Is the ABC part of the problem?

In an interview with Sharri Markson on May 16, I offered a sad and damning explanation. The ABC is not part of the solution because it may well be part of the problem.

It is time for the ABC to act. Photo:
It is time for the ABC to act. Photo:

The announcement of Josh Frydenberg’s brave and forthright Sky News documentary – Never Again: The Fight Against Antisemitism (aired on Tuesday, May 28) triggered a question for me.

Why was such an important documentary commissioned by Sky News and not our national broadcaster? Why has the ABC largely failed to cover the exponential rise in antisemitism in Australia since October 7? Why is the ABC largely silent whilst, for the first time in living memory, the viability of Jewish life in Australia is seriously under question?

In an interview with Sharri Markson on May 16, I offered a sad and damning explanation. The ABC is not part of the solution because it may well be part of the problem.

I reached this conclusion with some reluctance, having served as an ABC director (2018-2023) and as a vocal advocate for a strong and independent ABC and against calls for its defunding or privatisation.

As I said on the Sharri Markson program, we have reached an inflection point in the Australian public discourse.

Manifestations of antisemitism have risen exponentially and with an intensity which the Australian Jewish community has never before experienced.

Many in our community have drawn comparisons with pre-war Nazi Germany. But Australia in 2024 is not Nazi Germany. In pre-war Germany discrimination, exclusion and incitement against Jews were all enshrined in law and conducted by instruments of state.

Joe Gersh dinkus

In Australia, discrimination against Jews is prohibited by law, as is exclusion and incitement; laws which are to be strengthened imminently. Our political leaders have spoken out against the rise of antisemitism (with a lesser or greater degree of conviction) as have many others from all walks of life.

And to be clear, criticism of the Israeli government – whether well founded or otherwise – is not antisemitism But calling for the destruction of the Jewish state (“from the river to the sea”) is a fundamentally antisemitic proposition.

The response to Israel’s defensive war has been – to a considerable extent at least – antisemitic. Whether by campus “activists”, in the arts, by trade unions, by the vile language of many demonstrators, by the threats of violence, intimidation, graffiti, hate literature or boycotts of Jewish businesses – there is no other reasonable explanation.

It has even somewhat amazingly, extended to Jewish philanthropy on the pretext that the benefactors are supporters of Israel.

As someone who has participated in Jewish leadership over the years, I am proud of the way the Jewish community has responded – strong and united. Our communal and Zionist organisations, our rabbis, our advocacy groups, our impressive student leadership and countless private individuals – whether as philanthropists, board members or thought leaders – have spoken out and not allowed themselves to be intimidated.

But the sheer scale of the tide of hate has taken me aback. Many of the so-called pro-Palestinian advocates are accessing a hatred and anger against Jewish people which feels less circumstantial than visceral.

How else do you explain an Australian student physically attacking an 84-year-old woman on her way to a peaceful demonstration with the words “Zionist pig”?

How else do you explain advocates of artistic freedom “doxxing” Jewish creatives? How else do you explain advocates of free speech silencing Jewish academics by intimidation? How else do you explain Mardi Gras turning on Jewish activists in favour of “Queers for Palestine” advocating for a place where gay life is a death sentence? Or worst of all women advocating for rape (and indeed worse) with the excuse “whatever it takes”?

There is a word for it: antisemitism.

This disinhibition – behaviour untethered from the norm – this inversion of history and language (in which the victims of genocide are accused of it as a crime) is what made the rise of Nazism possible. And although we are a long way from that in Australia, the signs are clear. It is right – and timely – for Josh Frydenberg to call it out.

Which brings me to the ABC.

John Lyons is Global Affairs Editor at the ABC. His is the most frequent voice on the current Israel–Hamas war. He is an experienced and knowledgeable journalist, but also the author of a book highly critical of Israel and a monograph scathing about the leadership of the Jewish community and our advocacy group. How can he possibly be suitable to lead the ABC’s Israel–Gaza coverage, requiring as its charter does, impartiality?

Worse still, when ABC management sought to enforce its social media policy (without which editorial standards are essentially unenforceable), Lyons – in an unprofessional and disloyal manner – organised 200 of his colleagues to participate in a vote of “no confidence” in the ABC MD, David Anderson. This performative gesture was destined to be ineffective (as indeed it was) but it was indicative of the strength of his unrestrained bias, and perhaps that of many of his colleagues.

In this atmosphere, is it any wonder that our public broadcaster has been so captivated (or perhaps intimidated) by “the woke” that it cannot call out the re-emergence of an ancient hatred?

This is not the Australia I believe most Australians want. I do not believe it is the Australia which the leadership of the ABC wants. It is time to act.

The ABC needs to be front and centre in the fight against antisemitism in Australia. The Jewish community is entitled to expect nothing less.

Joe Gersh is a businessman, lawyer and philanthropist. He was an ABC director from 2018 to 2023.

read more: