Anti-Semitism

03 July 2014

As part of preparing to speak on this item this morning, I undertook some research into the background to the London declaration and into anti-Semitism in Australia, and I was taken aback by the level of anti-Semitism that still exists here. In fact, the very concerning thing is that this is not something that is diminishing and disappearing into the history of the Western world but rather something that has grown in recent years.

Delivered in support of the joint private member’s motion moved by Mrs Leesa Vlahos MP and Mr John Gardner MP. This motion moved that the South Australian Parliament notes:

(i) that although nearly 70 years have passed since the end of World War II and the Holocaust, anti-Semitism still exists;

(ii) the work of the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism and its purpose in drawing global attention to the resurgence of anti-Semitism, in old and new forms, in politics, international affairs and society; and

(iii) that the declaration has been signed by parliamentarians in Australia and abroad;

(iv) recognises the vast contributions made by the Jewish people to South Australian society;

(v) condemns any form of racial discrimination and anti-Semitism; and

(vi) encourages all members of this house, regardless of party or politics, to sign the declaration and so assist to combat anti-Semitism across the globe.

Mr SPEIRS ( Bright ) ( 12:04 ): It gives me great pleasure to be able to stand today to speak on the motion the member for Taylor has brought to the house. I thank the member for Taylor for taking the time to put this motion together, a motion which is of incredible importance not only to Jewish people living in South Australia and Australia but, really, to what I believe Australia stands for, the freedom for people to be able to practise one's beliefs, religion and lifestyle in whatever way they want to without fear of being discriminated against or having violent acts committed against them.

As part of preparing to speak on this item this morning, I undertook some research into the background to the London declaration and into anti-Semitism in Australia, and I was taken aback by the level of anti-Semitism that still exists here. In fact, the very concerning thing is that this is not something that is diminishing and disappearing into the history of the Western world but rather something that has grown in recent years.

Having done that research and looked at the latest report by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Incorporated, there were 657 recorded incidents defined by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (known as the Australian Human Rights Commission) as 'racist violence' against Jewish Australians in 2012-13. So, 657 racist acts against Jewish Australians. These included incidents such as physical assaults, vandalism to their property, threatening phone calls, hate mail, graffiti, threatening leaflets, posters and abusive and intimidating electronic mail.

This was 69 per cent greater than the average over the previous 23 years leading up to 2012‑13 and the second highest recorded tally in the history of keeping those records. This is not something that we can archive away into our country or the world's history; it is actually something which seems to have almost come back into fashion in recent years. The most disturbing thing about this is that while it is incredibly important to have something like the London declaration and have the opportunity for parliamentarians across the world to be able to sign a declaration like this, it is with huge sadness that we need to be in a position to do something like this and to bring the London declaration to the fore in the modern age.

The London declaration, by way of background—its full title is the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism—was signed on 17 February 2009 during an annual conference of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism. That conference brought together over 100 parliamentarians and NGO representatives from 35 different countries to discuss the uprising of contemporary anti-Semitism around the world; the uprising I have just outlined by way of statistics that we have also been experiencing here in Australia.

This is a worldwide problem and something that is growing in significance and we certainly need to work together at the international level, the national level and the local level to stamp it out. The group that came together for that inaugural conference noted the dramatic increase in recorded anti-Semitic hate crimes and attacks targeting Jewish people, property and institutions and proposed that the establishment of an international coalition was needed to confront and combat this issue.

The parliamentarians at this conference shared their knowledge, experience and recommendations and concluded with signing the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism. That declaration consists of 34 resolutions which are structured around six fundamental issues and I will just briefly run through them. The first is the concept of challenging anti-Semitism, which outlines that governments and the UN should resolve that never again will institutions of the international community and the dialogue of nation states be abused to try to establish any legitimacy for anti-Semitism, including the singling out of Israel for discriminatory treatment in the international arena.

The second of the fundamental issues looked to establish prohibitions against anti-Semitism. The third key issue looked at identifying the threat and sought that parliamentarians and leaders should return to their jurisdictions and establish inquiries that were tasked with determining the existing nature and the state of anti-Semitism in their countries, and develop recommendations for government and civil society action.

The fourth fundamental issue looked at working to increase education awareness and training in areas such as police, prosecutors and judges so that they had the instruments and the capacity to tackle the perpetrators of anti-Semitic hate crime and ensure that they are successfully apprehended, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced. The fifth fundamental issue looked at community support and sought that there should be a public notification of communities when anti-Semitic hate crimes occur in those communities, to build community confidence in reporting and pursuing convictions through the criminal justice system.

The sixth of those fundamental issues, and one that I think is very important in this modern age, was the media and the internet and the keenness of those signing the declaration that an international task force of internet specialists comprised of parliamentarians and experts should be established to create common metrics to measure anti-Semitism and other manifestations of hate online, and to develop policy recommendations and practical instruments for governments and international frameworks to tackle these problems.

That really outlines what the London declaration is all about, and I think it gives us that very clear framework through which we can look as a parliament, as a state and as a nation at tackling anti-Semitic behaviour. The status of the London declaration around Australia is growing. In New South Wales and Victoria, large numbers of parliamentarians have been involved in signing the declaration, and the parliament of Queensland has also shown a great interest in it. Federally, our former prime minister and a constituent of mine (Hon. Julia Gillard) was the fourth prime minister in the world to sign the declaration, after Britain's Gordon Brown and David Cameron and Canada's prime minister Stephen Harper.

We have at a federal level as well that recognition that this is something we need to be looking to, tackling and bringing to the public attention. As I said earlier, and as the members for Taylor, Morialta and Newland have repeated, this is not something that is consigned to our nation's history or the world's history. It is something that has relevance, unfortunately, in the world today and something that parliamentarians, given our privileged position as community leaders, should be standing up and speaking about.

For me, it is incredibly troubling that any form of racism would be on the rise in Australia or in the world, but I think, given the huge impact that the Jewish people have had and their history of discrimination, hate and pain inflicted on their society and religion, it is something we need to be incredibly vigilant about. We need to be on the lookout for this in our society and continually look for ways to tackle it. I will be very keen to be one of the parliamentarians in this place who signs up to the London declaration when it is brought into the parliament for that to occur, and I will be happy to become a proud member of the Parliamentary Friends of Israel when the opportunity arises to do so.

I want to commend the members for Taylor and Morialta for bringing this to the house today and thank them for the opportunity for parliamentarians in this place to put on the record that we will not accept anti-Semitic behaviour and discrimination in this country or this state, and we will work together as leaders in our community to tackle that.

Extracted from Hansard