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Nine points about antisemitism for parents to discuss with their school-age children.


In pro-Palestinian protests by school students in Melbourne and Sydney, some students were quoted as saying “Hamas is doing a good job”. Others posted images depicting themselves dumping the Israeli flag bearing the Star of David symbol into a rubbish bin so as to “clean the world”.


Young and impressionable, these students know little, if anything, about the history and contemporary reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They are easily manipulated and oblivious to the fact that there are sinister forces in the world today that are reactivating latent antisemitism and giving it social license, as a tool to pursue a political agenda.


What follows is a set of “talking points” for parents who are concerned about young minds being unable to distinguish between a legitimate social justice cause for the rights of Palestinians and the violent antisemitic goals of a terrorist organisation like Hamas.


My hope is that parents will teach and discuss these points with their children at an appropriate age.

  1. What is antisemitism? It is hatred of Jews. Antisemitism is expressed through thoughts, words and deeds. In every case, antisemitic prejudice is harmful and unjust to Jewish people. It also diminishes the humanity of the antisemite and of the societies in which antisemitism is tolerated.

  2. Prejudice towards Jews has existed for more than two millennia, which is why antisemitism has been called “the world’s oldest hatred”. It is a prejudice that has a habit of reappearing, especially in a crisis, whenever people are looking for someone or a group to blame.

  3. Antisemitism is a poisonous attitude that twists human thinking and even infects causes that seek human progress. For example, over the centuries we have seen toxic distortions of Christianity (Jews depicted as “Christ killers”), science (Jews described as a distinct, and inferior, biological “race”), and socio-political causes (Jews blamed for “global dominance”). These generalisations are designed to dehumanise Jews: to conceptualise Jews as a collective abstract “other”, instead of seeing each person in their uniquely human individuality.

  4. In the 21st century, antisemitic ideas are increasingly infecting social justice movements in their attitudes towards the State of Israel (75% of whose citizens are Jews). Of course, all governments can and should be subject to robust critique. Not all criticism of Israeli governments is antisemitic. However, to call into question the right of Israel to even exist is seen by almost all Jews as quintessentially antisemitic. If it is racist to deny the peoplehood and right of collective self-determination of the Palestinian people, it is equally racist to deny the peoplehood and right of collective self-determination of the Jewish people. Further, some forms of political criticism of the State of Israel draw upon a contemporary rehash of very old, deeply ingrained ideas, images and memories that signal hatred of Jews. For example, when some pro-Palestinian protestors chant “Gas the Jews”, they imply agreement with what Hitler’s regime did in the 1940s to murder millions of Jewish men, women and children using a lethal chemical. We must be awake to these poisonous slogans, identify them and reject their influence.

  5. Hamas is not all Palestinians. Hamas is one Palestinian organisation which since 2007 has governed the territory of Gaza, which borders Israel. Hamas has a founding covenant based in an extremist Islamist ideology that calls for Israel and its majority Jewish population to be “obliterated”. In Australia and in other western countries, Hamas is listed as a terrorist organisation. Supporting Hamas is not a smart way to seek peace and security for both Palestinians and Israelis. To support Hamas is to support violence against Jews – including Hamas’ brutal and premeditated crimes of murder, rape, torture and abduction of civilians on October 7 in southern Israel.

  6. Within any national, ethnic or religious community, one can find people who do bad things. However, generalising the judgement about the bad actions of one person or subgroup to a whole nation, ethnic group or religious community is a form of prejudice, racism, bigotry. We should never judge all Palestinians by the actions of Hamas. Neither should all Jews be judged by the particular actions of any individual Jew or group of Jews or any Israeli government.

  7. Antisemitism is no joke; it is a very serious matter. It is the mindset that led the Nazis to murder six million Jews. Antisemitic thoughts and words lead to violence. This is why our politicians and all responsible citizens are so concerned about the Jew-hatred expressed on Australian streets and on social media in recent weeks. In Australia, some expressions of antisemitism can be prosecuted as a crime.

  8. The Catholic Church firmly condemns all forms of antisemitism. It “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of antisemitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone” (Nostra Aetate, 4). Other Churches have made similar statements. Antisemitism is diametrically opposed to the teachings of Jesus.

  9. We each have a responsibility to ensure that our Australian society is a safe place for all, whatever one’s race, ethnicity or religion. If we don’t want the hatreds and violence of overseas conflicts to be imported into our peaceful, multicultural society, we should speak up and challenge antisemitic and other prejudicial behaviour. This is not always easy. It takes the courage of our convictions, especially in the face of peer group pressure.

Remember: “The standard you pass by is the standard you accept.” Be an ‘upstander’, don’t be a ‘bystander’ to antisemitic prejudice.

 

Teresa Pirola is a Sydney-based freelance writer and author of Catholic-Jewish Relations: Twelve Key Themes for Teaching and Preaching (Paulist Press, 2023).


(c) Teresa Pirola, 2023. This article may be freely reproduced with acknowledgement.


Photos: placards in recent Melbourne protests; graffiti in a Melbourne suburb. Photos courtesy Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

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