. At a minimum, their selectivity demonstrates their bias.

Then there is dichotomy of those quick to condemn Israel, perhaps legitimately, but who are deafeningly silent when it comes to homophobic, misogynistic, theocratic, fascist Hamas and their anti-peace opposition to a two-state Solution, instead offering a Jew-free one-state solution. These critics utter not a word about Hamas’s openly genocidal charter, whose wording would fit in perfectly with a Nazi charter in 1930s Germany, as it officially calls for the killing of Jews everywhere.

Nor do they condemn vitriolic anti-Semitism espoused by Hamas. This was seen last week, for instance, at Lebanese TV network Al-Quds when Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan spoke about Jews killing Christians to get their blood to make Passover bread.

Jews are left to ask whether the silence about Hamas by anti-Israel, putatively pro-peace advocates is because they don’t know, don’t care or because they agree with them. Either way, the silence undermines any sense of objectivity and fairness in the way Israel and Jews are treated, and as such reflects anti-Jewish discrimination.

Ominous pattern of history repeats

The nexus between the hate-filled public comments about Jews and street-level anti-Semitism became clear in Sydney last week when teenagers boarded a school bus and threatened to “kill” Jewish primary children and “slit their throats” as they made multiple references to Palestine. Unless there is a greater care in the way Israel is discussed, more Jews will inevitably be threatened in Australia.

Words of hate have escalated to direct intimidation of Jewish primary schoolchildren on a bus.

As part of this process of criticising Israel, acceptance of Jews in society is being made conditional. Jews are considered moral and legitimate if they criticise Israel, but illegitimate and unacceptable citizens if they don’t. At Monash University, Jewish students who tried to attend a talk were barred from entry on the grounds, ironically, that they weren’t “free-thinking enough”.

What is occurring is that those with anti-Jewish prejudice, or in some cases profound ignorance, fail to appreciate the centrality of the State of Israel to Jewish identity.

It is one thing to criticise Israeli policy, but it is another to define what Judaism is and what Jews are allowed to believe in relation to their ancestral homeland and its contemporary manifestation in the State of Israel. That’s anti-Semitism. It would be like asking someone to stay Catholic but disaffiliate from Rome and the Pope, or to be a Muslim and have no identification with Mecca (say because of all the human rights abuses in the Arab world).

This conditional acceptance rings warning bells for Jews, as it is an ominous pattern that they have experienced throughout history.