Principal Marc Light looks at the camera, he is wearing a grey suit and smiling. The King David School's logo is behind him, silver on a wood background.

Is this ‘it’?

“Is this it?” This is the creeping, disquieting question that has persistently bubbled to the surface over recent months as we have experienced the abhorrent rise in domestic antisemitism.

I am not often prone to catastrophizing and logically I know that our community is resilient, strong and, by most measures, the envy of the Jewish world. We experience freedom, live in safety and have access to Australia’s remarkable opportunities. Nonetheless, there is something in the intergenerational trauma that is embedded in our community that seeds the uncomfortable parallels to other dark periods of history. 

At Shabbat tables around the community last week I am certain that there were variations of similar conversation regarding the new lows that seemed unfathomable such a short time ago – an elected parliamentarian repeating deep seated Jew-hating tropes; the doxxing of 600 Jews; photos of Jewish children being sent menacingly to their parents; letter dropping of Neo-Nazi fliers dripping with bigotry and hate; and calls of ‘F the Jews’ and ‘Where’s the Jews?’ by a threatening mob.

I am acutely aware that in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s, previous generations also sat around Shabbat tables asking “is this it?”

Logically we know that this is not the same thing. This can’t be ‘it’. But emotionally it is hard not to fear what will come next. 

The comments from Greens MP, Jenny Leong, were altogether shocking. She stated that: “the Jewish lobby and the Zionist lobby are infiltrating into every single aspect of what is ethnic community groups. They rock up and they’re part of the campaign and offer support for things like the campaign against the 18C racial discrimination laws, they offer solidarity, they rock up to every community event and meeting to offer that connection because their tentacles reach into the areas that try and influence power.” 

The media attention surrounding this quote focused on collective disbelief that she had so transparently co-opted the Nazi imagery of a power hungry octopus in her description. Responding to the pressure, Leong apologised (presumably for using the word tentacles) – “that I used a word at one point that was an inappropriate descriptor”.

Surely this misses the point. Of course, the imagery is grossly offensive, but the sentiments of her whole statement are entirely beyond the pale, so blatantly antisemitic, it is almost inconceivable that she can retain her position representing the citizens of Newtown. The statement aims to mischaracterise Jewish benevolence, charity and social action as self-serving ‘blue washing’. It assumes nefarious intent and implies that even when we are behaving ‘well’, we are really not to be trusted. 

The doxxing of a Whatsapp group of Jewish academics and creatives has caused the intimidation that it sought to achieve. It is the answer to the hateful mob of protestors on the steps of the Opera House. They asked ‘Where’s the Jews?’ and the doxxers helpfully provided a list including workplaces, photographs and social media profiles. 600 Jewish academics and creatives with diverse opinions have been exposed to the potential of harmful consequences. Some have been forced to go into hiding. While the Federal Parliament is rushing to legislate protections, it will come too late for those who have been targeted. 

The answer to my paranoid opening question is clearly no – this is not the ‘it’ that sits deep in our unconscious. But it is something. I have always believed that the value of learning from our history is twofold – it is both to honour the memory of those impacted and also to heed the lessons of the past. 

Our history empowers us with the foresight and courage to stand up to prevent the gradual erosion of civil standing and human rights that imperils our democracy and jeopardises our community harmony. Our Jewish community has a proud tradition of standing up to advocate for others who have faced bigotry and injustice. Now is the time to do this for ourselves.  

We do not need to wait for it to get worse before we shout “dayenu” – it is enough. We stand proudly as Jews and refuse to tolerate being made to feel like our contributions are invalid or that we do not belong in our own precious home. 

Shabbat Shalom and Am Yisrael Chai,

Marc Light