Is it time?

Living at the edge of the ‘yellow zone’

When the current war ends, there will be no reason for street demonstrations and university encampments. Jews will no longer be news and the public sphere will be less shrill.

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott has expressed his comfort with Jewish students' "discomfort" on campus. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor Mark Scott has expressed his comfort with Jewish students' "discomfort" on campus. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

At a recent dinner I asked a federal cabinet minister what he thought about the antisemitism Australia is experiencing. He replied that the advice he was receiving made it clear that when the Israel-Hamas war was over, things would calm down. I then asked him what he thought this antisemitism was doing to Australia. He avoided it by reiterating that things would eventually “calm down”.

I related this conversation to a senior Jewish community professional and their response to me was “this is what we hear all the time from government”.

This is the Isaiah response (“Go, my people, enter your chambers/And lock your doors behind you./Hide but a little moment,/Until the indignation passes.” Isaiah 26:20)

Secure yourselves and just wait it out. When the current war ends, there will be no reason for street demonstrations and university encampments. Jews will no longer be news and the public sphere will be less shrill.

But what if the governments and public sector advisers are wrong?

We know from our long history that antisemitism once unleashed does not return to “normal”. It resets the status quo at a new level of ignorance that tolerates this abhorrent behaviour. What does this mean for the Jewish community of Australia? Is it still safe here in Australia, or is it time to leave?

Our Jewish Australian experience since October 7 has been and continues to be fraught. The assault on our community is real and we need to be clear-eyed about what it signals. We need to address the subconscious questions we all know Jewish families are asking themselves about the viability of the Australian Jewish community.

Joe Gersh has called out the ABC.
Photo: Facebook

On the one hand, Government listens to the community. We have excellent access to decision makers and advisers. From the Prime Minister down, they have all expressed horror at the antisemitism afflicting Australia and on a variety of occasions called out and condemned the antisemitism sweeping across the community including the assault on MPs’ offices. Significant government funds are being invested in upgrading community security.

While security measures do need upgrading, there is something chilling about building walls around shules and schools (I shudder when I think of the historical word). By virtue of this requirement for our own safety, are the haters winning by forcing us into closed-off community institutions?

The exception in the political sphere are the Greens. Their distaste and disregard for the Jewish community, and individual cases of outright antisemitism, is a shameful stain on Australian society.

Overall, our rights as Australians are being protected and Government is standing with us. Nothing disastrous has yet occurred. Government may not act the way we would like, but it has not turned against us.

However, key institutions of civil society have forsaken the Jewish community.

One-time ABC board member Joe Gersh recently asked the powerful question (AJN 31/05) why didn’t our national broadcaster commission a documentary on the rise of antisemitism in Australia? Why was it left to Sky News to do this? This is one of the year’s biggest and most heart-wrenching stories about Australian society and the ABC’s silence is deafening. As Joe wrote, the ABC “may well be part of the problem”.

That the Global Affairs Editor of the ABC is the author of a book highly critical of Israel and highly critical of and suspicious about Jewish community leadership makes him biased and unfit to lead coverage on the Israel-Hamas war.

Like the ABC, SBS, the national multicultural broadcaster and the Fairfax press, are a disaster for our community. The news they share is loaded, and demonises Israel, and avoids any conversation about the aggressive antisemitism perpetrated in the name of multiculturalism. If anything, so-called reporting delegitimises Israel and in so doing fuels the hate assaulting the Jewish community.

Major universities have succumbed to the pro-Hamas protesters. Sydney University is the very worst of a sore bunch. Vice-chancellor Mark Scott, a past ABC managing director and Fairfax editorial director, has expressed his comfort with the “discomfort” Jewish students are experiencing on campus while agreeing to protester demands to “review” research ties with Israel. When protesters scream “from the river to the sea” – a call for eugenic extermination – we must understand, according to VC Mark Scott, that while this is a mere “discomfort” for the Jewish community, it is one that is acceptable to the university.

One wonders if similar calls for discrimination against First Nations, Islamic, or LGBTQIA+ people would be so tolerated.

The list of appeasers reviewing ties with Israel includes universities in every city including the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and Canberra’s ANU. This is the country where a year 12 student says to the Deputy Prime Minister their choice of a university will be based on safety, not pedigree.

We have lost the union movement too. The ACTU and nearly every individual union in Australia, once intimate friends of Israel under Bob Hawke, support the aggressive protests and seek to boycott not just Israel but “Zionist” businesses in Australia. The National Tertiary Education Union in particular is vicious in its antisemitism and aggressive in its push for an academic boycott of all things Israel.

The Jewish creative community is in a world of pain. Jewishness is the mark of Cain so clearly illustrated in February 2024, when a group of pro-Hamas activists shared a leaked transcript of a private WhatsApp group of over 600 people called “J.E.W.I.S.H creatives and academics”, doxxing hundreds of Jewish people working in academia and creative industries by leaking their names, images, professions and social media accounts. And then the aggressors defended their actions as in the public interest because they were defending pro-Palestinian activists! Orwell would be proud.

Social media is a vein of endless poison. An endless barrage of violent imagery, fakery and hate.

The women’s movement. Silent in the face of the continued use of sexual violence against Israeli women. As my wife Louisa, who has fought the feminist cause her whole life, said to me recently, “How can I as a Jewish woman ever again trust the feminist movement? I can’t.”

And then the annual Melbourne Yom Ha’atzmaut cocktail party in Melbourne. Forget that the Victorian Premier did not want to officially toast Israel. That is a side issue to a much bigger problem. While the Premier did eventually attend in the end, her instinct was to not inflame community tension by saluting Israel. Not salute Bibi, nor the IDF, just acknowledge and congratulate the State of Israel.

And then there is the matter of our police. Refusing to prosecute the various hate-speakers whose assault on the very foundations of tolerance and pluralism directly threaten the social contract upon which modern Australia was founded; a society in which the Jewish community has thrived and contributed so much.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan speaks at the Yom Ha’atzmaut cocktail event in Melbourne.
Photo: Peter Haskin

Another lowering of the threshold of acceptable behaviour. Another step toward the epigenic darkness only Jews know.

Experiencing the courage of our community, I know we will never cede ground to the haters, and we will fight for what is right: a fair and tolerant community where all community groups can live unthreatened and practise their religion and culture with pride. That is our duty and that is the call of the moment. We rally, we protest, we write and fight. We communicate our travails to all who seek to understand, and often the empathy is real.

But it is not enough. Our situation is not getting any better. More individuals in our community are having to hide their Jewishness in public places. The graffiti is getting worse, and there is more of it.

The issue is not about being alarmist or hysterical but realistic. It is easy to see the dark clouds of antisemitism. It is plainly harder to see things getting better without immediate actions to redress the current situation. And they are wanting.

The analogy I find useful in the current situation is what my running coach has taught me to do. When training for ultramarathons I use a traffic light system to indicate and respond to bodily stress: green means fine so keep on going, yellow signals bodily discomfort needing assessment, and red means stopping to avoid damage. I usually push through yellow, but if stress flares, I must consider stopping before I hit the red zone.

In a war in which Hamas seeks the extermination of the Jewish people, and which is openly supported by those elements of civil society that have turned against us, to be a Jew in Australia now is to live in the yellow zone. While we have the strength and spirit to push through, we recognise the historic signals that inform us we are at a dangerous tipping point.

The question is no longer if we should go, but if this keeps up, when will it be time to do so.

Adam Slonim is director of the Middle East Policy Forum, a founder of Labor Friends of Israel, and is writing a book The Gaslighting of Israel.

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