Idyllic beaches, a laid back lifestyle and anti-Semitism don’t normally go together in the public mind. 

Hillary Bray writes:

Hippies are into love, peace and all that, aren’t they.  Not necessarily.

Wander into your local newsagent and have a look at the new age mags.  There’s every chance that you’ll find a publication called Nexus there.  It’s local.

Flick through a copy and you’ll soon see it’s not all whale songs and Hopi wisdom.  There are conspiracy theories in there that are so bizarre that you’ll swear their authors’ drug consumption makes Ken Kesey and his merry pranksters look as abstemious as Mormons.

That’s the extreme end – but there have been growing concerns in much public debate over recent years about the blurring of the lines between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.  The events of the past 12 months have done nothing for this.

Much of this criticism comes from the political left – a group who proliferate on the New South Wales north coast.

Coverage of the issue in the community newspaper the Byron Shire Echo has turned into a full scale brawl between the publication and the Jewish community – and ended up provoking this report from the Jewish lobby group the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission:

ADC Special Report

A periodic publication of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission Inc.
No.16, January 2004

Editor’s Introduction

In welcoming you to the ADC’s first Special Report of 2004, I want to wish all of our readers a peaceful and happy new year.

You will recall our previous issue, The Australian Left and Anti-Semitism, by Dr Philip Mendes. Among the subjects examined by Dr Mendes were issues related to The Byron Shire Echo, a community newspaper published weekly in Byron Shire, NSW.

In March 2003, according to Dr Mendes, The Echo published various anti-Semitic letters that attracted protests from some readers. Dr Mendes continued, “But perhaps what was most concerning was the reaction of the consulting editor, David Lovejoy. Instead of acknowledging that the letters were racist and should never have been published in a mainstream let alone left-wing newspaper, he attacked the motives of the protesters. According to Lovejoy, Jews who protested anti-Semitism were no better than the far Right racists who propagated anti-Semitism, and were simply trying to silence criticism of Israel”.

These words brought a strong response from Mr Lovejoy. I offered to publish his reply, or an expanded version if he so wished (he agreed to the former). I told him that I would give Dr Mendes an opportunity to respond, and that I also would seek comments by someone who could represent the views of the Byron Jewish community.

Rainbow Kehilah is the only Jewish organisation in that region. It is described as “an umbrella, a rainbow, for all Jews, from secular to orthodox” by Julie Nathan, its co-Chair, who kindly agreed to write a piece on this matter. Ms Nathan has consulted widely, and considers her article accurately reflects the views of the Byron Shire Jewish community.
Ms Nathan has lived in the Byron area for five years, and works for Amnesty International. She is the former President of Richmond Federal Electorate Council of the ALP, and currently a member of Byron Ballina Greens. Ms Nathan has been involved in Aboriginal reconciliation, and has over many years given talks on Judaism and Jewish history to students and community groups.

The views expressed are those of the respective authors, and do not necessarily reflect those of the ADC. If any readers have questions or comments, please contact me at [email protected]

Geoffrey Zygier
Editor
B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission Publications


The Echo Controversy

Letter from David Lovejoy (email, 19 November 2003)

Dear Mr Zygier,

Someone has sent me a copy of ‘ADC Special Report No. 15, November 2003’ by Dr Philip Mendes.

I am horrified by the dishonest treatment Dr Mendes metes out to The Byron Shire Echo and myself in this publication. Insofar as I am portrayed as an individual who says Jews who protest against anti-Semitism are no better than the far right racists who propagate anti-Semitism, the essay is clearly libellous. I have never written, said, or even thought, such a thing.

What I have said is that labelling criticism of Israeli government actions as ‘anti-Semitism’ is an intellectually dishonest way of avoiding serious analysis of the Middle East conflict, and that such dishonesty is widespread in the US media. From this publication one could conclude that it flourishes also in the ranks of the B’nai B’rith ADC.

The statement that ‘the paper published a number of virulently anti-Semitic letters some of which were penned by well-known far Right extremists’ is both an exaggeration of the content of these letters and a falsehood about their origin. The Echo is a local paper and the views published are local views; we would never have the space, much less the motive, to publish ‘well-known far Right extremists’.

