Why isn’t the Anti-Defamation Commission responding to local racism?

By Larry Stillman The Bnai Brith Anti-Defamation Commission appears to be living in isolation from the face of contemporary racism in Australia. Unlike other peak Jewish organisations, keen to condemn and distance themselves from all forms of racism, the Anti-Defamation Commission surprisingly, and in direct contradiction of its mission statement, remains silent on Islamophobia in particular. Not since 2011, when Deborah Stone (the then executive director of the Anti-Defamation Commission) thankfully stepped forward and denounced the QSociety’s activities in the city of Port Phillip against the establishment of an entirely peaceful Muslim prayer time at a Community House for taxi drivers, has the organisation had much to say about the rising tide of Islamophobia associated with not just the extremely conservative churches but outright hate groups such as those now associated with the Reclaim Australia movement. The Society founded about 5 years ago, has become the leading right-wing Islamophobe organisation in the country, with a record of generalized, stereotyped vilification against Muslims and its materials are widely distributed. More recently, it has been opposed to the building of a mosque in Bendigo. Indeed other groups associated with Reclaim Australia are planning a hate march in Bendigo very shortly. The leader of one of these groups was convicted of stalking a rabbi last July. But nary a word from the Anti-Defamation Commission. It is on the Islamophobia front, and its clear links to what the conservative commentator Gerard Henderson many years ago called the “lunar right” the Anti-Defamation Commission has fallen down and betrayed its own mission statement, “‘to fight anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, combat the defamation of the Jewish people and Israel, and promote and cultivate respect and understanding between people of all religions and backgrounds.” How can the Anti-Defamation Commission expect to be able to protect its own community from racism—and the Australian community in general– when it seems seem unable to respond to such a group as Reclaim Australia? At least the ECAJ, JCCV and other bodies have had the intelligence to understand that attacks on Muslims by Reclaim Australia and its mates are a whisker away from attacks on Jews. Indeed, a prominent supporter of Reclaim Australia was charged by police about two weeks ago after she threatened to slit the throat of a Muslim campaigner against Islamophobia, but still, in the wake of such threat, silence from the Anti-Defamation Commission. Politicians such as George Christensen from the far right of the Liberal Party, have the temerity to stand up and speak at rallies supported by all sorts of right-wing conspiracy theory laden misfits (and not just ordinary mums and dads), and still silence from the Anti-Defamation Commission. Christensen’s ideological comrade Senator Cory Bernardi has picked up the anti-halal agenda lock, stock, and barrel clearly using QSociety material, and the Anti-Defamation Commission stays silent. And it continues, The Coalition finds it a convenient strategy to whip up threat of terrorism in Australia, with a wink and a nod to blind prejudice, and the Anti-Defamation Commission remains silent. There is flag-waving and calls to remove citizenship from dual citizens when there are important legal questions to be debated and the Anti-Defamation Commission remains silent (the ECAJ in contrast, has issued a very thoughtful position paper). In fact, a search on the Anti-Defamation Commission website, unless I am mistaken, comes up with nothing about Islamophobia (except a mention in a schools program against prejudice), refugees, or boat people (an implied Muslim threat via the government and in the popular media). I did, however, find one press quote via Google that the Anti-Defamation Commission did not support the prejudiced viewpoints coming out against the Bendigo mosque, but as noted, it has not independently commented. Contrast this in particular with the Online Hate Prevention Institute, which is very aware of the contemporary face of prejudice: against Muslims, aborigines, and gays, and of course, unlike the Anti-Defamation Commission, it understands the nature of online prejudice, and seeks to expose and educate the wider community. Thus, the flagship event of the Anti-Defamation Commission, the annual oration, which speaks to internal community, rather than general Australian concerns seems to be the primary focus of attention today, and the best indication to the Australian Jewish community and its older funders that it still appears to be doing something.   