On the fear of a ‘foreign invasion’

It’s symptomatic of where we’re at in Australia that the appearance of fascist agitator and Hitler-fan Blair Cottrell on Sky News – an interview that briefly turned ‘Nazi’ into a Twitter trending topic – wasn’t the most significant media boost offered to white nationalism in the last week.

That came via the Daily Telegraph and its biggest star, Andrew Bolt.

By way of context, only a month ago or so, News ran a piece reporting on what it called ‘racist slurs’ at the University of Sydney.

‘Shocking racist graffiti has been discovered around the University of Sydney,’ it explained. ‘In one case, the words “Stop the Asian invasion” were scrawled across the wall in black paint.’

That does indeed seem shocking and racist. But what terms might we apply to Andrew Bolt’s column of 2 August, in which the Telegraph employed precisely the rhetoric it had previously denounced?

Beneath a headline warning about ‘The foreign invasion’, the paper published Bolt explaining that ‘a tidal wave of immigrants [was sweeping] away what’s left of our national identity’, so much so that ‘immigration [was] becoming colonisation’.

Where Sydney Uni’s anonymous graffitists targeted Asians, Bolt directed his ire more widely, denouncing just about every immigrant group for challenging ‘our sense of a common identity’.

Bolt didn’t apply his insistence on assimilation to Indigenous people, though – or, at least, not in the same way.

For them, the argument was reversed. Where Bolt demanded other ethnicities abandon their cultures because they were new arrivals, he wanted Aboriginal people to do the same because they were not. While he denounced the ‘colonies’ supposedly established by recent immigrants, he lauded the colony founded by white Europeans in 1788, insisting that Indigenous people embrace the laws, symbols and culture of the settlers.

In other words, he wasn’t making an argument about immigration at all. He was asserting the superiority of white Anglophile culture. That was the ‘wider us’ on which his article depended.

Essentially, he was calling for an ethnostate, in terms identical to those used by Europe’s far right ‘identitarians’.

Consider his reference to ‘Muslims’ in his list of ethnicities threatening the Australian identity.

These days, every bigot knows the script: you identify Muslims with some stereotypical trait or another and then, when you’re challenged, you declare that you can’t be racist ‘because Muslims aren’t a race.’

Quite inadvertently, Bolt blew the whistle on that little caper.

‘We are clustering into tribes that live apart from each other,’ he wrote, ‘and often do not speak the same language in the same street’ – and then he went on to complain how in Lakemba, ‘nearly two thirds of all residents are Muslim’.

What language did Bolt think ‘Muslims’ speak? Bahasa, perhaps (given that the largest Muslim population in the world lives in Indonesia)? But, no, that’s not what he meant. India boasts a substantial Muslim population. But Bolt could include ‘Muslims’ in a list that also features ‘Indians’ because he knew his readers would understand the term as racialised – a reference to people, as the police say, ‘of Middle Eastern appearance’.

Ever since 9/11, the mainstreaming of Islamophobia has facilitated a revival of classical antisemitic rhetoric, with all the old canards about Jews now directed at Muslims.

In 1920, for instance, Winston Churchill penned an article for the Illustrated Sunday Herald in which he distinguished between what he called ‘the good Jews’ and ‘the bad Jews’.

In the first category, Churchill put those Jewish people, who

dwelling in every country throughout the world, identify themselves with that country, enter into its national life, and, while adhering faithfully to their own religion, regard themselves as citizens in the fullest sense of the State which has received them. Such a Jew living in England would say, ‘I am an Englishman practising the Jewish faith.’ This is a worthy conception, and useful in the highest degree.

For Churchill, these Jews are ‘good’ because they assimilate to what Bolt would call ‘a broader us’.

Against such paragons, Churchill contrasted those he called the ‘terrorist Jews’ or ‘international Jews’ – those who refused to integrate, and instead devoted themselves to ‘the overthrow of civilisation’. He meant, of course, Jews committed to socialism in general and the Russian Revolution in particular, where, Churchill said, ‘the part played by [Jews] in proportion to their numbers in the population is astonishing.’

You don’t hear this rhetoric much any more – or, more exactly, you don’t hear it directed against Jews. But the racialisation of Islamophobia has given this old trope a new life, with the contrast between the good Muslims who assimilate and the bad, terroristic Muslims who don’t now an entirely familiar part of every bigot’s routine.