However, selective out-of-context quotation can create an impression of extremism, and this your author has done. Selective quotation could also convict The Echo of supporting unfettered development in Byron Bay, the re-election of John Howard and the detention of asylum seekers. I note that you have made the standard disclaimer ‘The views expressed are Dr Mendes’ own, and do not necessarily reflect those of the ADC’ – a distinction between publisher and author which is not apparently allowed to The Echo, although that distinction is even more crucial in the case of unsolicited letters.

We try to allow every shade of opinion some space in the letters pages of The Echo. Dr Mendes’s thumbnail (‘the paper has strong leanings to the Labor party and Greens’) is as inaccurate as the rest of his essay: the paper was founded in 1986 because the counter culture settlers of Byron Shire had no voice in the conservative local press. It was and remains a fierce defender of liberty, not a vehicle for party politics. That means we often publish letters completely antithetical to our editorial view. Since, for example, one of the sillier letters referred to the ‘Protocols of Zion’ we made a point of stating editorially that these documents have long been known to be forgeries.

Finally, we did not publish letters ‘vilifying’ Jews. We published letters, some thoughtful, some silly, criticising Zionism. Contrary to your author’s belief we would publish letters critical of, say, Muslim theology or Aboriginal politics. We did not, and do not, publish the racist ‘League of Rights’ style letters that we receive from time to time, just as we did not publish the virulently racist letters from a small group of ex-army Israelis living in Byron Bay.

The Byron Shire Echo does not defend or ignore anti-Semitism or any other manifestation of racism. Denigrating or oppressing a human being for his or her religion, culture or ethnicity is as profoundly unacceptable to this newspaper as it is to any civilised person. It is precisely because anti-Semitism is so repulsive an attitude that baseless accusations of it provoke anger. I presume Dr Mendes is Jewish; what he apparently is not is left wing: how convenient then that his political opponents can be smeared by his superficial and biased commentary.

Yours sincerely
David Lovejoy
Managing Editor
Byron Shire Echo

Response to David Lovejoy by Philip Mendes

David Lovejoy is being totally disingenuous. This episode began when the Byron Bay Echo published a number of letters pushing traditional anti-Jewish conspiracy theories dressed up as anti-Zionism. A number of Jewish readers made public and private approaches to the editor on this issue. Their concern was not around defending Zionism or particular Israeli policies, but rather about protesting overt anti-Semitism.

Instead of acknowledging the legitimacy of such concerns, Mr Lovejoy attacked the messenger, and sought to divert the debate back to the Middle East. In his Editorial comment of 11 March, he accused his critics of attempting to defend the actions of “bad Jews” including those “Jews in the US government working not just for Israel, but directly for the right wing side of politics in Israel”. Given that many Jews in Byron Shire oppose both the Sharon Government and the US war in Iraq, this is a red herring at best.

In his Editorial of 1 April he went even further, arguing that there were two extremes: those who believed in a Jewish conspiracy, and those who “believed that any view critical of Jewish people, and particularly of Israel, represent a pathological anti-Semitism, and should be crushed without further discussion”. In short, anti-Semites and those who protest anti-Semitism are as bad as each other.

Whilst Mr Lovejoy consistently describes this as a controversy about Zionism (1 April Editorial), it is in fact a debate about the ethnic stereotyping of an often-victimized minority group.


The counter-culture encounters the Zionists: Julie Nathan

Tuesday is Echo day in Byron Shire. My ritual for years has been to drop my son at school, then pick up a copy of the Echo before its public distribution.

Tuesday 4 March 2003 was no different. It was the middle of the NSW election campaign. I was keen to check the latest political output, from the Greens, Labor, Nationals, and the only independent, Nic Faulkner. Mr Faulkner had stood at the last federal election for The Great Australians (TGA), a party not dissimilar to The League of Rights.

As I turned the pages, the headline in big bold black jumped out at me: “War, banks and Zionism: a nasty mix”. The letter writer was Jim Inness whom I had met eighteen months before at one of Nic Faulkner’s political meetings. Mr Inness had told me he was a member of TGA, and then elaborated his views. He stated that Konrad Kalejs (accused war criminal) had been justified in killing Jews, as Communism was Jewish and therefore the Jews had killed many people. He added that the Jews control the world with their money.

Mr Inness’ letter was anti-Semitic conspiracy theory. He used the usual codeword; instead of ‘Jewish’ he wrote ‘Zionist’. This letter took up half a page. The Echo gives the title to letters. The Echo puts certain letters in a box to draw attention to them. The letter, its title, the box, were so conspicuous, the eye missed everything else on the page. I was shocked not only that the Echo would print this blatantly racist nonsense, but also give it such prominence.

On the next page was another strikingly titled and boxed letter, by Nic Faulkner. He mentioned “Zionist bankers…” Only the previous day, Mr Faulkner had stated to me his belief in the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, and explained how the Jews had started both World Wars, and now the Jews were preparing to start war with Iraq for the final Jewish takeover of the world.

What were the Echo editors doing? I assumed they did not know Mr Inness’ real beliefs, although the contents of the letter should have alerted them. But they knew of Mr Faulkner’s conspiracy theories. Perhaps the editors didn’t think. Perhaps they took the word ‘Zionist’ at face value. Perhaps….

I had been an Echo supporter for years. It was an icon in Byron Shire. The culture of the region was one of freedom and tolerance, and the local Jewish community felt accepted. The Echo seemed to exemplify this culture, catering to the left, the alternative and the environmental, although all mainstream views were aired. The Echo was our paper, a voice of progressive politics.

When a branch president of the ALP, I always had a good working relationship with the Echo. I felt respect for its editors; they had principles. I also felt a deep sense of appreciation for the Echo’s crucial role in helping us defend the integrity of the ALP in Richmond. Its activity gave this rural newspaper national media attention, from The Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the ABC and others, who read and quoted from the Echo.

After the Inness and Faulkner letters in the Echo, we had our committee meeting of Rainbow Kehilah, the Northern Rivers Jewish Community. The letters weighed heavily on our minds, but we had other pressing business – security. Pesach was coming, and we were busy organising for this major Jewish festival. War was also coming. During the first Iraq war, a quarter of all synagogues in Sydney were vandalised.

That year, 1991, out of all the countries in the world, Australia had the highest level of anti-Semitic activity since the Second World War. With Pesach and war, we had to face the necessity of security. At local anti-war rallies, I’d seen the slogans “F..k US, F..k Israel”. Israel was being implicated in the war. We too could be implicated because as Jews, we had a connection with Israel. The Echo letters had reinforced this. As co-chair of the Kehilah, I liaised with the regional and local police on security for Pesach. We decided on the need to have paid security guards.

The letters and articles continued for five long weeks. Last year there had been discussion in the Echo about the Arab/Israeli conflict. This time, however, it was a debate about Jews and their supposed influence.

The letters showed me how much ignorance there was about Jews, Zionism, and anti-Semitism, even in this politically aware community. The writers couldn’t distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and anti-Semitic racism against Jews. They couldn’t see that the term ‘Zionist’ was also a codeword used by anti-Semites to avoid racial vilification laws.

The Echo’s editors were knowledgeable about politics and the local community. Ignorance could not be an excuse. In an article on the state election candidates, Michael McDonald, one editor, appeared to be trying to get some reason and perspective back into the debate, warning people that Mr Faulkner was a conspiracy theorist and anti-Semite, citing the latter’s belief in the ‘Protocols’.

By publishing these letters, however, The Echo seemed to be promoting the conspiracy theory. Further, consulting editor David Lovejoy, wrote an article that linked American Jews and Bush’s war in Iraq. He referred readers to the Echo website, where he identified ten members of the Bush administration as Jews. This article remained on the website for over 3 months, giving it longer exposure than the printed word in the newspaper. I felt frustrated at his attitude.

Also on the website was a lengthy letter by Frank Coorey, a local lawyer. It had three themes: Jews were not Semites; Judaism is a cruel and blood-thirsty religion; and the equivalence of Judaism and Nazism. This also remained on the website for 3 months.

A number of objections were made. I could feel Mr Lovejoy’s anger with us, those Jews and non-Jews, who had objected to The Echo printing anti-Semitic letters, and for pushing the line of Jewish influence on the Bush administration. His reaction? “Nothing I have said warrants this kind of hysterical abuse.” He then reiterated the names of some Jewish members of the Bush administration, as though to drive home the point.

During that week of Echo letters, in Sydney there was graffiti reading “Kill the Jews”, and a synagogue was damaged by an arson attack. In Melbourne the Jewish Museum was vandalised. And Mr Lovejoy had implied in his article that there was no anti-Semitism in Australia because if there were, “the din would deafen J…..h [G-d]”! My heart sank at his ignorance.

A local Jew, a Holocaust survivor, made an official complaint about the Echo to the Racial Vilification Board. He had wanted the Kehilah to endorse this. As we had a policy of not being involved in political matters, being purely a religious and cultural organisation, we did not do so, despite believing he had a justified case.

We also felt vulnerable. We lived in the Byron community, and felt anxious that the Echo would view the Kehilah unfavourably if we endorsed his letter. We didn’t want more trouble.

Local Jews gathered to discuss the Echo material. We were outraged and indignant that there was such blatant anti-Semitism. We felt frustrated and powerless. We bitterly joked how we were termed ‘Byron’s Zionist cabal’, and at the irony of the rising racism in this ‘love and peace’ region.

One mother told of her anguish in having to explain the letters to her nine year old daughter. “Some people don’t like Jews.” “Why, mummy?” asked the little girl, whose grandparents had survived the Holocaust and emigrated to Australia so that she would never have to ask that question.

Comments were heard on local streets that “the Jews are behind the war” and “the Jews made a lot of money out of the Iraq war.” A friend summed up our feelings: “In Byron Bay, dolphins and rainbows for all, except Jews it seems.”

The other co-chair of Rainbow Kehilah wrote to David Lovejoy to explain our concerns, hoping he would understand. This letter was firm, yet with an opening for dialogue. However Mr Lovejoy’s response refused to acknowledge that the Echo had published anything inflammatory or racist. Even more than this, Mr Lovejoy stated “I now have no doubt at all that cries of ‘anti-Semitism’ are deliberately used by supporters of Israel’s rightwing government to muzzle and misdirect criticism.”

I was floored. There seemed no hope of reconciliation or of a resolution to the hurt. Mr Lovejoy himself was muzzling us with his line. If we argued it was anti-Semitism for Mr Inness to apparently believe the murder of 6 million Jews was justified, and for Mr Faulkner to believe in the ‘Protocols’, then Mr Lovejoy claimed we were diverting attention from criticism of Israel.

I am familiar with the Holocaust and the history of anti-Semitism. There had been violent attacks on Jewish community property over the last twelve years, and security guards had become a normal part of life for Jews in Australia. Despite this, I had felt that anti-Semitism was marginalised and isolated. The Echo material rammed home the insidiousness and pervasiveness of anti-Semitism. It was nurturing the seeds of hatred. We expected anti-Semitism from the far Right, but not from the Left.

The Echo episode galvanised some of us to work on exposing and countering anti-Semitism. While doing research for a speaker on anti-Semitism at the Human Rights Conference in Byron, I learnt how it is becoming popular again, a growth industry, and under the guise of attacking Zionism, anti-Semitism is becoming respectable.

Anti-Semitic propaganda and violence have skyrocketed world-wide over the last three years, but especially during the Iraq war, with the conspiracy theory that the Jews were behind the war. Propagandists and perpetrators were not only from the far Right, but also from the Left. Across the political spectrum politicians, and academics espoused anti-Jewish views, including in the mainstream media. The danger is that when conspiracy theories about Jews become an accepted view, amongst the elite and the general population, then the seeds for more terrible deeds are planted.

