On Friday 25 October, five Jews were attacked in Bondi by a group of eight young men. The story quickly circulated in the Jewish community, and was reported on J-Wire the next day. As Sol Salbe picked up, Labor MP Michael Danby missed no opportunity to add his inflammatory two cents: ‘Let’s have no political correctness over who these thugs are.’ Presumably, he thought a loud dog whistle was the most appropriate response to a racist attack.
Danby’s utilisation of the attack was cynical, but hardly the only unimpressive response. The original posting of the ABC news story on Facebook has been deleted, most likely because of the deluge of racist responses. These ranged from suggestions that the Jews deserved it and that there should be no Jewish Australians anyway because we’re one nation to the suggestion that the Jews deserved it because of Israel, countered by brisk accusations about the problems with Muslims and so on.
The Jewish community largely welcomed the response to the attack. The latest Jewish News (1 November 2013) features a collection of quotes condemning the attack, under the title ‘Australia speaks out against Sydney assault’. It includes Malcolm Turnbull (speaking for PM Abbott), Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, John Robertson (NSW Opposition Leader), the Greens, the Muslim Women’s Association, the Arab Council Australia, the Australian Egyptian Council Forum, the Migration Institution of Australia, the Race Discrimination Commissioner, NSW Community Relations Commission and more. The editorial lists other organisations – the Lebanese Muslim Association, the Refugee Council of Australia, Ethnic Communities NSW. In short, a lot of organisations have spoken in solidarity with the Jewish victims against anti-Semitic attacks, and the editorial praised the ‘rousing support for our community from the broader Australian community.’
Similarly, a Jerusalem Post article by Arsen Ostrovsky noted that the attack ‘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’. Anti-Semitism does exist in Australia, he said, as shown by the country’s BDS supporters. He then claimed that AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones has been recording anti-Semitism in Australia for 25 years. Considering Jones denounced Seven Jewish Children as anti-Semitic before he even read it, he can hardly be regarded as a reliable authority on the subject.
Mia Freedman weighed in too. Freedman, who specialises in inflammatory nonsense, claimed that if the attack was perpetrated against Muslims ‘there would have been a mass outcry and widespread condemnation’. But because the victims were Jews, media coverage wasn’t widespread, and ‘many’ of the organisations that would normally condemn such attacks – such as the Greens – were silent. A correction has since been posted at the bottom of the story noting the Greens condemnation. Whoops. Another one of the strangely mute organisations, according to Freedman, which would normally ‘lead the charge against racism’ was the Diversity Council.
What’s the Diversity Council? Their ‘Who we are’ page explains that ‘DCA provides diversity advice and strategy to over 200 member organisations, many of whom are Australia’s business diversity leaders and biggest employers. Our founding members include ANZ Bank, AMP, AXA, BHP Billiton, Boral, IBM Australia, Orica, Rio Tinto and Westpac.’ ‘What we do’ offers, among other benefits, ‘Listing of your organisation on our website which demonstrates you as a leader in diversity’. So, Freedman is outraged that an NGO specialising in PR for organisations like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto didn’t speak up about the attack on Jews. Apparently, because of this lack of support, Australian Jews are supposed to feel abandoned and betrayed.
As for the lack of media coverage, AIJAC reported that ‘the attack was reported by the ABC, SBS, Sydney Morning Herald, Daily Telegraph, Sky News Australia, Adelaide Advertiser and in the Herald Sun on Andrew Bolt’s blog’. Compare this to the widespread silence when five white men beat an Aboriginal man to death. One could multiply examples of disinterest when the targets of racism are other minorities, such as Palestinians.
Really, there is no form of racism more likely to be condemned in Australia than anti-Semitism.
Spectacularly, Freedman also alleged that anti-Semitism ‘is a daily reality for anyone who attends a Jewish school or kindergarten, who visits a synagogue or who displays their faith publicly in the way they dress’. This is completely preposterous, as anyone who does any of those things would know. In fact, that JPost author, who grew up in Bondi, said: ‘In over 20 years, I never once experienced or witnessed an act of anti-Semitism.’ ECAJ head Peter Wertheim wrote: ‘The overwhelming experience of Jews living in Australia has been one of acceptance, freedom and security. Very few Australians feel comfortable openly identifying themselves as antisemites.’
I take an intermediate position on such claims. Once, I experienced anti-Semitic abuse walking home from the school bus stop. In another instance, some girls in my year were beaten up for being Jewish after getting off the bus on their way home. When I was 16, I met a religious Jewish man who had been savagely beaten after stepping outside his home in Bondi. I fully accept that there is anti-Semitism in Australia, and do not believe the latest attack is an anomaly. Still, while there are occasional attacks on Jews, I think most Jews will very rarely, and often not at all, experience anti-Semitism (excluding, of course, the frequent racism anyone can find on the internet).
On the same day as Freedman’s contribution, Tim Blair wrote on the subject, quickly linking the attack to a pet cause in the Murdoch press:
A crude loathing of Jews and Israel is also obvious in protests against the Max Brenner chain of chocolate shops, which is Jewish-owned.
He then stated: ‘Those protests are the middle-class, white-collar version of what we saw in Bondi on the weekend.’ So beating up Jews is roughly the same as picketing a chocolate store!
Blair also wrote that ‘It isn’t a big leap from describing the entire Jewish nation as a “rogue state”, as Tanya Plibersek once put it, to slurring the entire Jewish people.’ Note that besides being wrong, this is incoherent. Plibersek called Israel a rogue state, not ‘the entire Jewish nation’. And how could one progress from the Jewish nation to the entire Jewish people? Is there a difference between our nation and people?
Amazingly, Blair concluded: ‘Happily, there is an easy and delicious way to fight back against angry bigots who would assault and demean Jews. Simply follow former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s example and drop by a Max Brenner store.’ So Jews should thank Blair each time him or another Gentile has a hot chocolate at a ‘Jewish-owned’ store? Precisely how this would affect angry bigots is beyond me, but maybe that just proves I’m a self-hating Jew or something.
There was also discussion of the attack in the NSW Legislative Assembly. John Williams, representing Murray-Darling, basically accused the Greens of anti-Semitism for supporting BDS, singling out David Shoebridge, Cathy Peters (from Marrickville), and Lee Rhiannon.
Oh, and Andrew Bolt added his unique take: ‘I am struck by the failure to publicly identify the alleged attackers in any way – by name, complexion or ethnic group.’ Then: ‘I thought it suspicious that police and the press gave no description of the youths wanted for bashing five Jews in Bondi. That already suggested an ethnic dimension.’ In addition, Bolt started circling statistics around the crime rates of people from various ethnic backgrounds, citing anecdotal evidence of people from different (non-white) backgrounds committing crimes.
What do Africans and Lebanese people have to do with this attack, allegedly perpetrated by Pacific Islanders? Well, leave it to Bolt readers to draw the connections! Bolt then objected to the Australian editorial, which complained about white students who picked on a Jewish student by performing a Hitler-related song from The Producers. Why was the Oz picking on them, Bolt asked ‘Is it that repentant students are easier to lecture than a gang of Pacific Islanders?’ Obviously the media is terrified by a handful of Pacific Islanders.
The story itself could be quickly summarised: a handful of religious Jews were attacked by anti-Semites. Some of the attackers were quickly arrested, nearby people helped the victims out, and a slew of major organisations slammed anti-Semitism. Following that, a handful of commentators and politicians used the attacks to support their completely unrelated pet causes, often to promote the kind of intolerance that leads to such attacks in the first place.