Antisemitism Down Under Is Turning Vicious

0
11

There’s an old joke that Australians are so laid back they’re in constant danger of falling over. Known for its sun, surf and occasionally shark attacks, Australia has gone from being the easy-going land Down Under to experiencing a surge of antisemitism that most Jews thought was relegated to the dark annals of Jewish history.

In the line of fire are Australian-Jewish actors, musicians, writers, and others in the traditionally left-wing arts community. They are being pushed by fellow artists to denounce Israel as a modern-day Satan or be banished from the local arts scene.

The attacks and vitriol have shades of Mao’s Cultural Revolution where people were publicly humiliated as subversives before being banished to work camps. In this modern-day Australian twist, Jews are simply fired or excommunicated from their artistic communities.

Young Jewish men prepare to pray during a “United With Israel – Bring Them Home” protest on Nov. 26, in Sydney, Australia.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Under attack, these Jewish creatives formed a Whatsapp group where they shared their feelings of alienation with fellow Jewish artists. The group was breached, and chats were stolen and circulated online. Now pro-Hamas keyboard warriors are doxxing and threatening the creatives who used the chat to share their despair as work dried up and friends and colleagues abandoned them.

Saxophonist Joshua Moshe was doxxed and threatened by pro-Hamas supporters simply for being a member of the chat group. The harassment got so bad that his band mates fired him from their neo-soul jazz band via Instagram.

“We explicitly condemn any forms of Zionism, racism, bullying, and antisemitism,” his bandmates said, without any irony, as they expelled their only Jewish member. Moshe’s wife’s gift shop has been boycotted and vandalized.

Actress Sarah-Jane Feiglin is not surprised that Moshe’s bandmates turned on him. She’s been taunted by actors expressing support of Hamas’s Oct. 7 atrocities against Israelis during acting workshops. She’s no longer in touch with many of her old friends from film school as well as other actor friends.

“People are being bullied into silence. They are afraid of being cancelled and losing work, so they are shunning their Jewish friends publicly and privately,” Feiglin said.

Feiglin was removed from a prestigious clowning masterclass of the sort made famous by Sasha Baron-Cohen. She’d spent months preparing for the class with pre-workshop improv courses. Before the masterclass began, her instructor emailed her to say that she couldn’t do the class. He said that she was too emotional because she’d been dismayed during a previous workshop by an actor telling Hitler jokes as well as mocking comments by other actors that alluded to the 230 Israelis taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7, including children and young women who released hostages say are being raped by their Hamas captors.

“All of my creative platforms and work opportunities have been taken away from me because I will not be ashamed or apologetic about being Jewish,” she said.

Members of the Jewish creatives chat group were largely left-wing artists who disagreed with many policies of the Netanyahu government and were devastated by the loss of life among Palestinians from the Israeli military onslaught on Hamas in Gaza. They are also deeply wounded by the minimization, justification, and denial by fellow artists of the Oct. 7 murders and rapes by Hamas.

One of the turning points for many Jewish artists was a pro-Palestinian protest by several actors, including the son of Hugo Weaving, at the Sydney Theatre Company, in which they donned keffiyehs and made a pro-Palestine speech at the end of a production. Jews were offended not because the actors decried the deaths of Palestinian children but rather because the actors said not a word about the Israeli hostages, including a baby, held by Hamas as well as Hamas’s mass murder of 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7.

Based largely on an influx of Holocaust survivors after World War Two, there are just 100,000 Jews in Australia, or 0.4 percent of the population. The community is so small that ‘Jewish’ isn’t listed as a religion on the national census. Jews have to write their religion next to the word “Other.” Some leave it blank, remembering how such information was used by the Nazis for deportation lists to concentration camps.

Now there are new lists; lists of names stolen from Jewish chat groups circulating among pro-Hamas activists. They have become hit lists of Jews for doxxing, boycotts, and death threats. Meanwhile, police have done little to stem the hate, arson, vandalism and calls for violence paraded on Australian streets,

When screenshots of a Whatsapp group of Jewish lawyers were leaked to Australia’s The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the newspapers ran articles filled with antisemitic tropes that could have been pulled from the pages of the Nazi newspaper Der Sturmer during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. The articles claimed a “secret chat group” of Jewish lawyers had carried out a “coordinated back-channel campaign” to fire a social media personality and pro-Palestine activist hired as a radio presenter by the ABC public broadcaster, which has a statutory duty requiring impartiality. Chat group members received death threats after the articles were released.

The newspapers put a conspiratorial spin on what was in essence a few people on a Whatsapp group spontaneously deciding to write letters of complaint over an eyebrow-raising appointment of an activist at a taxpayer-funded public broadcaster. The activist, Antoinette Lattouf, had put up social media posts perceived as justifying the Oct. 7 massacre.

“Apparently everyone else can lobby on their own behalf except Jews,” posted a Jewish former politician, Philip Dalidakis, on X when the articles came out.

Lattouf was subsequently stood down by the ABC for breaching its social media code. She claimed that she was fired over a Human Rights Watch post, and has sued for unfair dismissal. The matter is still pending. Lattouf’s activism and pro-Palestine social media commentary raise important questions about why she was hired at all given the ABC’s strict impartiality requirement. Her social media posts have included an Instagram comment hailing as “super important” a call for a “healthy cynicism” of witness testimony of the rape of Israeli women on Oct. 7.

Lattouf was also a signatory on a controversial journalists’ letter—signed also by staff at the ABC and the newspapers that ran the Jewish chat group story—that demanded journalists be allowed to “apply as much professional skepticism when prioritizing or relying on uncorroborated Israeli government and military sources to shape coverage as applied to Hamas.”

The demand goes against journalistic best practice as it requires reporters give the same credence to the information provided by a democracy with courts, oversight, a free press, and other checks and balances as to a terrorist group whose spokesmen hide in the tunnels of Gaza. A case in point being Hamas’s now disproven claims that Israel bombed Gaza’s al-Ahli Hospital on Oct. 17 when it was a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket that hit the hospital parking lot. There’s no record of any media organization confronting Hamas about its falsehood, which sparked violent protests across the Middle East. Perhaps that’s because the Hamas spokesman is incommunicado in a tunnel deep underground somewhere in the Gaza Strip.

The Age has provided little coverage of the rise in antisemitism in Melbourne. Instead, it’s issued a series of articles positing whether Israel should exist or become a binational state as was Lebanon before the civil war ended that experiment for good, resulting in the exile of the bulk of the Maronite Christian community and Lebanon’s takeover by the Iranian-proxy Hezbollah.

Home to the survivors whose stories featured in The Tattooist of Auschwitz and Schindler’s List, the Australian city of Melbourne has the largest community of Holocaust survivors and their descendants in the world outside of Israel. The community thrived until Oct. 7. Since then, Melbourne’s Jews, like the rest of Australia’s Jewish community, have been hounded by calls to boycott Jewish businesses, vilification of Jewish philanthropists who donated wings to hospitals and collections to art galleries, as well as daily acts of vandalism and threats and occasional violence.

For many Australian Jews, post Oct. 7 Australia has shades of 1930s Germany in which Jewish artists and academics were shunned by their peers, newspapers treated Jews as “Other,” and Jewish businesses were boycotted and attacked in what turned out to be a prelude to the Holocaust. While few think it will ever get that bad, Jews have never felt so unsafe and unwelcome in the land Down Under.

Megan Goldin is a former Middle East correspondent and Asia editor with Reuters. She now lives in Australia and is the bestselling author of The Night Swim, Stay Awake and other psychological thrillers.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.