That’s the context for the most extraordinary part of Bolt’s extraordinary article – his discussion of the Jews of Caulfield.

Yes, that’s right. As evidence of his thesis about the colonisation of Australia, Bolt references North Caulfield, where, he complains, ‘41 per cent of residents are Jews. … Such colonising will increasingly be our future as we gain a critical mass of born-overseas migrants.’

Crikey’s Bernard Keane rightly says this passage about colonising Jews ‘makes the blood run cold’, given the historical echoes of the worst atrocities of the twentieth century.

In response, Bolt accuses Keane of misquoting him. But, if anything, the passage reads worse in its original context, since Bolt also adds that the Jews of Caulfield include ‘hundreds who have lately fled South Africa’.

Bear in mind, Bolt has been pushing the ‘African gang’ narrative as hard as anyone. He’s also defended Dutton’s proposal to bring some Africans – specifically, South African farmers – to Australia.

We have, then, a clear taxonomy. Black African refugees should be excluded but white South Africans should be welcomed – except if they’re Jewish, in which case they’re ‘colonisers’.

It’s pretty extraordinary stuff.

In response to widespread accusations of antisemitism, Bolt published a series of increasingly frenzied rebuttals.

‘[A]lmost every literate Jew in Victoria,’ he said in one, ‘would know that no mainstream journalist has defended their community more strongly, and few have done as many fundraisers …’

It’s a strange phrasing, an implicit contrast between the ‘literate Jews’ who support Bolt and, one supposes, the ‘illiterate Jews’ who don’t. But the echoes of Churchill’s argument only became stronger when Bolt, inevitably, defends himself by asserting his support for Israel.

In a post headlined ‘If Keane attacks me, Jews should know whose side they’re on’, he writes:

Crikey’s Bernard Keane makes up stuff to paint me as an anti-Semite who makes his ‘blood run cold’.

Yet Keane himself claims Israel is guilty of ‘murder of unarmed protesters’ and ‘systemic illegalities’ under ‘the Netanyahu regime’ and its ‘apartheid system’. He also defends the boycott of Israel that I have damned as racist.

Jews should realise Keane’s attack on me is an attack on their ally. His claims to be horrified by an anti-Semitism he pretends to detect are a complete smokescreen.

Now, according to a recent biographer, Churchill shared ‘the low-level casual anti-Semitism of his class and kind’. Yet he was, like Bolt, an enthusiastic champion of Zionism. Indeed, his attack on the ‘bad Jews’ who wouldn’t integrate culminated in advocacy of the Zionist idea; a philosophy, he said, that ‘presents to the Jew a national idea of a commanding character’. For Churchill, Zionism mattered because it ‘normalised’ Jews, pushing them away from socialism (or, as Churchill put it, ‘a world-wide communistic State under Jewish domination’) and ‘towards a simpler, a truer, and a far more attainable goal’.

There is – and there never has been – any contradiction between supporting Israel and expressing horror at Jews establishing ‘colonies’. On the contrary, precisely because Zionism conceives of Israel as an ethnostate, it’s entirely compatible with the position Bolt’s putting.

Richard Spencer, for instance, might be an overt white nationalist and an explicit racist. But he, too, openly admires Israel, declaring it ‘the most important and perhaps most revolutionary ethno-state’ and the one ‘that I turn to for guidance’. Why? Because, like Bolt, Spencer wants a state that upholds its identity, one that rejects other cultures associated with immigration and internationalism. Hence his recent support for Israel’s ‘nation-state’ law, legislation that declares ‘national self-determination in Israel … unique to the Jewish people’.

Once upon a time, of course, the idea of ethno-chauvinism was commonplace. For an Englishman of Churchill’s generation, it went without saying that the Empire belonged to the ‘British race’ – something that gave the notion of a homeland unique to the ‘Jewish race’ a logical force.