But they are not fighting against hate in any ongoing, meaningful way that engages with the concerns of younger anti-racist Australians in particular. What will happen when the funders die out, when the next generation who already wonder where the Anti-Defamation Commission’s voice is on these issues of racism simply refuse to fund the Anti-Defamation Commission’s ‘work’ anymore? Years ago, I thought of the Anti-Defamation Commission as an authoritative organisation, but not anymore. Why this myopia? I suspect that there are several factors at work. In Jewish circles, there is a generalized fear of anti-Semitism and a generalized threat to Israel, and this leads to a confusion of criticism by what might be called “critical friends” with views put forward by extremists associated with the BDS movement. It is my view, and that of many others, that the BDS movement is not at all a solid grouping, and in fact, there is constant denunciation of anti-Semitism by responsible elements. Thus the focus on defending Israel, Zionism, and countering what is seen to be the single monster of BDS has led the Anti-Defamation Commission to engage on something of a global crusade, commenting on all sorts of matters internationally, ranging from the BDS movement, the proposed US deal with Iran, US Presidential candidates, and Air France maps to racist shootings in the US. Furthermore, the quality of its reports on what it sees as the threat from the left has, been dodgy, to say the least. This is the stuff of crusading to a conservative audience and inflammatory columns and letter writing, not social action promoting diversity.   It has however, occasionally commented on neo-Nazi activity locally, but not as I have said, the activity of Reclaim Australia, the most dangerous group in the country at this time. The Anti-Defamation Commission may claim that its schools program is an example of positive action, but thus far the program has failed to gain much traction beyond a handful of schools. Secondly, there is probably the view that it is convenient to let the Muslim community fend for itself. It keeps the heat of Jews, and particularly Israel. After all, if Jews have to defend themselves, shouldn’t Muslims stand up and make their own case? They don’t need our help. This leads to the third reason. Most regrettably, there is probably increasing blind prejudice against Muslims in general at work in the Anti-Defamation Commission and its supporter circles and the broader Jewish community and this has resulted in an unthinking continuation of support to the Anti-Defamation Commission to fund its activity. The generalized propaganda against Muslims and Islam led by Americans such as Pam Geller or Daniel Pipes (both of whom have been in Australia, the latter sadly under AIJAC sponsorship), and whose work circulates widely. It appears that Anti-Defamation Commission has not been immune to this material. I also know that there are many racist emails against Muslims that circulate in the Jewish community. Has the Anti-Defamation Commission spoken out against this garbage? No. In particular, the Chair of the Anti-Defamation Commission, Dvir Abramovich, appears to adhere to a conspiracy theory view of the world against Israel ( a “funded and powerful cottage industry of NGOs, journalists, academics and activists who are crystal clear about their unabashed anti-Israel ideology. The goal of their openly declared war is to damage Israel’s standing in the court of world opinion and to bring about its collapse[1]” that mirrors the conspiracy theory of the ultra-left and Islamists, and this is reinforced by this comment “In the BDS world, Hamas, Iran, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad are not even referenced. The bottom line is that everyone, apart from Israel, gets a free pass…” [2], when this is manifestly untrue of much of the conversation that goes on in the fractious left. Perhaps it has become easier for Dr. Abramovich to make comment about issues in other countries (the latest being a release about the Republican candidate Mike Huckabee) than be thoughtful and responsive to the very difficult situation faced by Muslims in Australia. Dr. Abramovich appears peculiarly attached to a Cold War ideology that was dropped decades ago now in the US by all but extreme conservatives as well as Israeli politicians of both the mainstream left and right who have found it convenient to picture Israel as always and eternally under an existential threat. Perhaps, as well, organisations like the Anti-Defamation Commission have become too comfortable with self-interested parties in the Jewish community and wider political establishment. It is hard to take on the political class for its dog-whistle politics when your own status or the prestige of getting an Order of Australia may be put at stake. Indeed, the Anti-Defamation Commission, like many communal bodies, is ageing, and is not dealing with succession, as it is called, handing over to a new generation. Young people (and many older people know), do not engage in formal organisations, and are uninterested in traditional forms of social or cultural activity. Thus the Anti-Defamation Commission has become isolated. When the very concept of multiculturalism is under attack in the name of highly contestable, generalized assertions about the threat posed to the country by a minority religion, and civil liberties are challenged at the drop of a hat by government (and let go by the opposition) we need strong bodies to stand up for diversity and human rights. The Anti-Defamation Commission is not one of these bodies today. that the flagship event of the ADC, the annual oration seems to be the primary focus of their ‘industry’, and the best indication to the Melbourne community and its older funders that it still appears to be doing something.  But they are not fighting against hate in any ongoing, meaningful way. What will happen when the funders die out, when the next generation who already wonder where the ADC’s voice is on these issues of racism simply refuse to fund the ADC’s ‘work’ anymore. How can the ADC expect to be able to protect its own community from racism when they seem unable to define it and respond to in “all its forms”? Originally published on Koleinu, 26 August 2015
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