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Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Page: 1546

Senator RYAN (7:00 PM) —Tonight I rise to speak about a conference I attended in Canada last week, the second conference of the Inter-parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism. The second conference was held in Ottawa last week after the first conference was held in London last year. A coalition of members of parliaments from around the world, it is dedicated to combating the rise of anti-Semitism in our society. The London conference in 2009 did not have an Australian representative, but I was joined at the conference in Ottawa last week by the member for Melbourne Ports, Mr Michael Danby.

Anti-Semitism is the oldest and most insidious of hatreds. It is different from other forms of racism. I do not say it is worse, as I condemn all forms of racism, but it is different in that it is global in its nature, has survived throughout the various eras of humanity and, of course, has culminated in the horrors of the Holocaust, a constant reminder to all of us of the capacity of man to be truly evil and inhumane to others. It is founded on misunderstanding but also on lies, libels and a malicious intent to create the ‘other’ in our own community. It is tragically undergoing a resurgence in our world today. It falls upon us as leaders of our community to tackle this directly, not simply to turn our backs and hope it goes away or recedes into history, for the lessons of history are that it does not. This poison, if it is not eliminated, spreads.

Anti-Semitism today has taken on a new face, and technology has globalised it. Whereas anti-Semitism in the West was once founded on overt racism and bastardised science, it is now more covert and hidden. Sadly, it is also propagated by those who claim to be advocates of religion. For many centuries, the Christian church has provided a basis for it, just as today radical Islamism is reinvigorating this oldest of hatreds. While today in some nations of the Middle East it has taken on a new and virulent form, in the West it has become hidden behind a veil of allegedly respectable criticism of the state of Israel and various international organisations, government and non-government alike. I hasten to add that legitimate criticism of the state of Israel is not anti-Semitism, as the declaration from the Ottawa conference outlined last week. To say so is wrong. But the application of constant double standards to Israel alone and the demonisation and delegitimisation of Israel are, sadly, components of modern Western anti-Semitism.

The Ottawa conference was opened by the Prime Minister of Canada, the Rt Hon. Stephen Harper MP, with a particularly powerful speech from which I will quote this evening. He said:

But of course we must also combat antisemitism beyond our borders, an evolving, global phenomenon. And we must recognise, that while its substance is as crude as ever, its method is now more sophisticated.

Harnessing disparate anti-Semitic, anti-American and anti-Western ideologies, it targets the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world, and uses, perversely, the language of human rights to do so.

In another part of the statement he said:

… when Israel … is consistently and conspicuously singled out for condemnation, I believe we are morally obligated to take a stand. Demonisation, double standards, delegitimisation, the three D’s, it is the responsibility of us all to stand up to them.

I also note that he outlined how, in his opinion, the Canadian government’s strong support for the state of Israel had cost them a number of votes and their bid for a UN Security Council seat, and I think there are lessons for all of us in that.

I have spoken in this place before about the poison being spread in the nations that surround Israel: the dramatisation of the blood libel into a TV series; the indoctrination of children with racial hatred that would make Australians cry; and the glorification of murderous terrorists who target civilians. But we must also stand guard in our own communities. When we see media outlets report on commercial disputes with the unnecessary labelling of someone as a Jewish businessman when we would never see other labels such as ‘Italian’ or ‘Irish’ used, we must stop and ask ourselves why. Indeed, we must ask them to cease doing so, for it is through such small steps that we begin to define the ‘other’ in our own communities. When we hear of anti-apartheid campaigns directed at Israel in an attempt to equate the fascist and racist apartheid South African state with the state of Israel, we need to take a stand and say, ‘Stop.’ For it is inch by inch, slur by slur and lie by lie that the demonisation of Israel and the Jewish people takes hold once again.

At the first conference, in London last year, a declaration was agreed to by all the members of parliament participating, and I will read a short part of it tonight:

We are alarmed at the resurrection of the old language of prejudice and its modern manifestations—in rhetoric and political action—against Jews, Jewish belief and practice and the State of Israel.

We are alarmed by Government-backed antisemitism in general, and state-backed genocidal antisemitism, in particular.

We, as Parliamentarians, affirm our commitment to a comprehensive programme of action to meet this challenge.

This is a commitment to which we should all pledge ourselves.

I have also spoken before about the importance of education about the Holocaust, and this is a matter which I will continue to pursue in this place. It is something that I believe is lacking in the content of the current draft history curriculum, and I believe it is something on which we could learn from Britain and other countries in Europe.

I would also like to briefly speak about certain international organisations—in particular the United Nations Human Rights Council. Its unremitting and constant focus upon Israel and the alleged behaviour of Israel, coming from states that do not respect even the most basic of rights that we would expect of ourselves, is a sign of nothing less than this organisation’s anti-Semitic intent. It supports and provides a forum to use the language of human rights in a completely bastardised manner and in a way completely contrary to the organisation’s aims and what it was set up for.

In my view, those of us who are not Jewish Australians need to speak up. For too long the enemies of Israel and those who propagate these views have relied on the fact that only Jewish Australians speak up in attacking this oldest of racisms.

I would briefly like to thank a number of the organisers: the Hon. Irwin Cotler MP, a former Attorney-General of Canada and Representative Chris Smith of the United States House of Representatives were two people who organised this conference and who sit on the steering committee of this body; and, in particular, the Hon. Jason Kenney MP, the Canadian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, who ensured the government of Canada was completely supportive of the organisation of this conference.