The Australian Jewish Democratic Society is deeply concerned by the protest being organised by local personality Avi Yemeni who is cultivating a cynical branding campaign based in racism and fear.
Hate speech is always violent, and Yemini is trading in it. Right now Avi Yemini is the online equivalent of a racist street thug charging onto a train carriage and attacking the first Muslim he sees. The flow-on effect of this incitement contributes to a culture of Islamophobia and hate that is not limited to online hate speech. It spills over into physical violence and verbal harassment in cities and towns across Australia. The effects – unsurprising yet horrific – are happening with alarming frequency.
We’re seeing here the perpetuation of a fantasy of being beset: by imagined immigrant and refugee gangs attacking white purity; by imagined anti-white racism; by imagined social problems caused by racialized groups; by the imagined degeneracy of others; by imagined conspiracies; by imagined threats on so-called traditional ways of life; by imagined attacks on free speech; by an imagined spectrum of possible traitors, especially the dreaded leftists. Yemini’s harassment is marked by intolerance, militarism, xenophobia and endless snivelling. Combined, these are all classic hallmarks of neo-fascism, and they are leading to a harmful call for increased policing and securitisation of our communities.
Jews are, of course, familiar with the baiting and provocations that extend from racist paranoia. As Jews we cannot say it more clearly: we know what hate looks like, we know where hate takes us, we know that we can never be safe until racist hate in all its forms and systemic sources are eradicated.
Avi Yemini is not a neo-Nazi. He has, however, not shied away from ingratiating himself to neo-Nazi and fascist gangs across Australia, including Nationalist Uprising and the United Patriots Front. Nationalist Uprising leader Neil Erikson, besides bouncing between various neo-Nazi incarnations for over fifteen years, has received a non-custodial sentence for racially harassing a rabbi. Fellow patriot leader of Nationalist Uprising Shermon Burgess is well known for his antisemitic tirades. Blair Cottrell, leader of the United Patriots Front and formerly imprisoned arsonist, has described how he would like to see a photo of Hitler in every classroom and a copy of Mein Kampf issued to every school student. Chris Shortis, who claims not to be a neo-Nazi, but does claim to support National Socialism, has had senatorial aspirations for neo-Nazi leader Jim Saleam’s Australia First Party, and was in 2016 deemed unfit by authorities to own a firearms licence as a direct consequence of his hate activism. Erikson, Cottrell and Shortis all received slaps on the wrists and convictions for inciting serious contempt for Muslims recently. Be afraid of extremist criminal terrorists, Yemini howls to the moon. It can’t be of any surprise that some neo-Nazi factions have turned on Yemini (and, by extension, all Jews), jealous at the growing space he takes up on the far-right. Sooner or later the far-right comes for us all.
This is all happening at the same time that Yemini calls himself (and is called by numerous media outlets) a “Jewish leader.” He is not a leader of any organisation or institution. He is not recognised as a leader through the esteem of the community. He calls himself a leader because he has lots of Facebook followers. While this has made Yemini a punchline in the Jewish community, non-Jews who want to spend their days spitting on people have flocked to him. He might be a joke, but he is not a funny one.
We encourage the Jewish community to continue speaking up and speaking out about racism, xenophobia and the rise of fascism in the community. We encourage everyone struggling against racism and fascism to expose Avi Yemini for hate speech, and for links with neo-Nazis and fascist gangs. We hope that the Jewish and broader community will become more involved in organising both in mass movements and in whatever means might be effective.
This article has been published in the AJDS magazine Just Voices, Issue 14, Nov. 2017: Antisemitism.