Political opportunism in full flight

The Coalition use Jews as political footballs to bolster support for Israel and Albanese is playing into their hands
Coalition politicians who previously scoffed at claims of racism have recently been falling over each other trying to prove that they are the biggest allies in the fight against rising antisemitism. But their ‘anti-antisemitism’ is not anti-racism – it’s a thinly veiled guise to bolster failing public support for Israel in a way that actually makes Jews less safe. 

Last week, former deputy leader of the Liberal Party Josh Frydenberg (who continues to suggest he will return to politics), released a one-hour documentary with Sky News, titled Never Again: The Fight Against Antisemitism

From the film’s opening sequence, which cuts between clips of anti-war protests and Holocaust imagery, Palestinians and their supporters are equated to Nazis. Watching the film, you’d think these protests have nothing to do with the slaughter of thousands of Palestinians by a military with close ties to our own, using bombs with Australian-made parts, but are purely about hatred of Jews. Indeed, as Tom Tanuki writes, it’s only 43 minutes in that any mention is made of “innocent lives” lost in Gaza – the only oblique reference to the actual issue driving people to the streets.

The suggestion that protesters are equivalent to Nazis is deeply offensive to those of us who grew up hearing stories of the Holocaust and are committed to opposing genocide. It is also clearly calculated to breed anti-Palestinian racism – a form of racism the Coalition doesn’t care about as it doesn’t suit their political agenda. The day after the documentary was released, ‘anti-antisemitism’ warrior Senator Sarah Henderson told ABC Radio Canberra that “there is no issue with Islamophobia”, a claim that the Islamophobia Register rightfully called “factually incorrect, egregious and inflammatory”.

Throughout the film, clips of the chant ‘From the River to the Sea’ are shown as an example of antisemitism. But as Maher Mughrabi eloquently put it on Q&A, the chant “refers to a geography and freedom within that geography”. It recognises that currently, the State of Israel controls the entire region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River via a regime which prioritises the rights of Israeli Jews over Palestinians. Indeed, Netanyahu’s own party states in their Platform, “between the Sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty”. As Mughrabi puts it, “freedom is not a political arrangement, freedom is a human condition.”

One might think that freedom and equality are values the Labor party would support. However, in his interview with Frydenberg, Prime Minister Albanese agrees that the chant is “an extremely violent statement” which “has no place on our streets”. Albanese ignores the fact that thousands of Jews like myself echo these calls for freedom and equality for Palestinians and Israelis between the River and the Sea.

And so with the Labor party at their heels, the Coalition use Jews as political footballs to shut down Palestinian voices.

Yesterday, Julian Lesser MP introduced a private members bill seeking to establish a commission of inquiry into antisemitism at Australian universities. Although such an inquiry sounds innocuous, the definition of ‘antisemitism’ the Bill proposes is the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition. This definition has been widely denounced by antisemitism scholars and Israeli and international civil rights groups due to its history of wrongly labeling critiques of Israel and Zionism as antisemitic. Even its main drafter, Kenneth Stern, said it “was never intended as a tool to target or chill speech on a college campus.” Stern says that the definition itself is a source of threat to Jewish students and faculty. One key reason is that it conflates Jewishness with support for Israel, thereby increasing the risk that people blame all Jews for Israel’s conduct. 

Indeed, in a rare moment of intelligible thought, Frydenberg states “there are sections of the community which see people of the Jewish faith as being synonymous with Israel”. But no sooner does he say this than he returns to the very conflation of Jews and Israel which causes this form of antisemitism to flourish. 

By allowing this deceit to continue, Albanese’s Labor Party is going down a dangerous path of curtailing freedom of expression, fomenting hatred of Jews, and confusing the concept of antisemitism amid a very real fight against genuine anti-Jewish racism. 

Sarah Schwartz is a lawyer, lecturer and the Executive Officer of the Jewish Council of Australia.

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