It sent the chill down every Jewish spine. Has it sent the chill down every Australian non-Jewish spine? I hope so. What is alleged to have happened in Sydney’s Bondi on Friday should frighten everyone in the land because Nazi-like behaviour is, suddenly, a reality on the Australian streets.
Why should we be frightened? Let the Jews worry, I can hear the muttered response of some — a reminder of the very old Jewish joke about the man who runs into a hairdresser’s and shouts, “Run everyone! There is a crowd coming to kill all the Jews and hairdressers!”
The hairdresser turns, puzzled, from his client and asks, “Why the hairdressers?”
The facts, as known, are as follows: A group of Jews, several of them elderly, was walking home after Shabbat dinner when accosted without provocation by a group of youths hurling anti-Semitic insults. Were their sensitive souls offended by the sight of kippot (skullcups) worn openly? These inoffensive Jews, including a woman in her sixties and almost every member of the party old enough to be their alleged assailants’ grandfathers, were set upon and beaten, resulting in serious injuries that required ambulances and medical attention. Three of the alleged hoodlums were detained by the police with the help of staff from the nearby Beach Road Hotel and a passing taxi driver. The rest of the gang, so brave, ran away.
The matter is now under investigation. The ethnic origin of these anti-Semitic warriors is not disclosed in the media, which makes me think that they might have come from Mars. Alternatively, did they emerge from a culture in some corner of the earth with a long and distinguished history of visceral and culturally embedded anti-Semitism?
Why do I feel so strongly, why is my fear so great, after what might be dismissed by some as an ugly but essentially trivial altercation? Because my beloved Australia, the land of the fair go and mateship, changed last Friday night. Now this land has people who feel it is OK to attack Jews on the street. Nazis felt the same way on the streets of Germany in the 1930s.
As is usual, it was the weakest, those least able to defend themselves, who suffered. Elderly Jews make inviting targets: they are not likely to retaliate — although, in this case, several members tried to fight back –being unarmed and physically weak.
Those attacked are always the first and most obvious casualties. But the damage goes further, broadcasting a message to the wider community to beware of offending, even if only by wearing a skullcap. The message is that it is now easy to become a target. Violence against an unprotected minority successfully inculcates fear in much larger and broader groups — every single one of us, in fact. It intimidates and subjugates all who learn of it, imposing fear and promoting docility. Don’t do anything that might draw attention, like wearing the sign of your faith or walking while Jewish, because some group or other might not approve.
This is Australia today.
This is not Beirut with its car bombs. This is not London, where an off-duty soldier’s throat was slit on the street in broad daylight. Nor is this France, where Jews are emigrating to Israel because of increasing anti-Semitic violence.
This is Australia, the country of refuge, the country of the fair go, the country where people still call each other mate.
Not so long ago, an organisation calling itself BDS attacked, of all targets, a chain of chocolate shops, using tactics of intimidation. Just like those elderly Jews in Bondi, the stores were not supposed to resist. What the BDS warriors did not count on was the decency of the Australian people, assuming that their own anti-Semitic rage, thinly disguised as a pro-Palestinian political stance, was shared by the mainstream. They were wrong about that and retreated, still licking their wounds.
Anyone who assaults elderly Jews on a Sydney street has broken the most fundamental principle of a successful immigration to Australia, which every immigrant formerly has to learn. This rule is simple: Welcome everyone. Have a beer. Leave all the troubles, hatreds and anger behind in the old country. Do not bring your grievances with you. In Australia, we live and let live.
This is the rule, which was more or less obeyed unconditionally by all Australian immigrants, even those with old ethnic grievances. Until Friday night.
This rule is what made Australia the envy of nations. This rule has made Australia the most peaceful and tolerant country in the world. Those who attacked elderly Jews on a Bondi street clearly did not learn — or do not want to learn — the rule about not bringing their old country’s hatreds to Australia. Those who broke this rule broke the peace we have all cherished.
Will we allow this peace to be broken?