ANTISEMITISM dipped by 10 per cent during the 2019-20 review period, according to Julie Nathan, the ECAJ’s research director on antisemitism, in her annual report. However, the number of reported incidents from October 1, 2019, to September 30, 2020 – 188 attacks and 143 threats – remains substantially above the average recorded since 2013, she cautioned.
And Nathan noted that “the decrease in the overall number of incidents should not disguise the marked increase in the number of the most serious categories of incidents”. The period saw a doubling of reported incidents of physical assault; a 12 per cent increase in direct verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation; a massive 229 per cent increase in the number of reported direct threats by postal mail; and slight increases in the number of threats via telephone and posters and stickers.
“The increase in the number of more serious incidents is especially concerning in light of the fact that synagogues and other Jewish community facilities were closed for varying periods from March onwards due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and there were thus fewer opportunities for antisemites to abuse, harass and intimidate Jews in the vicinity of those facilities as they have done in the past,” Nathan said.
She noted that previously these kinds of incidents have often occurred during Shabbat and festivals when many Jews walk to and from synagogue. “The fact that substantial increases occurred in the number of assaults and incidents of direct verbal abuse, harassment and intimidation at a time of significant reduction in the visibility of Jews on the streets may indicate a rise in the underlying level of anti-Jewish sentiment.”
There was also a proliferation of antisemitic discourse, mostly online, blaming “the Jews” for the pandemic, a new iteration of a classical form of antisemitism that is based on unfounded conspiracy theories, stated Nathan.
Several incidents of antisemitic bullying of Jewish students in schools which had gone unreported in previous years were publicly exposed during the year. After The AJN reported the bullying of two Jewish boys, aged 5 and 12, in Melbourne public schools during 2019, “other Jewish students came forward with their own experiences of bullying and assault in yet another public school in Melbourne”.
“These allegations became the focus of a further official inquiry in Victoria,” said Nathan.
“We need not only strong anti-incitement laws, but also systematic education programs in schools and universities and responsible messaging from community and political leaders.”