Anti-Semites are emboldened the world over
From South Africa to Australia, the oldest hatred is making a terrifying comeback.
The anti-Semitism that drove Hamas’s 7 October pogrom has reverberated around the world. The oldest hatred is making a grim comeback, far beyond the Middle East.
Ugly scenes of Jews being mobbed have recently blighted Australia. Last week, around 150 Jewish congregants of the Central Shule synagogue in Melbourne were forced to abandon their worship when over a hundred ‘pro-Palestine’ protesters descended on their Shabbat service. When at least 80 pro-Israel counter-protesters turned up to defend the synagogue, 30 police officers were needed to separate the two sides.
The initial protest was supposed to be peaceful. It was organised in response to a fire that broke out at a local burger bar called Burgatory, which is owned by a Palestinian Australian. Victoria Police have said that while the fire could be the result of criminal intent, they are ‘confident’ it was neither politically nor racially motivated. But that didn’t stop the Islamic Council of Victoria and various pro-Palestine groups putting out the word that the fire was ‘an intentional act, amounting to a hate crime against [the owner] as a Palestinian and a Muslim’. A protest was then organised by the Free Palestine Melbourne group.
After gathering outside the burned-out burger joint, protesters then marched down the road towards the synagogue. When they arrived, some among the crowd prayed and chanted ‘Allahu Akbar’. There were also chants of ‘From the river to the sea’ – a coded call for the destruction of Israel. Others shouted anti-Semitic and homophobic slurs. This was a dark moment for Australia.
In Sydney, the next day, there was an equally disturbing incident. A pro-Palestine motorbike convoy headed towards Coogee, the suburb with Sydney’s largest Jewish community. The motorcade was led by organiser Zaky Mallah, the first Australian to ever be charged for terrorism offences. ‘There is no doubt in my mind that this [route] was chosen to intimidate’, the local MP rightly noted. Only the intervention of around 100 Israel supporters managed to stop the convoy from reaching its destination.
Not even children are safe from this rising hatred. When Masada College, an independent Jewish school in St Ives in Sydney, contacted a local business to hire some outdoor games for a staff barbecue, the owner refused the school’s custom and boasted about it on Instagram. ‘There’s no way I’m taking a Zionist booking. I don’t want your blood money. Free Palestine’, the owner wrote in an email, a screenshot of which she posted online. Most shocking of all, the business owner also published pictures of some of the school’s pupils, who were labelled as ‘Zionists’.
The owner deleted the posts but later tried to excuse herself by claiming her problem was with ‘Zionists’ rather than with the Jewish community more broadly. Quite how this distinction could justify the public shaming of Jewish children was never made clear.
The situation for Jews is even worse in South Africa – the post-Apartheid ‘rainbow nation’. Last week, Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, the third-largest party in the South African parliament, called for a Jewish school in Cape Town to be shut down. An EFF representative posted on X to warn the premier of the Western Cape province that he had ‘until the end of the year’ to close down the Herzlia school, ‘or the EFF South Africa will have to’.
A petition on Change.org, which has since been taken offline, also called for Herzlia’s closure on the grounds it ‘unconditionally and unquestioningly supports the State of Israel and promotes this in its education’. The anti-Semitic bile coming from some of the signatories was shocking. ‘We should get [the pupil’s] names and addresses’, wrote one supporter of the petition. ‘Nice place for a bomb’, wrote another. ‘Brand them so they can wear their shame on their foreheads’, demanded another signatory. Without a flicker of self-awareness, one bigot complained that the school was ‘breeding local Nazis right here in South Africa’.
All this is shocking, but not surprising. South Africa’s ANC government has been right at the forefront of the global attacks on Israel. This week, President Cyril Ramaphosa proudly announced that South Africa would be joining ‘many countries in the world’ in referring Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for what he describes as ‘war crimes’ in Gaza. His condemnations of Israel have been consistently fiercer than his criticisms of Hamas.
The following day, the ANC agreed to support a motion in parliament from the EFF – the same EFF demanding the closure of a Jewish school – calling for the closure of the Israeli embassy, and the suspension of all diplomatic relations with Israel, until it ‘agrees to a ceasefire’. The Congress of South African Trade Unions, the ANC’s political partner, has similarly called on all political parties in parliament to ‘act decisively against the apartheid state of Israel for the horrifying war crimes against the people of Gaza and the whole of Palestine’.
The importance of the ANC and Ramaphosa’s anti-Israel stance cannot be underestimated. The historic connection of the ANC with the struggle against Apartheid – the real Apartheid, that is, not the phoney one that is alleged to exist in Israel – carries a lot of weight across the world. Wittingly or not, the ANC’s animosity towards Israel, and relative indifference towards the anti-Semites of Hamas, is emboldening bigots in South Africa and beyond.
In South Africa, where the ANC has used xenophobia and racism to mobilise mobs against foreign immigrants, as a way of deflecting anger against its failings, it is surely only a matter of time before not only Jewish schools are targeted, but Jewish people, too.
Jew haters have felt emboldened over the past six weeks – not only by Hamas’s terror attack, but also by the moral vacuum that has emerged across the West. The intellectual elites have struggled to condemn both the pogrom in Israel and the anti-Semitism that is now flourishing in their own countries. As events in Australia and South Africa show, the rising hatred of Jews is now a global phenomenon. It must be confronted.
Dr Norman Lewis is a writer and visiting research fellow at MCC Brussels. His Substack is What a Piece of Work is Man!
Picture by: Getty.
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