The Israeli media has been interpreting the October 7 attack as ‘reaching Holocaust levels’, or as ‘an equivalent of the 9-11 attack in the US’: and in an atmosphere of fear and anger, Israeli citizens are said to perceive the Hamas slaughter as a threat to the country’s existence. In Australia, to defend Israel, to stifle critics of the bombing of Gaza, and to follow Prime Minister Netanyahu’s polarisation of choices between good and evil, between civilisation or barbarism, between a powerful law-abiding country or Hamas terrorists, charges of anti-Semitism are being weaponised.
In this practice of fomenting prejudice rather than reporting on it, The Australian newspaper is the chief culprit. In a series of dramatic headlines, anti-Semitism is said to be on the rise and dangerous. In early November, the newspaper reported that if the tide of anti-Semitism is not turned, ‘No citizen is safe,’ On November 11, their heading claimed, ‘The poison of anti-Semitism is coursing through the veins of the West once more.’
Not content with their week day accounts, and to conjure a picture of Jewish citizens having the same view, anti-Semitism stories became features of The Australian’s week-end magazine. ‘Australia’s Jewish community’ they wrote, ‘watched in horror as the October 7 atrocities unfolded…global anti-Semitism is having a re-birth.’
To go beyond promoting their views, on November 10, The Australian fired criticism at ABC journalists who had protested their employer’s unfair coverage of the devastation in Gaza. In this report, hyperbole was to have no limits. Everyone should share one newspaper’s judgement. ‘While its (ABC) staff mounted a Soviet style protest over Gaza coverage, the public broadcaster has all but ignored the most significant display of anti-Semitism ever experienced in Australia.’
In New South Wales, by claiming solidarity among Jewish citizens in their support for Israel, an influential Jewish lobby parroted the newspaper’s views. Alex Ryvchin, co-chief of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry wrote, ‘Today the Jewish people are one.’
Not so, said independent journalist Antony Loewenstein, ‘Extreme Israeli actions against Palestinians both in Gaza and on the West Bank are not supported by great swathes of the Australian Jewish community.’
Even support for a ceasefire could be considered anti-Semitic. When Foreign Minister Penny Wong made careful, cautious remarks that killing hundreds of children had continued for too long, and firing at hospitals broke rules of international law, members of a Jewish lobby went into overdrive. They knew best. They always do. Everyone should be advised by them.
In response to the Minister, the Zionist Federation of Australia and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry asserted, ‘The libel that any Israeli attack on Gazan hospitals from which Hamas operates would amount to war crimes only serves to demonise the state of Israel and its supporters. These libels are central to Hamas objectives and are reverberating around the world in a new wave of anti-Semitism.’
Bloodbaths in Gaza are not new, but depicting efforts to end the slaughter of women and children as anti-Semitic is original. Penny Wong’s pleas, ‘to cease the attacking of hospitals’, ‘Israel should do everything it can to observe international law’ were unexceptional. On humanitarian grounds, what alternative did she have, unless the Australian government intends to imitate the amoral attitudes displayed by The Australian?
Instead of promoting divisiveness by taking sides, by weaponising anti-Semitism, management at this national newspaper, and their imitators on Sky News, could speak about a common humanity. They could ponder the stand taken by The Jerusalem Post’s Gershon Baskin who urges acceptance of the principle that all Palestinians and all Jewish citizens of Israel, ‘Everyone living between ’the River and the Sea’ have the same right to the same right.’
In an inhumane world, voices of a common humanity must be heard. There are lots of precedents. Truth, justice and peace are pillars of Judaism. Peace and harmony in human relations is a basic value of Islam. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights reminds, ‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity.’ ‘Truth telling and shared humanity’ was the legacy of the legendary Palestinian American academic, literary critic and political activist Edward Said.
Those lofty visions find no space for journalists who seek to dramatise the Israel Hamas war by weaponising anti-Semitism. Protesting the bombing, killing and starving of the people of Gaza is not anti-Semitic. Chanting Free, Free Palestine does not mean antagonism towards Jewish citizens. Anti-Semitism is a dangerous prejudice, but it cannot be conflated with criticism of Israeli policies as The Australian is currently doing.