‘We absolutely have to fight this’

The ZFA–AUJS survey into university antisemitism was discussed with dozen MPs and senators in Canberra this week.

From left: Alissa Foster, Jeremy Leibler, Jason Clare, Michelle Ananda-Rajah.
From left: Alissa Foster, Jeremy Leibler, Jason Clare, Josh Burns, Michelle Ananda-Rajah.

A dozen MPs and senators gathered in Canberra this week to hear ZFA president Jeremy Leibler and AUJS president Alissa Foster discuss the results and motivation for the ZFA–AUJS survey into university antisemitism.

The pair also held individual meetings with Education Minister Jason Clare, Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, Shadow Education Minister Sarah Ferguson and a senior adviser from the Prime Minister’s office.

“I am very grateful for the genuine concern shown by everyone we spoke to about the survey and its results,” Leibler said.

“Importantly, both the Education Minister and the Opposition Leader agreed with us on the importance of not only of taking action, but of taking bipartisan action.”

Foster told the Parliamentary Friends of IHRA: “University was the first time in my life where I considered hiding my Jewish identity.”

The parliamentary friendship group – convened by Labor’s Josh Burns, the Liberals’ Julian Leeser and independent Allegra Spender – heard Foster’s anecdotes about students being excluded from groups on the basis of their Jewishness, of inadequate complaints mechanisms and a basic misunderstanding within university administrations of how modern antisemitism is expressed on campus.

“Sometimes some of the circles where Jewish students feel least comfortable is around the progressive parts of campus,” Burns said.

“Now obviously we have the rise of the extreme right in Australia where we are seeing people targeted in age-old antisemitism. But we also need to acknowledge that this is happening across the broad spectrum of politics, where there are toxic and really unwelcoming environments that, frankly, as a progressive member of Parliament, I find completely contrary to the values that I hold dear.”

Spender said it’s “appalling” so many Jewish students feel they needed to hide their identity.

“It is an indictment on the Australian community that these sorts of things are happening,” she said. “In continuing to have the country which is the most successful multicultural and multi-faith country in the world, we absolutely have to fight this. It was critical to get this research done because it allows us to move beyond anecdotes to effect real change.”

Leeser urged the MPs to talk to universities in their electorate about the survey.

“Tell them that this is important to you, as it is important to us, because the more voices that universities hear, the more they’ll realise that they need to take antisemitism seriously,” he said.

“They need to adopt the IHRA definition. They need to have a proper complaints system. Until they’ve done that, I think the issues that this survey has highlighted will just get worse.”

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