Senator warns of 'rising tide' of anti-Semitism as Frydenberg faces eligibility challenge

Senator Andrew Bragg fears there’s a rising tide of anti-Semitism, following a push to challenge the eligibility of Deputy Prime Minister Josh Frydenberg. Source: AAP

Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg has cautioned against a rising tide of anti-Semitism amid a legal challenge to the eligibility of Treasurer Josh Frydenberg.

Jewish groups have warned of a "rising tide" of anti-Semitism in Australia, with one Liberal senator even citing the challenge to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s eligibility to sit in Parliament as an example of renewed attacks on Jews.

Senator Andrew Bragg cautioned about a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic attacks over the past year, calling racism a "sickness of the heart and mind" that should never be tolerated.

Speaking under parliamentary privilege on Wednesday evening, he called a Section 44 legal challenge against the deputy Liberal leader’s citizenship status "disgraceful".

"I believe anti-Semitism is a rising problem ... across Australia. Anti-Semitic incidents have increased by 60 per cent in the past year," he said in Parliament.

"There has been an extraordinarily large increase in email threats, telephone-based threats and vandalism."

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House in Canberra.

'Alarming increase'

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies CEO Vic Alhadeff told SBS News there has been an "alarming" increase in anti-Semitism, even in the past several months. 

"This is not what Australia is about - it comes from extremist elements on the left and the right and it flies in the face of what is the most successful multicultural society in the world," he said.

He said these incidents have been seen in schools, universities, the workplace and daily life.

"It is not what Australia stands for and it, therefore, should be condemned by leaders in society and is something that all well-meaning Australians are against."

Last year, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) found an almost 60 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents over a 12-month period.

During the year there were 366 anti-Semitic cases recorded, which included 156 incidents of physical assault, abuse harassment, vandalism and graffiti; and 210 threats made via the phone, letters or email.

Research director at the ECAJ Julie Nathan told SBS News concerns around anti-Semitism need to be taken seriously.

"History has shown that when Jews have been increasingly attacked either in incidents or in propaganda and discourse than that often indicates that there is something going on within the society," she said.

"Jews are often the first be to be targeted - so when that is occurring then it means people need to look at what is going on." 

Political leaders urged to call out anti-Semitism

In his speech, Senator Bragg highlighted recent incidents including the painting of swastikas on the famed mural wall at Bondi Beach, vandalism directed against Liberal MP Julian Leeser, along with the legal challenge against Mr Frydenberg.

"I call on all Australia’s community and political leaders to never walk past anti-Semitism or racism in any form," he said.

"During the last campaign, Mr Leeser had to deal with Swastikas and Hitler moustaches as well as dollar signs for eyes."

Swastikas painted on a mural in Bondi.
Swastikas painted on a mural in Bondi.

Legal challenge against Frydenberg criticised

He criticised a High Court challenge against Mr Frydenberg's re-election, launched by an elector in his seat of Kooyong earlier this year, describing it as being grounded in "anti-Semitism".

The petition to the High Court reads that the cultural heritage of Mr Frydenberg's mother - as a "citizen of Hungary" - has been passed onto Josh Frydenberg as the son.

"Pursuant to the law of Hungary, all children born to the respondent's mother are a citizen of Hungary from the time of their birth and in the premise, the respondent is a citizen of Hungary," the petition reads.

Liberal Senator for NSW Andrew Bragg delivers his first speech in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra.
Liberal Senator for NSW Andrew Bragg delivers his first speech in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra.

Mr Frydenberg's mother arrived in Australia as a child from a refugee camp after escaping the Holocaust.

Senator Bragg said the challenge was "illegitimate" and said those seeking to test the MP's eligibility should be "ashamed of themselves for their appalling behaviour".

The Senator, who said he studied genocide at university, called for those in the education sector to continue to teach the truth about the Holocaust.

"We are proud of Jewish Australians. They have risen to the highest offices in the land. What begins with the Jews never ends with the Jews," he said.

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