By Vic Alhadeff
The Sydney Morning Herald
24 July, 2020
“Holohoax … six million lies” … “i would luv to see them Jews … publicly hung” … And in response to a report that almost half of the Jewish sites in Syria had been destroyed or damaged, this gem: “Good payback for all the deaths to these innocent people … reap what you sew filth, from the river to the sea Palestine will be free.”
These disturbing contributions are a random selection of the more palatable – it’s all relative – anti-Semitic messages posted on the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ Facebook site in recent days. And don’t think the author sought to conceal his name. Far from it: he was content to identify himself as he peddled his vitriol.
Not that it would have excused the offensiveness, but the posts had nothing to do with either the pandemic or the Black Lives Matter movement, both of which have attracted bizarre anti-Semitic elements, blaming Jews for spreading the virus and accusing Israel – with zero basis in reality – of teaching American police officers to kill black citizens.
These Facebook posts were “merely” hateful rhetoric from a man tossing out such pejorative terms as “Kike” and “Yid’ while threatening another Holocaust. The Board of Deputies lodged a complaint with the police, who sent detectives to the perpetrator’s home to warn him that they would be monitoring his activities, their response based on classifying his comments as “harassment” under federal telecommunications legislation.
Days later, the board was contacted by a teacher at a public school, informing us that a Year 10 student had been persistently asking teachers if they were Jewish; if they were, he announced, he would kill them as he was a Nazi. The school suspended him for six days.
And that episode was followed by the following heartfelt cry by a 15-year-old Jewish student at a private school – a school where a spate of anti-Semitic incidents has been perpetrated in recent months. This in Australia 2020:
“Hi Vic,” she emailed, “Unfortunately since the beginning of the year … things have only worsened at [name of school deleted]. I am currently in the process of leaving the school, this being one of the reasons. Since March, I’ve been threatened by a girl in my year for being Jewish, my brother has been witness to graphic anti-Semitism, and seeing swastikas/Nazi salutes is an almost daily occurrence. There was one incident my brother (year seven) experienced where a boy was drawing Josef Mengele and discussed ‘dissecting Jews’. One of my history teachers (different from last time) also compared Palestinian terrorism to Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. I try as hard as possible to not make myself a target. I don’t ‘flaunt’ my Jewishness. I avoid wearing my Star of David. In fact, I hardly discuss it unless it’s my close friends but somehow it persists.”
The Board of Deputies is exploring constructive ways forward with the school authorities. Appallingly, we are fielding an alarming spike in anti-Semitism, these examples giving a sense of what is out there in two of the most fraught and fertile environments – social media and schools, both arenas giving perpetrators automatic access to significant numbers of vulnerable recipients.
In most cases reported to us, we seek a combination of constructive, rehabilitative and, where appropriate, punitive responses. In most involving schools, the relevant authorities are amenable to exploring a range of remedial options. Where mainstream media are concerned, the response is, similarly, mostly productive. Where the offence occurs on social media, however, it’s a far more resistant battleground, with greater latitude frequently allowing hurtful and bigoted messaging to be disseminated.
If it crosses the line to incitement to violence on the basis of race, religion, gender or sexual identity, one can invoke Section 93Z of the NSW Crimes Act – a law enacted in 2018 after the three-year Keep NSW Safe campaign which the Board of Deputies spearheaded. Fortunately, that legislation has not needed to be invoked, yet.
If that need arises, the police will come knocking, as our recent correspondent discovered.
Vic Alhadeff is chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.