The question that many people have asked me in recent months is: why can’t Australian leaders condemn antisemitism without mentioning Islamophobia in the same breath?
My answer has generally been that, regrettably, prejudice and hatred are not uniquely Jewish problems. Our community’s focus is rightly on preventing or combating antisemitism. But for our political leaders, acting to stamp out racism and vilification is a broader objective, which, hopefully, our community will benefit from.
More and more though, my answer seems like a delicate way of side-stepping the question.
This was indeed confirmed for me by recently released Victorian police statistics. These statistics demonstrate that the magnitude of the problem facing the Jewish community is significant enough to warrant it being treated separately to Islamophobia and with more nuance than generic anti-racism programs.
The number of antisemitic incidents recorded by Victoria Police dwarfs the number of Islamophobic incidents. But the disparity is even greater when you consider them on a per capita basis.
The most recent Census data indicates that there are around 270,000 Victorians who identify as Muslim. According to the same data, there are about 46,000 Victorians who identify as Jewish. Some of our community demographers note that these numbers may not be exact, but it is safe to say, that there are roughly five times as many Muslim Victorians as Jewish Victorians.
Now consider that between October 7 and January 2, Victoria Police responded to 145 prejudice-motivated crimes. Of these, 102 – or 70 per cent – were antisemitic; 12 – or eight per cent – were Islamophobic; and the remaining 31 were neither.
In Victoria in the past few months, there have been seven times more antisemitic crimes than Islamophobic crimes. This has taken place in a state where the local Muslim community is five times bigger than the local Jewish community. Something is clearly not right.
Of course, there should be no incidents at all against any Australians. I pray for the day when no Australian is vilified or discriminated against because of their surname, skin colour, beliefs or background. But it is clear that in Victoria at least, since October 7, antisemitism has grown by such a magnitude that it deserves unique attention.
Why then, do our political leaders refuse to separate the problems?
On October 16, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese moved a motion unequivocally condemning Hamas, recognising Israel’s right to self-defence and condemning antisemitism. In his remarks to the Parliament, he added: “We have no room for antisemitism in this nation just as we have no room for Islamophobia. We have no room for hatred – not against Jews, not against Muslims.”
On October 19, four federal ministers announced support for communities impacted by the “Hamas attacks on Israel and ongoing conflict”.
The Jewish community received $25 million in security funding. The Muslim and Palestinian communities also received $25 million to be used for security and community building purposes.
A further $6 million was provided to support student wellbeing for, you guessed it, “Jewish and Islamic schools and students of Jewish and Islamic faith in government schools.”
Despite, in Victoria at least, there being seven times more antisemitic incidents than Islamophobic incidents, governments are not separately considering the exponentially larger challenge.
On November 10, after Palestinian activists violently rioted outside a Melbourne synagogue on Shabbat, Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan condemned the terrible incident, concluding her short remarks with “there is never any place for antisemitism or Islamophobia in Victoria”.
On November 18, Victoria’s Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ingrid Stitt announced equal funding to the Jewish and Islamic communities to combat antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Antisemitism and Islamophobia, like all forms of vilification against minority groups, are inexcusable and we, as a country, need to do better at ensuring all Australians are treated fairly, kindly and equitably.
But there needs to be recognition that statistically, one is a far bigger problem.
One-size-fits-all anti-racism campaigns, generic anti-bullying education, and broad-brush diversity training are not helping our community. Governments, multicultural advocacy groups and human rights organisations do not have a clear understanding of the nature of antisemitism, let alone a will to combat it. Programs run in the Jewish community by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria, our Jewish and Holocaust museums and other groups, are chipping away at the problem, but more needs to be done.
The United States, Canada, Israel and Germany and the European Union have appointed expert antisemitism envoys and coordinators. Their role is to advise their respective governments on effective ways to prevent and combat antisemitism, and in many cases, to promote Holocaust awareness as well. Australia – nor any of our states or territories – has nothing similar.
Jewish Australians continue to face violent assaults, verbal abuse and property damage that most other Australians do not. It is time for governments, human rights activists and researchers to consider antisemitism as a unique problem, and to develop unique solutions. Only that way, can we really make in-roads.
Naomi Levin is CEO of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.