Another day, another crop o’ crazy from The Australian on the issue of anti-Semitism. After the atrocious bashing of an orthodox Jewish family in Sydney on the weekend — and a grandstanding and attention-seeking piece about it on Mamamia — the Oz burst forth with a large piece, concerning “two incidents on the weekend have … caused Jewish leaders to question whether complacency is creeping back into society…” etc etc. Two incidents? The first was a vicious physical attack that hospitalised adults and children. The second?

“On Friday, in the heat of of an election forum for UNSW SRC, two drama club students … danced around a political opponent, Jake Campbell, doing Nazi salutes and singing Springtime for Hitler.”

Campbell is from Labor Unity, and I’m guessing the drama students were of a leftish persuasion, so it’s a straight case of Godwin’s Law*, right? Wrong. Campbell was Jewish, took to Facebook to protest this anti-Semitic baiting, and the drama students grovelled in apology. They were in a production of The Producers, created by the well-known Methodist comedian Mel Brooks, they explained. They didn’t even know Campbell was Jewish. Campbell accepted their apology and said he “didn’t believe the incident was racially motivated” (by which of course he means “religiously”, since Jews aren’t a race — and thinking they are is, well, kinda the root of the problem of anti-Semitism).

So we have an “incident”, which even the “target” does not now believe was anti-Semitic, and this is equated with a vicious bashing of people who were clearly targeted for being identifiable as Jewish (they were orthodox, and walking to temple, according to news reports). That is a nonsense, but it gets worse. The article’s authors — Ean Higgins and Jared Owens — then write:

“They [the bashing and the SRC ‘incident’] occurred within hours of each other, in the same city, and have led Jewish leaders in Australia and Israel to question whether complacency over anti-Semitism is starting to creep back …”

Really? Community leaders in Australia and Israel have been conferring over a dumb SRC election joke? Really? Of course not. Neither of the authorities cited in the article — Ernie Friedlander, head of the anti-discrimination unit of B’nai B’rith, and Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council spokesman Jeremy Jones — give any indication the incident was presented to them. The article gets a quote from Australasian Union of Jewish Students and the Exec Council of Australian Jewry on the University of New South Wales “incident”, but they do not appear to have been asked about the bashing.

Perhaps Higgins and Owens can tell us if they were, but is it faintly possible that any or all of these people might have objected to the equation of a vicious assault with a dumb, misplaced joke? Is it possible that the paper is only interested in this attack on five human beings so as to further its agenda on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign? This is disgusting cynicism, displaying no real interest in the suffering of the bashing victims — indeed, negating its seriousness by rolling it into a campaign over a stupid uni politics moments.

Indeed, the article is distinctly odd in its construction of the events. Take the first para of the article, where Higgins and Owens suggest the incidents show “complacency over anti-Semitism is starting to creep back”. Well, the bashing isn’t an incident of “complacency” over anti-Semitism, it is anti-Semitism. In the raw. The “complacency” word is there so that Higgins and Owens can co-opt the incident to the Oz‘s favourite cause, identifying the BDS campaign as “anti-Semitic”. In effect, they don’t give much of a damn about the humanity of the bashing victims, as long as their suffering can be conscripted to a political campaign. You could multiply the weirdnesses here. Do we know anything of the politics of the bashing victims? Maybe they were ultra-orthodox anti-Zionist (or non-Zionist) Jews? What if Satmar Hasidics — who support the BDS campaign — had been attacked? Would that be anti-Semites attacking anti-Semites? It’s all so difficult when real people are involved.

Jake Campbell from UNSW Student Representative Council clarified his view that the incident was not “racially [sic] motivated” because he “didn’t want to ruin [the drama students’] lives”. He shows far more humanity and common sense than the Oz, which is determined to hang something in the archive that can come back against them at any time. All just another example of the Oz‘s everyday political nihilism.

For some final good sense, let’s go to Friedlander from B’nai B’rith. He warns that some people in Australia will not shed their “tribal outlook”. Oh, um, OK. A politics based on a tribal ethos. Where would that lead?

*First person to mention Hitler has lost the argument (actually the original version is that if any internet comment thread continues for a sufficient length of time, the chance of someone mentioning Hitler rise to 100%)

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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