We began dialogue with non-Jews about anti-Semitism. We invariably came across the same responses: “There’s no anti-Semitism. Jews are just sensitive and paranoid” and “Jews are educated and wealthy. Jews don’t need help, they can look after themselves.” Some argued that it was Moslems and Arabs who were being victimised, as though racism was a competition and that only one group could be the victim. Others accused Israel of being the cause of anti-Semitism, a case of blaming the victim (anti-Semitism long predates the State of Israel which was established by the United Nations in response to anti-Semitism). We also came across open hostility and verbal abuse by those who paradoxically saw themselves as the defenders of human rights.

A non-Jewish left-wing friend explained to me, in relation to the Echo material, that the term ‘Zionist’ no longer refers to those supporting a Jewish state; now it is generally understood as meaning “that section of Jews in positions of influence, especially in the US government, who wish to control the world”. I felt we were back to the ‘Protocols’. It also meant that I, as a supporter of the right of the Jews to a state, could no longer be called a Zionist. The anti-Semites had taken our Hebrew word, with all its spirituality and hopes of freedom, and perverted it to use against us.

The Jews of Byron Shire would like the opportunity to explain anti-Semitism to the Echo editors so they will understand how it differs from criticism of Israel and Zionism, and know when the line is crossed. We are happy to listen; we also want to be heard.

We would like reconciliation with the Echo. We Jews want to feel a part of Byron again, and not be designated as the sinister ‘other’. We would again like to feel that the Echo not only embraces tolerance for all, but enhances our multi-cultural community.

I still ritually pick up the Echo each Tuesday at 8.30am. One day hopefully, the Echo again will be a true voice of an enlightened Byron community.

ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE BYRON BAY ECHO

A response from a veteran Middle East observer published in the Jan 16 sealed section:

“I was interested to see the ADC’s Bnai Brith complaining about the “anti semitic” Byron Echo. I have no idea if the Echo is anti semitic, but I do know that leaving that aside the ADC is drifting away from its stated agenda of “researching and combatting all forms of racism” and instead becoming another arm of the “Israel right or wrong” lobby, and in the process is guilty of racism itself.
 
The best evidence of this is an article ADC put out to its list by the increasingly extreme Isi Leibler. It was a long rant that centred on the theory that Palestinians didn’t deserve a state because the Palestinians (like Nazi Germany according to the article) were evil as a society. A whole society is evil… smells a bit like racism to me and it did to the number of Jewish ADC subscribers who complained about it. Why does ADC need to distribute a far right rant that might have come from the desk of Binyamin Netanyahu?”

ADC has not lost site of its charter

Dear Crikey,

Thank you for publishing our ADC Special Report No 16 on Byron Bay’s
Antisemitism last Thursday 15 January 2004.

We note with interest your anonymous respondent’s contribution the very next
day (Friday 16th) giving only the identity of “a veteran Middle East
observer” as authorship.

Your “observer” obviously objected strongly to the piece on the Byron Echo,
despite acknowledging that he/she has “no idea if the Echo is anti-semitic”.
Your anonymous observer has then seen fit to accuse the ADC of “drifting
away from its stated agenda of researching and combatting all forms of
racism”, “becoming another arm of the Israel right or wrong lobby” and thus
“guilty of racism itself”.

These are totally unfounded accusations made against a well-respected
organisation, known widely for its work in human rights and combatting
antisemitism and racism. If this observer or any reader is in doubt about
the breadth of our work in monitoring and exposing  racism, they should look
at our weekly ADC News Digest which summarises all forms of racism and
racist incidents globally, weekly, and yes, that’s all forms, not only
antisemitism. Over the past 25 years, we have also been at the forefront of
promoting positive relationships with other ethnic and religious
communities.

As for publishing other people’s opinions in our ADC Special Reports, yes,
we do that openly and broadly, always acknowledging that their opinions are
not necessarily our own. To call that racism, is sheer stupidity.
Thankfully, we know the difference as do most of our readers, subscribers
and supporters.

I invite any reader who would like to know more about the work of the
Anti-Defamation Commission, or to receive our electronic publications, to
contact us on 03 9527 1228 or email us at [email protected]

Yours sincerely,

Dr Julie Ruth
Executive Officer
Anti-Defamation Commission Inc.
PO Box 450
Caulfield South 3162 VIC

 

Peter Fray

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