Jacinta Allan's leadership fail
Jews don't count in Victoria
Keep in mind the global background — the harrowing civilian toll in Gaza, the excruciating fate of the hostages, the brazen Jew hatred sweeping the world like a resurgent disease — as I take you local.
To the ordinary high school where I enrolled my kids.
I enrolled them in an ordinary high school out of a zealous belief in public education (for overseas readers: in Australia, “public education” refers to government schools).
Despite my voluminous criticisms of the public system, from chronic underfunding (the fault of governments) to a reflexive tolerance for mediocrity (also the fault of governments), I remained convinced my children were getting something precious that money cannot buy and indeed elides: being part of the society in which they live. I fervently believe that a school accessible only to the rich is as poisonous for children as a sink school of last resort.
Day after day kids in government schools imbibe lessons in civic responsibility, modelling a secular public space in which every student can flourish because all students are equal. Admittedly, I’ve worried about the erosion of this ideal in recent years as authorities began putting “LGBTQI” kids on a pedestal, forcing other children to “celebrate” them, as opposed to simply ensuring they feel as safe and valued as the next student. In September, a court found that a principal at Brighton Secondary College, in my home state of Victoria, had failed to systematically address anti-Semitic bullying and harassment, taking a “less favourable” approach to Jewish kids than he took or would have taken for other vulnerable minorities.
The case was depressing. Still, after the court’s emphatic judgment, I believed the public school ethos of equal rights and equal opportunities remained largely intact.
Then along came October 7 and the Israel-Hamas war.
A school “strike for Palestine” is scheduled for Australia on Thursday after similar protests in other countries. Victoria’s Labor Premier, Jacinta Allan, refuses to condemn or seriously push back against the strike. She has abandoned Jewish students, many of them already too scared to wear their uniforms in public. She has especially betrayed Jewish students in public schools and undermined the ethos of public education full stop.
While other state Labor governments have also stopped short of condemning the strike, the Allan government’s failure is part of a pattern of failure to support Melbourne’s besieged Jewish community.
This failure to have the Jewish community’s back is in stark contrast to the government’s unctuous championing of other minorities it deems oppressed.
The Free Palestine movement is calling on students to walk out of their classrooms at lunchtime tomorrow and rally in the city under the umbrella of “school students for Palestine,” a sober, bookish and spontaneous grassroots movement. If my sarcasm flies under your radar just imagine the complexity that will fly under the radar of the teenagers answering the protest call, even if they’ve been cannily memorising the names of “the river” and “the sea,” between which Palestine will be “free,” and Israel will be nowhere, a fact they may not grasp or perhaps they do, perhaps believing a world without a Jewish state is a goal so noble and urgent it justifies the brutal slaughter of 1200 people if indeed that even happened.
The Victorian branch of the Australian Education Union and the NSW Teachers Federation, which represents more than 60,000 public school teachers, are supporting the strike. The Federation, while insisting anti-Semitism has no place in Australia, claimed the NSW government’s “pro-Israel” commentary was “unnecessarily fanning the anger … of Palestinian communities in Australia.”
We must not “unnecessarily fan the anger” of Palestinian communities, apparently. We must anger them only when “necessary.” It is a familiar theme in the post 9/11 era; the intelligence and security services regularly warn against talking about the threat of Islamic radicalism lest more Muslims become “radicalised.” As an idea it is pure racism, perpetuating the Orientalist myth that Muslims cannot handle robust debate without the impulse to violence overtaking them.
By contrast, no-one worries about “fanning the anger” of Australia’s Jewish community; Jewish anger seemingly not the sort of anger that gets “fanned.”
The Labor premiers and education ministers in Australia’s mainland states have responded to the strike call with platitudes about how heartening it is to see our youngsters engaged with the news, but school comes first. Federal government ministers said the same thing with a more taciturn inflection, appealing to “community leaders” to turn down the temperature, and Bill Shorten implying the TikTok generation can hardly afford to miss class.
