Australian Jewish Association

Antisemitism excuses, distortions, and blurred lines. What does it mean?

By Adam Kreuzer, Antisemitism Education and Strategies Officer and Board Member, Australian Jewish Association (AJA)

It’s hard to be a Jewish Australian right now and not lose some sleep anxiously worrying about the plight of our Jewish community and the extent to which pro-Palestinian sentiment has entered the mainstream psyche across ethnicities and cultures which traditionally have been “friendly towards the Jews”. The number of times I’ve had someone tell me that they’re not antisemitic but simply opposed to what colonialist Israel are doing to the “innocent” people in Gaza has made me stop and think about the true essence of antisemitism and what this actually means in the context of the current Israel-Hamas conflict.

There are many who will straightforwardly state that they are not antisemitic, but in fact oppose the concept of Zionism. Some of their best friends are Jews. Let’s make no mistake about this, they are one and the same. According to the American Jewish Committee, “the belief that the Jews, alone among the people of the world, do not have a right to self-determination – or that the Jewish people’s religious and historical connection to Israel is invalid – is inherently bigoted. When Jews are verbally or physically harassed or Jewish institutions and houses of worship are vandalized in response to actions of the State of Israel, it is antisemitism.”

This is exactly what is occurring in Melbourne and other Australian cities on a daily basis. The Australian Jewish Association (AJA) is leading the charge when it comes to highlighting such instances across the country and calling out this hatred for what it is.

Adding fuel to the fire, we see local government institutions such as the Melbourne City Council dangerously wading into international politics and debating their stance on Israel’s handling of their conflict with Hamas. This is way outside their core focus of rubbish and roads. The large crowd of professional protesters could be heard for miles shouting, “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. This intense level of antisemitic hatred towards the Jewish people and the State of Israel is not something I have ever experienced or witnessed in my lifetime.

Therefore, I am keen to clear up some excuses, distortions and blurred lines relating to what antisemitism actually is and how this can be advocated and articulated outside of our Jewish community. The most reliable reference point for these purposes is the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

According to their website, “the Declaration of the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust (or “Stockholm Declaration”) is the founding document of the IHRA. It contains a series of pledges to remember the Holocaust, educate future generations on the tragic events of the past and strengthen governmental cooperation to work towards a world without genocide.” This document should be proactively shared widely across all chambers of Australian Parliament (local, state and federal) for awareness, understanding and utilisation.

The IHRA has 35 Member Countries and 9 Observer Countries, working together to address Holocaust-related issues. This is what makes the IHRA definition of antisemitism so valuable and defensible. In 2016, the IHRA adopted the following non-legally binding working definition of antisemitism which I am keen to bring to your attention:

“Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

How can this play out in practical terms and is this actually occurring in Australia currently? The IHRA provide guidance on this, stating that “antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for “why things go wrong.” It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms, and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.”

You only have to visit the Melbourne CBD on a Sunday afternoon and walk past the State Library, to see this play out in front of your very eyes. The chanting is hypnotic and robotic. It’s relentless and uninhibited. It’s targeted and biased. Adopting a consistent definition and terminology will arm us with the required tools, resources, and approaches to combat this anti-Israel vitriol in an intelligent and informed manner.

Let’s be clear, the State of Israel should not be immune to legitimate criticism as afforded to any democratic nation around the world. As the American Jewish Committee state, “criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.” What we are seeing play out in Australia right now goes well beyond legitimate criticism and is being called out for such reasons accordingly.

When we have a Prime Minister in Anthony Albanese who was the Secretary of the Australian Parliamentary Friends of Palestine and has been on record as calling out the “repressive policies of the Israeli government and its military”, one cannot help but feel somewhat pessimistic about, and bewildered by, the direction our country’s foreign policy is taking and how safe one can feel as a current member of the Australian Jewish community.

Australia was a beacon of freedom, tolerance, hope and opportunity for my late grandparents when moving as far away as possible from the horrors of the Holocaust. They lived here in peace, alongside Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and others. It’s frightening to see how far we have lurched the other way in 2024 and as long as the Albanese Government remains in power this will sadly remain as the status quo.