Last month a poster for a new play in Melbourne about the Diary of Anne Frank was sprayed with a swastika.
- Racism and anti-Semitism has been on the rise over the past decade, a historian says
- Deborah Lipstadt blames both the right and left of the political spectrum
- A Holocaust survivor has warned that Australia could follow the same path as Nazi Germany
A couple of months earlier, posters for Treasurer Josh Frydenberg — a practising Jew — were smeared with Nazi symbols.
A Jewish cemetery was vandalised in France in February, and shortly afterward the German Government warned Jewish men against wearing the traditional kippah in public following a spike in attacks.
It follows the mass shooting in a synagogue in the US city of Pittsburgh last year that left 11 dead.
Eighty graves in a Jewish cemetery near Strasbourg, France were reportedly desecrated. (Reuters: Vincent Kessler)
And swastikas and the words “gas chamber” were scrawled across a beach club in New York just last week.
Deborah Lipstadt is a famed American historian who has documented anti-Semitism for decades and has arrived in Australia with a dire warning: it is on the rise, it’s enabled by our world leaders, and it’s not just on the far-right fringes.
Graffiti referencing Hitler were scrawled on posters in Josh Frydenberg’s seat of Kooyong. (Supplied)
The case of the Holocaust denier
Lipstadt achieved a rare level of global recognition for a historian after her 2000 court case against British Holocaust denier David Irving made international headlines.
Irving attempted to sue Lipstadt and her publisher, Penguin Books, for libel after she characterised him as a Holocaust denier in her book, Denying The Holocaust.
English libel law put the burden of proof on Lipstadt to show she was right, and what followed was a lengthy case in which the who’s who of historians were called to give expert testimony.
Lipstadt and Penguin Books ultimately won the case, in part because they were able to prove Lipstadt’s characterisation was substantially true.
The UK press said “history was on trial” and largely celebrated the outcome, which formed the basis for the film Denial.
“I think the thing to understand about Holocaust deniers, like David Irving … in my estimation it’s not that they made a mistake in history or they forgot to see one particular document,” Lipstadt told the ABC.
“But rather, they come at this as anti-Semites, or with an anti-Semitic perspective on what happened.
“So in their mind, of course the Jews are making this up, of course the Jews are lying about this, of course the Jews are not telling the truth.”
Deborah Lipstadt is congratulated by Holocaust survivor Martin Hecht as she leaves the High Court. (Reuters)
Trump, Corbyn ‘enable’ anti-Semitism
Lipstadt has recently released her latest book, Antisemitism: Here And Now, which documents that what she finds is a rise in racism and anti-Semitism worldwide over the last decade.
“It was a book that I felt compelled to write,” she said.
“Because so many people were gobsmacked by this rise in anti-Semitism, by this open expression of anti-Semitism.”
Lipstadt tracks instances around the world, from the march of white nationalists through Charlottesville in the US to the way people felt “emboldened” by world leaders to express racist views.
Her conclusion: it’s not just an issue festering on the hard-right.
“We’re seeing it on the right and we’re seeing it on the left,” she said.
“And it’s not two different forms of anti-Semitism, it’s the same thing, but it meets in the middle and each side portrays it for its own purposes.”
Lipstadt singled out UK Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and US President Donald Trump, stopping short of labelling them anti-Semites but arguing that they enabled anti-Semitism by not calling it out.
“[Donald Trump] enables his primarily white nationalist right-wing groups to express certain attitudes, whether it’s against Muslims, whether against people of colour, and including against Jews,” she said.
“Jeremy Corbyn has never met an anti-Semite or a Holocaust denier with whom he couldn’t find common company.”
Jewish leaders in Britain have previously accused Mr Corbyn of siding with anti-Semites, and his Labour Party has battled accusations of anti-Semitism since 2016.
Lipstadt said Mr Corbyn had a history of “not noticing” anti-Semitic behaviour or not condemning those who she felt were clearly motivated by anti-Semitism.
“Of course you can criticise Israel and not be anti-Semitic,” Lipstadt said.
“It’s when you take a myopic view: when you see all the wrongs on one side; when you ignore the history; when you see only this human rights problem and no other human rights problem.”
‘Anti-Semitism can thrive in Australia’
For Lipstadt, the rise of racist and anti-Semitic attacks can be attributed to a number of factors.
“First of all, there’s a rise in people’s open expression of racism, open expression of denigration of different groups,” she said.
“In my country we have a President who divides between groups, so I think people feel emboldened.
“They also feel a bit disconcerted by changes, by social changes, economic changes.”
When that happens, Lipstadt argues, those feeling hard done by turn on the people they see as the elites.
It’s populism taken to a dangerous degree, she says, and even those who might feel secure in society can be a target.
“If we use history — and I’m very careful about historical analogies — but the German Jewish community was also solidly middle-class, comfortable, looked like everyone else, and they didn’t fare too well nonetheless.”
Her findings echo similar concerns found in Australia.
Andy Factor is a Jewish man who survived Kristallnacht — the “night of broken glass” — in Germany in 1938 and fled the Nazi march through Europe.
Now 95 years old, he fears we are seeing the same trends and rhetoric now that he witnessed 80 years ago: populist parties rising on the fringes and speaking to those who feel downtrodden.
“It is always the same story: you pick on people that are a minority … and just refer to these minorities as being responsible for some of the terrible things that happen now in this world,” he said.
And Mr Factor said Australia was not immune from the hatred.
“Should there be an economic downturn which affects a number of people then anti-Semitism will be spread,” he said.
“I remember my parents said [in the 1930s], ‘The Nazis will never come to power, there are enough people in this country to oppose them’.
“And in Australia it would be quite similar. They will creep in. They will take advantage.
“The anti-Semitism is undercover in Australia at the moment. It is dormant. But it can be revived at any moment, I’m quite convinced.”