But Victoria’s newly-minted Premier, Jacinta Allan, has taken a demonstrably softer line. The state and federal Opposition urged her to condemn the rally; she urged them to calm down. Affirming the fundamental right to protest, she said it was up to individual schools to decide how to handle student attendance. After all, many students are directly affected by the war, Allan intoned.
“We’ve got kids at school who have lost loved ones, they’ve lost family members, they can’t get in contact with family members in either Israel or Gaza.”
Children from both sides of the conflict are indeed suffering. But in refusing to condemn the strike — we might even argue she’s given it her tacit blessing — Allan is elevating the interests of one group of children at the expense of the other. Her comments suggest a casual disregard for the wellbeing of Jewish children, especially Jewish children in public schools whose parents can’t shop around for more “culturally safe” options and rightly expect protection from the state.
An already vulnerable minority, Jewish students now confront a yet more febrile, politically-charged environment at school as their classmates decide whether to march through the city calling for the dismantling — by peaceful means, of course! — of the world’s only Jewish state, established as a refuge from genocidal Jew hatred. How might these Jewish students feel should their protesting classmates return to school full of venom against the “genocidal” Jewish homeland?
Evidently, Allan doesn’t care.
Even though high school students aren’t short of opportunities to attend pro-Palestine rallies, a weekend fixture since virtually the morning after the October 7 massacre, before Israel’s retaliation against Hamas had even started. At last weekend’s rally — a loud rally, with the beating of drums — one placard featured a Star of David, symbol of the Jewish people, being tossed into a bin, with the exhortation, “let’s clean the world of rubbish.”
Just when I thought I’d fortified myself against Jew hatred, this image, in vogue at anti-Israel marches around the globe, of my people — my children — symbolically cast out as rubbish, broke me. I’m not asking for sympathy. I’m not even demanding that the bearer of the placard be charged with a crime if that’s what happened. I was simply hoping the state’s leader might have seen fit to condemn such a naked display of hatred.
But Allan kept mum.
Allan and most — not all — of her Labor comrades repeatedly issue evenhanded condemnations of “anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.” Though, in a welcome development, the Prime Minister and Opposition leader are today expected to denounce anti-Semitism at a joint appearance at Melbourne’s Holocaust museum.
On the weekend the Allan government evenly distributed $8 million between Jewish and Islamic communities towards security, including in their respective schools, so that everyone feels “safe, welcome and celebrated.”
I’ll set aside my doubts that the post-October 7 tally on anti-Jewish versus anti-Muslim violence justifies such strictly equitable investment. Set aside my irritation with headlines such as “At least 10 arrests made amid spate of antisemitism, Islamophobia reports,” when it turns out nine of the 10 arrests were for anti-Semitism and only one for Islamophobia. After all, if even one schoolgirl gets harassed for wearing hijab that’s one too many. And it only took one hate-filled individual to turn two Christchurch mosques into death chambers.
But it’s one thing to roll out the balanced condemnation of “ism” and “phobia” in the abstract — quite another to do so in specific instances when only one of these apply. For instance, when gangs of Muslims get about intimidating Jews in their suburban enclaves. Pro-Palestinian motorbike and car convoys twice took the scenic route through Sydney’s more distinctively Jewish suburbs — a move even the Palestine Action Group slammed as “deliberately provocative.”
And in Melbourne about 200 pro-Palestine demonstrators descended on the Jews’ Caulfield heartland the week before last after news broke of a suspicious fire at the local Burgertory fast-food chain. The owner, a Muslim, had spoken at a Free Palestine rally and claimed he had been receiving threats ever since. He claimed the fire was also payback from Zionists, an accusation many, including respected anti-fascist campaigners and Islamic organisations, were inclined to believe despite the police saying they were “very confident” the fire was not religiously or politically motivated. All day on social media the outraged urged a show of “solidarity” — “let’s head down there”— even after the owner himself cautioned pro-Palestine supporters to stay away.
