Four physical assaults and at least 10 cases of verbal abuse were among a 738% increase in cases of antisemitism, prompting concern this week from politicians and Holocaust survivors.
Preliminary research from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) recorded 662 antisemitic incidents in October and November 2023, compared with just 79 incidents in the same period last year.
The figures represent a 738% increase and make it clear that the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the subsequent war in Gaza is having a measurable effect on the Australian Jewish community.
The provisional figures involve incidents reported to the ECAJ directly as well as through its affiliate organisations and the Community Security Group.
The statistics include verbal abuse and racial slurs, bomb threats, physical assault, calls to boycott Jewish businesses, and graffiti, such as that reading “Jew free zone” and “Jews not welcome”.
Researcher Julie Nathan said the incidents had not yet been separated by category but the most serious had been listed in the report.
They include four physical assaults:
- Three men attacked a 44-year-old Jewish man in a public park in Arncliffe, Sydney after the Jewish man removed a poster advertising an anti-Israel protest. The victim was hit to the ground, punched and kicked by men who asked him “Why are you in our area? Go back to Vaucluse”, called him a “pro-Jew dog” and other slurs. They then repeatedly hit him on the head. He sustained two black eyes, concussion and four fractures to his spine, and was hospitalised for four days (28 Oct. 2023).
- Two men and a woman attacked a Jewish cyclist who was displaying an Israeli flag in Chapel Street, Melbourne. They pushed him on the ground and then kicked him in the chest and back (12 Nov. 2023).
- An assailant assaulted a 72-year-old Jewish man in Bentleigh, Melbourne, after observing Jewish items in his car (18 Nov. 2023).
- Food and a box with swastikas drawn on it were thrown at a group of 13-year-old Jewish girls wearing their Jewish school uniform in Westfield Bondi Junction, Sydney (4 Dec. 2023).
Verbal assaults and graffiti included death threats, such as “I’m going to blow a hole through your synagogue” and “Jews, die”.
An email to a Jewish organisation read, “History shows how hated you are, I would crush a filthy Jew like a cockroach under foot. If you show your ugly head to me in my country, I will cut it off and roll it down the street”.
Several of the incidents make explicit reference to the Holocaust and Nazism.
At a rally in Melbourne, a placard read “Well done Hitler would be proud”. A Jewish man on public transport endured verbal abuse that included the statements: “If Hitler had done it right, he would have gotten rid of all of you, and the human race would have no trouble” and “If I could get a hold of a machine gun, I’d gun down 10,000 of you tomorrow”. Graffiti in Sydney read “Bring Hitler Back. Finish the job”.
President of the Australian Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors & Descendants George Foster said the impact of this symbolism on Holocaust survivors, and their children and grandchildren who carry the intergenerational trauma of their ancestors, is especially distressing.
“The overwhelming feeling of survivors who have shouted “Never Again” for many years is that “Never Again” is upon us today,” Foster wrote in a statement.
“These events have revived for survivors the memories of their horrific experiences, increased their disturbing dreams, and heightened their anguish and anger. There is a return of the feelings of isolation and loneliness and incredulity at the double standards applied to Israel and by extension to the Jewish people as a whole.
“We now know that in our lifetime, we will spend our lives combating antisemitism. We were convinced that antisemitism died in Auschwitz. Now we know: the victims are dead but antisemitism is still alive.”
The spike in antisemitism and the risk it poses to social cohesion has caught the attention of politicians across the country. Speaking at a webinar run by the New Israel Fund Australia last week, Macnamara MP Josh Burns referred to the “polarising” nature of the conflict and its repercussions for the local Jewish community.
“There is a proportion of society that has used this conflict in order to take out their anger on whatever they’re witnessing in the Middle East and target Jewish people or Jewish institutions in Australia. We know that is a real danger,” Burns said.
“There has been strong leadership, I think, at both a state and federal level pushing back against [antisemitism], and that is a real strength. But my big nervousness is that the longer that this goes on, the more desensitised the broader public is to these sorts of events. That is a huge risk.”
Wentworth MP Allegra Spender, who also spoke at the virtual event, said the “inherent strength” of Australia’s multiculturalism depends on a willingness to speak openly and respectfully in a way that considers diverse views.
“There is a lack of understanding from some of the broader community about how serious this is for the Jewish community and that is really problematic,” Spender said.
“We should never take our social cohesion for granted. While I think Australia is the best place in the world to be from any background, we all need to fight for it. We need to find ways of constructively sharing our views without the vitriol and hatred.
“Words matter, and I think that is the message we all need to internalise… Words can provoke strong emotions, and can provoke actions and can provoke violence. Australia cannot control what happens in the Middle East, [but] we can control how our community holds together right now. That should be the priority of all Australians.”
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