Politics Opinion

Bigotry, racism and the power of the Israel lobby

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Victorian Minister for Education James Merlino (image via YouTube)

The subject of bigotry is fraught with danger and it’s with trepidation that one wanders through the minefield waving their opinion for all to see.

Bigotry is bad and no one form of bigotry is any worse or more justified than another. This attitude should taken by all levels of government. To treat one form of bigotry as more important than another is, in itself, a form of bigotry.

However, there are times when certain types of bigotry are justifiably at the forefront of public discussion, due to significant events or a tipping point being reached. The Black Lives Matter campaign is a good example of this.

In Victoria, the State Government has announced additions to the school curriculum to tackle bigotry and Federally, it was recently announced we’ll have two MPs joining an international inter-parliamentary taskforce to highlight bigotry.

Unfortunately, both announcements only seek to address one form of bigotry.

Maybe I’ve missed reports, but I was blissfully unaware of high incarceration rates from the Jewish community or the high number of Jewish deaths in custody. I also didn’t catch viral videos of Jewish people being racially vilified and bullied on trains, trams and buses as we so often see directed at Australians of Asian heritage, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic and the 5G rollout.

We’ve had right-wing extremists rallying against the South Sudanese community, prior to that they’ve rallied about Muslims, but there've been no protests about the Jewish community.

Both announcements included claims of increasing rates of antisemitism but included no details to substantiate the claim.

It's odd that of all the types of bigotry faced in Australia, this was the one focused on.

The changes to the Victorian school curriculum are currently being worked on to include more intensive studies of the Holocaust and antisemitism. The Holocaust is already rightly taught in Victorian Schools, however, new lessons will now be added to the curriculum.

I contacted the Victorian Education Minister James Merlino’s office for comment however they failed to respond.

According to the Minister’s media release the new curriculum lessons are being “developed in partnership” with Gandel Philanthropy. 

Gandel Philanthropy is part of the Gandel Group who fund various Zionist organisations and groups and are large political donors. Since 2010, they have donated over $370,000 to the Labor Party.

In his press release Minister Merlino is quoted as saying:

'Anti-Semitism is on the rise around the globe and sadly we are not immune in our own Victorian community.'

No doubt we’re not completely immune, however, when I looked for any evidence of rising antisemitism it was hard to find. I contacted the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission who said that recorded complaints aren’t broken down that far. The closest category is "religious belief or activity" which saw a rise of 12 complaints over the last year. I was told the bulk of these complaints come from the Islamic community.

The Victoria Health website was equally devoid of talk of increasing levels of antisemitism. In fact, it’s not even mentioned, interestingly, though racism against New Zealanders is.

Indigenous Australians are the most likely to face bigotry, according to the VicHealth website.

Source: Victoria Health Website.

Unfortunately, there’s no new curriculum on the massacre of Indigenous Australians. Also missing are extra subjects or study on the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields, Rwandan Genocide, the Armenian Genocide, or the Palestinian Nakba and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that continues to this day.

There are 370,000 reasons why the Government may be adding these lessons, despite that such matters already being taught. 

A spokesperson from Gandel Philanthropy was unable to provide any evidence to the claims of increasing antisemitism rates aside from a report created by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (EJAC). 

Given the lessons also include content on antisemitism I was keen to hear what the curriculum partners believed to be the definition of antisemitism considering it was going to be taught to Victoria’s children:

Gandel Philanthropy does not have a specific definition on Antisemitism, but we encourage all governments around the world to adopt the definition as stipulated by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).


Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

This definition has been widely criticised, as it is often taken as meaning any criticism of the Israeli government as being antisemitic. It is viewed as a way of silencing any and all criticism of any Israeli policy, including apartheid. Largely designed to force social media platforms to ban criticism of Israel, it may now be impressed upon children’s minds.

It is interesting when a political donor of such magnitude to both major parties uses phrases like 'we encourage all governments around the world to adopt the definition as stipulated by the IHRA' while it's been announced that there'll have two Australian MPs joining an “Inter-Parliamentary Task Force on Combatting Online Antisemitism”.

Those two MPs are Labor’s Josh Burns and the Liberal’s Dave Sharma.

As reported by the interparliamentary group "Australia Israel Labor Dialogue" the new task force:

'…aims to establish consistent policy in legislatures around the world.'

This would clearly involve defining antisemitism given it’s specifically what they’ll be targeting.

To his credit, Josh Burns has spoken out on other types of bigotry previously, including racism, sexism and homophobia.

I contacted Josh Burns to see what was involved with this task force.

On the matter of whether holding up one form of discrimination as being of the most importance is in itself unduly discriminatory attitude, Burns responded that:

“…a taskforce fighting against a particular form of racism should not be misconstrued to be in some way diminishing other forms of racism.”

Any taskforce that may determine that criticism of Israel is antisemitic and should be banned is inherently prejudicial towards Palestinians. The information provided in the ECAJ report labels anti-black, anti-Asian, and pro-Palestinian graffiti as antisemitic,  directly “diminishing other forms of racism”.

ECAJ’s report even goes so far to single out Father Rod Bower of Gosford Anglican Church and Father Bob Maguire for using the word holocaust in relation to Nauru and Manus Island detention centres.

The word is not subject to a patent.

Again I requested evidence of rising antisemitism and was sent links to the ECAJ report again as well as other reports from Zionist organisations. However, it was most telling that a link to an article published by The Guardian. The article was about Australian Security forces responses to right-wing extremism.

It did not mention antisemitism and was based around anti-Islamic groups, Islamophobia and came about in the wake of the Christchurch massacre of 50 Muslims.

Not all right-wing extremism targets Jewish people: the Christchurch tragedy clearly targeted Muslims.

There is little that would be more insulting or offensive to the Islamic community than to try and intentionally misrepresent motives for the massacre as being in any way related to antisemitism. 

Peter Wicks is an Independent Australia columnist and a former Federal Labor Party staffer. You can follow him on Twitter @MadWixxy.

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