They came to Caulfield, prayed to Mecca, their presence leading the Jews in the synagogue across the road to cancel their Shabbat service. They drew a crowd of pro-Israel counter-protestors. They threw stones and broke through police containment lines. Scuffles broke out and ended in pepper spray.
If you don’t instantly see the power dynamic at work on Burgertory night then try to imagine the reverse scenario, try to picture inflamed Jews, wrapped in Israeli flags, rallying outside a mosque in Coburg, brandishing their “Bring them Home” kites …
Some in the pro-Palestinian camp insist there was nothing inherently wrong with descending on Caulfield, which, the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network’s Nasser Mashni pointed out, is not, after all, “in Israel” — an ironic remark given he also opposes Israel’s right to continuing existence as a Jewish state.
Put bluntly: Jews cluster out of instinct, a deeply ingrained response to centuries of persecution. They cluster because of episodes that bear some resemblance to the one that played out in Caulfield that Friday night, a day after the 85th anniversary of Kristallnacht — the “Night of Broken Glass” — a coincidence lost on virtually no-one in the community. Jews stick together out of rational fear only to be despised for their rational fearfulness. If you think I’m exaggerating, five minutes on Twitter (latterly known as X) will reveal the oldest hatred raging anew.
“Who the hell are you to say where people can protest?” fumed anonymous citizen journalist “RonniSalt” after Burgertory Friday, presumably to some risible Zionist.
“You don’t own the streets …
“This is what fuels the hatred; this entitled sickness.”
Apologies for taking the long route to my point: after the events in Caulfield, most Liberal (conservative) MPs expressed solidarity with the Jewish community, while many (not all) Labor MPs, including the Premier, said there was no place in Australia for “anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.”
Victorians must “show each other love, care and support in these difficult times,” Allan said.
“It is our diversity that makes us great, and our compassion that unites us – there is never any place for antisemitism or Islamophobia in Victoria.”
But “Islamophobia” was not the story that Friday when a mob targeted Melbourne’s Jews. In fact, followers of Islam, however small their number, were pure hatred in search of a pretext. Far from uniting the state, Allan is fuelling division in her “compassionate” refusal to call-out racism. She’s emboldening the racists.
As to why Allan, and some others in her party and the broader left, choke on denouncing Jew hatred, I can only speculate. Here’s three possible explanations — perhaps all of them true. The first, and generous, theory is these leaders hold the genuine, if misguided, belief I mentioned earlier, namely that evenhandedness defuses tension — we mustn’t anger Muslims by calling them angry! The second, and cynical, theory is they’re politically influenced by heavily Muslim electorates and also fear losing inner-city seats to the Greens.
The third, more complicated, theory is they’re susceptible to the same ideology that’s persuaded some of the finest minds in the world’s most prestigious institutions that Israel is a “settler-colonialist” state and medieval Hamas a symbol of progressive resistance. This same ideology codes Jews as “white” and rich, which means in the oppression minority stakes they simply “don’t count,” as David Baddiel puts it, and — okay, I hear you protesting.
You’re saying: of course the Victorian government sees Jews as a vulnerable minority, haven’t they banned the swastika and the Nazi salute? And indeed, the government’s been in a frenzy of anti-Nazi legislation, the boneheads in black need only pick their nose at the gym and the cops will be there. The government goes into bat for Jews against white Nazis, no doubt about that. But brown Nazis, and their fellow travellers, well.. they can march through the city declaring Jews rubbish and the Premier will preach love and understanding, and then take decisive action and commission consultants to report on how the state might “enhance social cohesion” and “celebrate diversity.”
Because within Victoria’s government and public service too many subscribe to a worldview in which brown people cannot oppress Jewish people any more than transwomen can oppress women.
And because of this lack of insight and imagination from our political class Jewish students in Victoria, and elsewhere, will tomorrow gain “lived experience” as a marginalised minority, a grim lesson and I fear, an enduring one.
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