A few years ago, I sat in the office of a rabbi in Perth discussing the state of the local Jewish community. The rabbi spoke with effusive pride at the academic success of the city’s Jewish high school, the warmth and charity of his small but sturdy flock, and the overall security and comfort in which the community lived and worshipped.
Then his tone became grave. He recalled how a short time before, a group of Holocaust survivors arrived at his synagogue for a special sabbath service and was confronted with neo-Nazi slogans and swastikas emblazoned on the walls of the building. The rabbi shed tears as he recalled the horror on their faces in what he termed “an attack on the souls” of people who had already experienced the limits of human suffering.
The community had previously experienced a campaign of attacks in the 1980s and 1990s at the hands of a white nationalist gang led by Jack Van Tongeren, that was also responsible for firebombing Asian restaurants and plotting to assassinate the state’s attorney general.
In other states, a Tasmanian woman, Olga Scully, distributed offensive antisemitic literature through letterboxes in 1995, while Fredrick Toben published material on his Adelaide Institute website denying material aspects of the Holocaust, including the existence of gas chambers at Auschwitz. Both incidents resulted in successful actions brought by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community, under provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act.
These incidents, which represented the most visible and egregious examples of far-right or neo-Nazi activity targeting Australia’s Jewish community, were exceptional and were perpetrated by people on the extreme fringes of Australian society. But in the past 18 months, there has been a wave of activity and racist campaigns by new far-right groups.
Since February 2017, a neo-Nazi group called “Antipodean Resistance” has daubed synagogues with swastikas, and plastered posters across university campuses, public transport and schools with messages including, “legalise the execution of Jews” and “reject Jewish poison”.
Earlier this year, a group called Chemtrails Geelong distributed leaflets at five Australian universities calling the Holocaust a “gigantic political and financial swindle”.
Groups like Battalion 88 and the United Nationalists Australia became active online at the beginning of last year. The Dingoes, an Australian “alt-right” group with links to American neo-Nazis including Mike Enoch, host of The Daily Shoah, began broadcasting around the same time. Former Labor leader Mark Latham and Nationals MP George Christensen both gave interviews on The Dingoes’ podcast.
The notorious “echoes”, triple parentheses placed around names or words on social media posts to denote their Jewish origin, and Pepe the Frog, both ubiquitous markers among the American hard-right, began to enter the lexicon of Australian white nationalists. The usually civilised social media channels of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry have recently been targeted with messages containing the phraseology of American neo-Nazis. Suddenly a succession of posted comments ended with references to the “goyim” and “oy vey,” a snide distortion of common Yiddish words.