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.

Uniting in the face of anti-semitism

“The most hurtful part of it all? Many of my outspoken, larger-than-life, stick-it-to-the-man, ally-to-the-minority mates – silent.”

These are the words directed towards a non-Jewish readership in an article entitled ‘How it feels to be a Jewish Australian right now’ in the online journal Missing Perspectives by King David alumna, Hannah Cohen. Hannah exposes the double standard that seems to allow for ignoring, qualifying or even justifying the inhumane Hamas atrocities targeted at Jews.  

I think Hannah epitomises why so many of us are feeling just so vulnerable at this time. It is not only the increase in overt acts of anti-semitism such as the chants of “Gas the Jews” heard on the steps of the Opera House. Or the name calling, swastika daubing or Nazi salutes. It is also the deep sense of being so misunderstood. 

Hannah also wrote: “I’ve been reminded that anti-semitism is rife and insidious. It has always been rife and insidious. It lives in your silence. It’s in your ambivalence. It’s in your performative activism. It’s in your fear to stand up, check in and be allies to your friends that are undoubtedly hurting. Every Jewish person you know has been touched by this war and the trending antisemitic rhetoric that will continue to follow it.” 

In speaking with community members I have heard similar sentiments over and over again. I have heard of doctors sickened by vapid statements by their hospitals which draw false moral equivalence. I have heard of people shocked at how unions across Australia have issued petitions which are exercising victim blaming in a way that would never be applied to another minority. I have heard of community members who do not want to attend their workplaces because of the lack of empathy and understanding of their colleagues. I have also been disappointed by the silence from some of the professional networks and associations that I am involved with.

I have been overwhelmed by the moral bankruptcy that is evident in the silence around the more than 200 hostages still held in Hamas captivity. Sure, some governments have called for their release but where are the human rights organisations? Where are the demands for proof of life or welfare checks?

We read the reporting of Hamas propaganda as if it was an objective verified fact. We hear of journalists platforming their representatives. We hear of the Secretary General of the United Nations stating that the deliberate murder of babies, children, adults and the elderly and unimaginable other acts of cruelty “did not happen in a vacuum.”

Of course there have been substantial and important exceptions to the above. I have been moved by the strength of many government and opposition statements and presence at community rallies. I have been uplifted by some cases of their reaching out personally to enquire about the wellbeing of our school community. 

Perhaps most importantly, we draw strength from the unity within our own community. While it feels isolating to have to turn inwards to receive this support, it is definitely needed.

We must focus our attention on looking after one another now and directing our grief and worry into positive actions that support our friends and family both here and in Israel. 

This was evident in a video conference with Jewish school principals from Israel and around the world that I was privileged to participate in earlier this week. The heroism of my Israeli colleagues in leading their communities in a time of war is so inspiring. It was also beautiful to see the immediate generosity and commonality that existed among the international Jewish community representatives. 

It reminds me that “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh” – all of Israel are responsible for each other.

Am Yisrael Chai! 

Shabbat Shalom,

Marc Light