strength and resilience

At the forefront of the antisemitism battle

In front of me, I saw a community united in solidarity. I saw a group of people who contribute to all aspects of society.

JCA president Ian Sandler. Photo: Giselle Haber
JCA president Ian Sandler. Photo: Giselle Haber

Almost two weeks ago, our local Jewish community came together under the Opera House sails to support JCA. We were joined by some of our state and federal politicians, all allies and strong community advocates. With formalities over, I looked around the Opera House and took a moment to consider the scene.

In front of me, I saw a community united in solidarity. I saw a group of people who contribute to all aspects of society. A community that looks inward and outward – supporting fellow Jews and other communities and causes. A community that is genuinely embracing the essence of tikkun olam. And yet, despite all this, we must fight to be regarded as integrated and respected members of our broader society here in Australia and globally.

Six months ago, the unthinkable happened on the steps of the national icon where we gathered. Two days after the most horrific attack against Jews since the Holocaust, a group of people filled with hate, fuelled by racism, and emboldened by antisemitic rhetoric, defaced not only the Israeli flag but the very essence of what it is to be Australian. This incident marked the beginning of a warped narrative that has taken hold against our community and our people. Now, we are a community that not only has to justify the existence of the state of Israel, but we are also fighting to categorically reject and denounce a growing and vicious antisemitism with every fibre of our being.

As the president of JCA, I know that as a community, we cannot afford to remain silent in the face of this hatred. Silence only emboldens the aggressors and perpetuates discrimination and violence.

Keynote speaker at our event, Dr Sharon Nazarian, who is a national board member of the Anti-Defamation League and a global expert on antisemitism, stated, “In all my years as a professional combating antisemitism around the globe, I have never witnessed a moment when literally every Jewish community uses the same adjectives when describing the state of their community. From Europe to North America to Latin America, to Africa and to Oceania, we feel traumatised, in shock, fearful, betrayed, abandoned and gaslit. And more than anything, we are all trying to make sense of what we are witnessing in our cities, on our university campuses, in our governments and political parties, in our centres of culture.

“Regardless our community’s history or ideological stance – we all understand with greater clarity that there is no longer a question that anti-Zionism is antisemitism. That Israel is the proverbial Jew among nations, that we as Jewish citizens of our countries are under attack and the masks are off. Whether assaulting our businesses, harassing our worshippers, or intimidating our students on campuses, the pro-Palestinian mobs don’t bother to distinguish between anti-Israel policies and anti-Jewish hatred. We must take them at their word.”

At JCA, for years, we’ve been funding organisations and programs at the forefront of this battle. We know that education is our most potent defence in this fight. We must educate ourselves, our children, and the larger population about the history of antisemitism, its pernicious effects, and the importance of tolerance, empathy and mutual respect.

But education alone is not enough. We must also work tirelessly to advocate for policies and laws that protect the rights and safety of Jewish individuals and communities. We must hold our leaders and institutions accountable for ensuring that antisemitism has no place in our society, whether it be in schools, workplaces, or public spaces.

Hosting JCA’s 2024 campaign event at the Opera House did not come about coincidentally. We chose to host it there to reclaim this national icon as a symbol of our solidarity. It was an affirmation of the strength of a community that won’t be beaten down in the face of rising hatred that is an anathema to the fundamental values of our democratic society.

I know the path ahead will not be easy but let us draw inspiration from the fortitude of those who came before us, who faced persecution and adversity with unwavering courage, determination and dignity.

As a strong, united Jewish community, let us build a future where antisemitism and all forms of racism and discrimination are relegated to the garbage bin of history, where our children can grow up free from fear of persecution and violence.

As our event concluded, Alexander Downer, in conversation with Stephen Harper, said, “I want you to go away knowing that people like us offer huge support to the Jewish community and the Jewish people.”

The support of our allies and friends and the dedicated financial backing of donors over 57 years have placed us in a solid position to keep our community safe, secure, represented and connected.

Am Yisrael chai, it is an honour to serve this community.

Ian Sandler is president of JCA NSW & ACT.

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