LORRAINE FINLAY: In silence, anti-Semitism and racism flourishes

Lorraine Finlay
The Nightly
4 Min Read
People participate in a rally for solidarity with Israel in Sydney.
People participate in a rally for solidarity with Israel in Sydney. Credit: STEVEN MARKHAM/AAPIMAGE

The foundation of universal human rights lies in recognising the inherent dignity and equal rights of every single human being.

Human rights can’t be applied selectively. Every Australian, regardless of age, disability, gender, race, religion, or any other distinction, has the right to live freely and safely in this country. Racism has to be condemned no matter what form it takes, and no matter what individual or group happens to be the particular target.

Sign up to The Nightly's newsletters.

Get the first look at the digital newspaper, curated daily stories and breaking headlines delivered to your inbox.

Email Us
By continuing you agree to our Terms and Privacy Policy.

But this even-handed application of principle should never stop us from directly calling out specific examples of racism. We cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by moral equivalence, or to sit in the silence that then allows racism to flourish.

What we have seen occurring in recent months in Australia is something that I never thought I would see in the country that I am so proud to call home. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has reported an overwhelming increase in the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents since the brutal Hamas attack on October 7. What is even more horrifying is that those numbers alone don’t reveal the full story. Those statistics aren’t just abstract numbers, but represent real individuals and families who are feeling afraid, threatened, intimidated and unsafe.

Anti-Semitism has no place in Australia. It needs to be unequivocally condemned.

We have all seen the footage of the protesters at the Sydney Opera House, are aware of the doxxing that saw the personal information of 600 Jewish Australians leaked from a private WhatsApp group, and saw pro-Palestinian activists choosing to demonstrate inside a Melbourne hotel where relatives of Israeli hostages were staying.

Police look on to participants of a Free Palestine rally  outside the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Monday, October 9, 2023. Israel has pounded the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, killing hundreds of people in retaliation for one of the bloodiest attacks in its history when Islamist group Hamas killed 700 Israelis and abducted dozens more. (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING
Police look on to participants of a Free Palestine rally outside the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Monday, October 9, 2023. Credit: DEAN LEWINS/AAPIMAGE

But we also need to be aware of the quieter forms of anti-Semitism that currently permeate the daily lives of Jewish people in Australia. These examples may not make media headlines, but their impact is profound. Whether it be the Jewish university students who have told me that they no longer feel safe or welcome on campus, the Jewish parents who have told their children not to say they are Jewish if asked when out in public, or the Jewish school students who have been advised not to wear their school uniforms on public transport for fear it will identify them as Jewish.

How could this be happening in Australia?

It is easy for these daily examples to go unnoticed by most Australians. Yet for the Jewish community it is impossible to escape and it impacts every aspect of their lives.

Of course, the Jewish community are not the only people in Australia currently experiencing immense grief and pain. In recent months, in my role as Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner, I have met and spoken with a wide range of individuals and groups who have expressed different views about the ongoing war in Gaza and the Middle East, and who have been affected in different and often deeply personal ways. There has been unimaginable harm and suffering experienced by so many since October 7. My concern and compassion is not restricted to any one group.

But the surge in anti-Semitism, the depth of hostility that has been targeted towards the Jewish community, and the calculated and co-ordinated way that anti-Semitism is currently presenting in Australia is deeply disturbing and needs to be specifically repudiated.

Human Rights commissioner, Lorraine Finlay.
Human Rights commissioner, Lorraine Finlay. Credit: Supplied

It is not lost on me that at the very time we began to see anti-Semitism surging in Australia, in the aftermath of the October 7 attack, the world was also commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Anti-Semitism repudiates the moral foundations of the universal declaration, which is grounded in a recognition of the dignity and worth of every individual. But it also directly repudiates the historical foundations of that document, which had its genesis in the aftermath of the Holocaust and the worlds desire to ensure that those horrors would never again be repeated.

These universal values are needed more than ever. But they are profoundly undermined if we do not condemn the anti-Semitism that we are seeing in Australia.

This is not something that the Jewish community should be left to face alone. While anti-Semitism directly targets Jewish people, its impacts are much broader. It ultimately damages all of us by eroding our social fabric and undermining the peaceful diversity that is at the heart of modern Australia.

We all need to stand against anti-Semitism, and not allow hatred to make its home in Australia.

Lorraine Finlay is Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner.

Latest Edition

The front page of The Nightly for 18-04-2024

Latest Edition

Edition Edition 18 April 202418 April 2024

Tears as Bondi Junction Westfield reopens for people to grieve and reflect.