Death threats, boycotts target Jewish creatives

Woman in macabre costume gesturing with her hands in front of Hebrew letters
Evelyn Krape as the "Evil Inclination" in Yentl, which will be revived at the Malthouse in February (Jeff Busby/Kadimah)

A five-year-old child was threatened, livelihoods have been lost, and 600 people have had their private details released in widespread attacks on Jews in the arts community.

Victoria Police are pursuing a protection order for a Jewish couple who received a photograph of their five-year-old son from an anti-Zionist activist with the threatening message “I know where you live”.

The culprit, whose identity is known to police, is also responsible for at least one other death threat against a Melbourne Jewish artist. She is not one of those named below.  

The case is the most extreme in a widespread campaign against Jewish people working in the arts sector. Many say they have lost work or clients in an industry which is loudly pro-Palestinian and frequently anti-Zionist. Even those who have no direct connection with Israel and have not made public comments about the Hamas massacre or the war in Gaza have been targeted.

Many of the victims are members of a support group of 600 Jewish creatives who were doxed last week when details from the private WhatsApp group were published by anti-Zionist activists. The group was labelled “Zio600” and accused of supporting “genocide, racism and white supremacism”. “Zio” is a slang and generally abusive term for Zionist. Photographs and business details of many individuals were distributed online.

Those leading the doxing campaign include Jewish anti-Zionist activists, Elsa Tuet-Rosenberg, artists Matt Chun and Zaineb Mazloum, and commentator Clementine Ford.

The couple seeking the protection order runs a gift shop in Melbourne’s northern suburbs which has been forced to close by an antisemitic campaign that started after the Hamas massacre on October 7. They do not want to be identified and are leaving the area out of fear for their own and their child’s safety.

The shop has been graffitied with “No Jews” messages in the form of Stars of David with crosses through them. Regular custom has disappeared in a general boycott.

The husband said locals know he is Jewish because he has been involved in the suburb’s community for about 10 years. He is not politically active and has made no comments about Israel publicly. 

“It’s potentially financially destroyed us. December trade was 33% down on last year and January trade was 50% down. We decided we were no longer comfortable in the area, so we have given notice, and we were going to have a big closing down sale in February.

“But now we have been publicly doxed, and it’s destroyed our business. We’ve had the door closed and have only been letting people in if we know them. And this is just my association of being in a group of Jewish creatives. I haven’t made a single comment saying I supported the war or the bombing.”

He also lost his secondary income from his work as a musician when the band he has played in for eight years dropped him suddenly. “They called me a racist [because] apparently, I’m a Zionist,” he said.

Graffiti outside the office of Jewish MP Josh Burns last week.

Another artist and musician told Plus61J Media that her income had been destroyed by boycotts after she expressed her solidarity with friends and family in Israel following the October 7 massacre. “I used to have a show a week. I’ve done one show since October 7,” she said.

She said her usual sources of commissions had also dried up and public funding for a major project, which she had been promised, suddenly became unavailable. “I’m afraid someone has got to them and told them I’m not a person they want to support.”

She said having spoken out in support of Israel made her a constant target. “I’m getting doxed at least five times a day. I get aggressive messages at least five times a day. That’s a good day. I’ve basically given up going online.”

Following the doxing last week, more artists were attacked through their professional and business pages.

An artist who runs an art school had her business website and social media targeted. Pages promoting art classes for adults and children were attacked with comments such as “You support and encourage the massacre of innocent children including newborns and you have the nerve to run a junior art school” and “How about a side order of racism/ Islamophobia/ cheering on a genocide with that art class”.

Arts lawyer and former board member at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) Alana Kushnir said targeting of artists who supported Israel was not new but has surged since October 7.

She said she had personally been targeted by Matt Chun since the Sydney Festival boycott campaign began in late 2021.

Kushnir resigned from ACCA in October when she was attacked by artists including Chun for writing posts in support of Israel and the organisation refused to support her.

She said there was an attitude in the arts community that being an artist gave a person a right to express themselves without any restrictions.

“I love the arts and I work for the arts, but I don’t believe artists have some special permission to say offensive and stupid things while I’m not allowed to say Israel has a right to exist and it’s a homeland for the Jewish people. That’s outrageous.”

Executive Council of Australian Jewry Co-CEO Alex Ryvchin urged Jewish creatives not to be afraid to speak out. “I know many of you have received threats, horrific abuse, harassment. You’ve had your businesses attacked and your livelihoods threatened after a group of narcissistic fools directed their followers to harm you. I want you to understand that you did nothing wrong. You are not alone. You have every right to speak, to organise and to act.”

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies President David Ossip met with some of those affected by the doxing on the weekend.

“Jewish Australians are as entitled as any other group to engage in public debate. We are entitled to have views on all issues, including Australia’s foreign policy, and to make representations accordingly. 

“The Jewish Board of Deputies will vigorously defend and support any member of our community who exercises their basic democratic rights in a respectful and considered manner. It is unacceptable for community members and their families to be targeted simply because they are Jewish and support Israel,” he said.

The boycotts are targeted at individuals rather than at Jewish content, which is scheduled well ahead of time. The Melbourne Theatre Company featured a play entitled A Very Jewish Christmas in December, the Malthouse Theatre is reviving the award-winning Kadimah Yiddish production of Yentl in February, and the Sydney Theatre Company is reviving Suzie Miller’s play about the Jewish Supreme Court judge RGB in February.

While the arts industry is exceptional in its vehemence and the widespread nature of the attacks on Jews, it is by no means alone.

Jewish MP Josh Burns has been the subject of repeated attacks, with his office graffitied again last week.

Members of a WhatsApp group called Lawyers for Israel have also been doxed, not only on social media but also in The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, which published private messages from members to the group calling for the removal of ABC broadcaster Antoinette Lattouf.

The papers alleged the lawyers were responsible for a concerted campaign which resulted in the dismissal of Lattouf, who is suing the ABC for unfair dismissal.

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