Today, however, such language facilitates a common cause between Zionists and the racist far right. As noted in Haaretz recently:

For years, [Israeli PM Benjamin] Netanyahu has been promoting all sorts of ties with the radical right in Europe. He has some passionate fans there: A long list of anti-democratic movements and governments that consider Bibi’s Israel an optimal partner. The Israeli government has no problem with these entities, because they are essentially quite similar. The basis of the connection derives from overlapping interests and ideological closeness. Immigration is a prominent example. The right’s anti-immigration efforts (there and here) became fused with the Israeli-Arab conflict and made Israel an ally in the fight against Islam.

On Al Jazeera, Ramzy Baroud and Romana Rubeo state flatly that ‘Israel’s embrace of far-right movements is now the defining Israeli attitude towards European politics, in general.’

But we don’t need to look as far afield as Europe.

Bolt’s piece decrying the Jewish ‘colony’ in Caulfield caused especial angst because it coincided with a number of other manifestations of far right politics. One was Blair Cottrell’s appearance on Sky a few days later. But another was the racist campaign directed at journalist Osman Faruqi, after he expressed incredulity about Coles reversing its ban on plastic bags.

That harassment came courtesy of a man called Avi Yemeni, who published Faruqi’s mobile phone number on Facebook. Now, Yemeni’s even more enthusiastic about Israel than Bolt. A former IDF sharpshooter, he claims to use his gym to recruit for the Israeli military.

But he’s also a prominent figure on the Australian far right, specialising in Islamophobic racism and consorting with a who’s who of local antisemites. The Australian Jewish Democratic Society explains:

Avi Yemini is not a neo-Nazi. He has, however, not shied away from ingratiating himself to neo-Nazi and fascist gangs across Australia, including Nationalist Uprising and the United Patriots Front. Nationalist Uprising leader Neil Erikson, besides bouncing between various neo-Nazi incarnations for over fifteen years, has received a non-custodial sentence for racially harassing a rabbi. Fellow patriot leader of Nationalist Uprising Shermon Burgess is well known for his antisemitic tirades. Blair Cottrell, leader of the United Patriots Front and formerly imprisoned arsonist, has described how he would like to see a photo of Hitler in every classroom and a copy of Mein Kampf issued to every school student. Chris Shortis, who claims not to be a neo-Nazi, but does claim to support National Socialism, has had senatorial aspirations for neo-Nazi leader Jim Saleam’s Australia First Party, and was in 2016 deemed unfit by authorities to own a firearms licence as a direct consequence of his hate activism. Erikson, Cottrell and Shortis all received slaps on the wrists and convictions for inciting serious contempt for Muslims recently.

This crew might, on the surface, seem odd allies. Yet they’re able to work together because they share a hatred of diversity and a commitment to ethnic uniformity. Yemeni’s Zionism isn’t, in that respect, incompatible with his role on the far right. Rather, it paves the way for his working relationship with bigots of all kind, including overt Nazis.

We’re living in dangerous times – an era in which it’s frighteningly easy to imagine a revival of ideas and movements once deemed safely extinct. Blair Cottrell’s probably too compromised by his past to lead any kind of mass fascist organisation. As for Bolt, despite his identitarian turn, he remains primarily an insider – a well-paid media personality content with the status quo, rather than a street-fighting insurgent.

Nevertheless, a path’s now becoming clear for militants of the far right to follow.


Image: Invasion / Axel Valery

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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  1. A clear and sober take down of Andrew Bolt’s racism and incitement to hatred.
    You smashed it Jeff.

  2. And I’d been sailing under the illusion that Adolph Bolt was being comedic, knowingly ironical. Guess too Bolt serves the useful purpose of knowing what not to do, say and think, if you’re anywhere to the left of Barry Goldwater, say.

  3. This may come across as trifling (and it is because the article is spot on) but oh well.

    ‘[A]lmost every literate Jew in Victoria,’ he said in one, ‘would know that no mainstream journalist has defended their community more strongly, and few have done as many fundraisers …’

    It’s a strange phrasing, an implicit contrast between the ‘literate Jews’ who support Bolt and, one supposes, the ‘illiterate Jews’ who don’t.

    I don’t think there is an implicit claim about the position of ‘illiterate Jews’ here, and if there is it isn’t clear that the claim is ‘they don’t support Bolt’. I reckon Bolt is only making a claim, granted a little carelessly, that of those that read print journalism and therefore engage with him, none would think of him as anything other than an ardent defender.

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