Listen: Vic Alhadeff in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty.
A shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue left 12 dead and six injured, including four police responding to the incident. It was the worst ever attack on Jewish people in the United States.
The anti-semitic truck driver who pulled the trigger shouted “Kill all Jews” as he targeted his victims. Vic Alhadeff, CEO of the Jewish Board of Deputies NSW, spoke to Open House about the attack, social media hate and the spread of the Alt Right in Australia.
“Any shooting targeting a religious sanctuary; be it a mosque, temple, church or synagogue plumbs the depths of how low humanity can sink” Mr Alhadeff told Stephen O’Doherty.
Support from other faiths
He said it had been heartening to see the Pittsburgh attack condemned and support for the Jewish community coming from many different faith leaders and politicians.
What is concerning Mr Alhadeff is the rising level of hateful rhetoric in the United States and around the world and the increasing popularity of extreme political groups.
Rise in hate and extremism
“In recent state elections in Germany politics went in two stark and opposite directions to the Greens on the left and to a relatively new party of the extreme right, the AFD, Alternative for Deutschland (German). It is just one measure of increasing political polarisation around the world” he says.
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Perhaps the biggest development in recent times is the explosion of social media platforms and the extreme right, the so called Alt Right, has been quick to see the potential of the wide reach and anonymity offered by social media.
“You can sit in your pj’s in the middle of the night and peddle the most horrible bigotry and incitement to violence to a billion people and no one will ever know it was coming from you.” says Vic Alhadeff.
Targeting a religious sanctuary plumbs the depths of how low humanity can sink.
“A relative newcomer is a platform called Gab. It is different to Facebook and Twitter because Gab does not filter or censor comments. It presents itself as a vehicle of choice for hardline right wingers. It is so easy today. A few years abou if you had a toxic message you would, at best, be presenting it to a dozen people in a lonely hall somewhere” he said.
The Pittsburgh attack occurred close to close to the 80th anniversary of ‘Kristallnacht‘ which translates from German as ‘The Night of the Broken Glass’ for the amount of broken glass in the streets after a two day orchestrated campaign of destructuction and violence against Jewish people and businesses. Occuring on the 8th and 9th of November 1938, it is considered to be the beginning of the Holocaust.
Over 250 synagogues were burned, over 7,000 Jewish businesses were trashed and looted, dozens of Jewish people were killed, and Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes were looted while police and fire brigades stood by. The Sydney Jewish Museum and the site holocaust.com.au have extensive resources to learn more about the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people and the history of Jewish people in Australia.
Jews in Australia
Vic Alhadeff says it is important to remember such events and learn the lessons of where hatred can lead. He says Jewish people have been in Australia since the first Europeans arrived and have become a part of the many immigrant groups who enjoy life in Australia.
“With more than 200 cultures and communities in Australia there is great respect for diversity and difference. There have been two Jewish Governors General, Sir Isaac Isaacs and Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir John Monash is the only Jewish person to head the armed forces of a country outside Israel. There are, at the moment, seven Jewish Federal Members of Parliament. So like most immigrants to this country it has been an enormously positive experience for Jewish people.”
Australian alt right group
However, he notes that in 2016 there was a nine and a half percent increase in anti-Jewish attacks in Australia and that there were anti-semitic groups active here.
“Antipodean Resistance was established two years ago in Melbourne. They are a bigoted group inciting violence. I have a photograph on my phone of a flyer they posted in Sydney last week it says ‘Legalize execution of Jews’ and has a picture of a man being shot in the head” says Mr Alhadeff.
Australian poster says ‘Legalize executing Jews’
Main Photo Credit: WIkipedia Tree of Life Synagogue – Memorials to Victims. A memorial outside the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh is seen during the visit of President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018, to remember the victims of Saturday’s mass shooting. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)
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