• "What I don’t understand is why is this happening, after everything that we know and have witnessed..." (AP)Source: AP
More than 80 years after the Holocaust almost wiped out the Jewish population, it feels like anti-Semitism is making a comeback, again.
Alana Schetzer

23 Feb 2017 - 12:30 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2017 - 4:12 PM

When I was a girl, I had a recurring nightmare. I was still myself, but one thing was different – I was born 50 years earlier, and in my grandfather’s home country, Poland.

I would wake up, sweating, my heart beating hard against my rib cage. I was terrified, because had the dream been reality, I would have been tortured, starved or gassed to death.

Knowing that anti-Semitism has resurfaced in an unashamedly way, both in Australia and overseas, makes my heart beat against my chest again.

Data collected by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) reveals that anti-Semitic attacks increased 10 per cent in 2016, compared to the previous year. The 210 attacks reported to the ECAJ included physical assaults, harassment, vandalism and threats.

In one case, a man was kicked and punched and called a “f**king Jew” after he left a Synagogue.

From vile online abuse, vandalism and attacks, to the murder of Jewish shoppers in a Paris Kosher supermarket in 2015 and the murder of four people at a Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2004, open hatred against Jewish people is again flourishing.

These are not small, inconsequential crimes and they indicate that the attacks that do make headlines are just the tip of the iceberg.

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Physical assaults against Jewish Australians alone have risen by 50 per cent in the past year.

What I don’t understand is why is this happening, after everything that we know and have witnessed that happens when mass hatred is allowed and encouraged to spread.

Jews have long been an easy scapegoat for anti-Semitics, for whatever problems they believe are infecting the world.

Dr Jordy Silverstein, an academic in Judaism at the University of Melbourne, says hatred of Jews, both the bloodline and cultural and religious arms, is based on the simple idea that Jews “don’t fit in”.

“Our difference is seen as a problem,” Dr Silverstein says. “There’s a laziness to it, too. Once an idea takes hold, it’s really hard to shift it, particularly the idea of Jews and money.”

What I don’t understand is why is this happening, after everything that we know and have witnessed that happens when mass hatred is allowed and encouraged to spread.

Worse still, in my opinion, anti-Semitism and related hate crimes tend to be met with a shrug. There are no public campaigns or petitions advocating for the protection of Jews, despite the long and pitifully painful history.

Is it because this has been happening for so long? Does it no longer shock people? Perhaps it’s simply expected. I understand why anti-Semitism flies under the radar compared to other social causes and woes: there are no radio shock-jocks echoing hate and there’s no public debate on whether a billboard celebrating Australia Day is “appropriate” or not.

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I’m not advocating for piling public hate upon hate, but the because anti-Semitism is often hidden and lacks public awareness, it is this silence that lets the malice spread.

Some people suggest that modern anti-Semitism is the result of politics in the Middle East but territory is one thing and Judaism is another, given it is a religion, race and culture. A 2014 Anti-Defamation League study revealed 74 per cent of people surveyed in the Middle East and North Africa had anti-Jewish attitudes. This sentiment was shared by 24 per cent in Western Europe, 34 per cent in Eastern Europe, and 19 per cent in the Americas (The study surveyed 53,100 adults in 102 countries).

It is an ancient hatred that has pockmarked history. 

Also, anti-Semitism has existed for thousands of years before Israel was recreated in 1947. It is an ancient hatred that has pockmarked history.

I don’t think I want to understand why some people hate Jews. Because to understand, even for academic purposes, would just seem like an excuse. And it would be too heartbreaking.

If the Holocaust – the most horrific exercise in murder and torture in human history – didn’t put a final horrible end to hatred against Jewish people, or any group of people based on race or religion, then I’m genuinely scared for the future. I’m scared for all people who can be identified by their religion, race or culture, and be hated solely because of that.

I recently found out that my extended family in Poland was murdered in the Holocaust. I had suspected such a thing, but having it confirmed made me break out in the childhood sweat that would wake up after those nightmares.

It scared me. And what is happening now scares me. My heart is beating out of my chest.

Face Up To Racism #FU2Racism with a season of stories and programs challenging preconceptions around race and prejudice.

Tune in to watch Is Australia Racist? (airs on Sunday 26 February at 8.30pm), Date My Race (airs Monday 27 February at 8.30pm) and The Truth About Racism (airs Wednesday 1 March at 8.30pm).

Watch all the documentaries online after they air on SBS On Demand. 


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