The owner and publisher of Australia’s only Jewish newspaper has been accused of “hate speech” and vilifying Muslims in article calling for Jews to be less compassionate towards asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

In last week’s edition of Australian Jewish News, published weekly in Melbourne and Sydney, property developer Robert Magid wrote that Jewish Australians should not support “illegal immigration” because of the collective memory of Jews trying to escape the Holocaust:

“The Jews who fled the Holocaust fled certain death. I doubt whether there is a single boat person in that position. Some may have fled a war zone or limited economic opportunities while others are seeking an easy life.”

Magid went on to argue that Muslim immigration was likely to lead to social disruption and an increased risk of terrorist attacks:

“Just last week, a Muslim husband and wife were convicted of planning a terror attack against Jews in Manchester … Obviously, if al-Qaeda or another jihad organisation wished to create a network of terrorists in Australia, undocumented illegal immigration would ensure the Australian authorities had no way of verifying their bona fides.”

Magid’s article has ignited a heated debate within sections of the Jewish community, with almost 350 people signing an open letter, organised by the left-leaning Australian Jewish Democratic Society, calling for the newspaper to apologise.

Jordy Silverstein, an AJDS member from Melbourne, told Crikey the article was “absurd and offensive”: “It’s pure politics and hate speech.”

Ralph Genende, a Caulfield rabbi and vice-president of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, has also spoken out against the article.

“Unlike Robert Magid in this week’s Australian Jewish News, I do not believe there are limits to compassion,” he wrote on the online Jewish magazine Galus Australis. “I take pride in being part of a people who put people and compassion first. Compassion or chesed (loving kindness) informs us, it is the imprimatur of our people, pride of our past, and guarantee of our future.”

Magid did not respond to requests for comment this morning. AJN editor Zeddy Lawrence, who estimates the weekly paper has a readership of 70,000, says he plans to address the issue in this week’s editorial.

“We publish lots of things people don’t agree with,” he told Crikey. “That doesn’t mean we were wrong to publish it … People who read the paper know we’re quite liberal on the whole in our sentiments.

“Had he not been publisher of the newspaper, people probably wouldn’t have reacted so strongly. They would have just seen it as a rant.”

Peter Fray

Inoculate yourself against the spin

Get Crikey for just $1 a week and support our journalists’ important work of uncovering the hypocrisies that infest our corridors of power.

If you haven’t joined us yet, subscribe today to get your first 12 weeks for $12 and get the journalism you need to navigate the spin.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW