‘A warning for democracies’

CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA – August 12: A white supremacist trying to strike a counter protestor with a white nationalist flag during clashes in Charlottesville. Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images.

THE Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) condemned both the rally and the lacklustre response of President Donald Trump.

In a statement issued this week, ECAJ described the events of recent days as “a warning for democracies everywhere”.

“It is a disgrace to any society when hate-filled men march in the streets, openly flaunting Nazi insignia, waving Nazi flags, giving the Nazi salute and chanting blatantly anti-Semitic slogans,” lamented ECAJ president Anton Block.

“It is even worse when they kill an innocent young woman. But when this happens in the world’s foremost democracy, whose leader initially responds with only a vague rebuke, something is seriously amiss.”

ECAJ noted that the rally had been advertised beforehand on the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer as one “to end Jewish influence in America” and that during the rally a car was driven into a group of people, resulting in the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, and injuries to others.

“The events in Charlottesville are a vivid reminder that hate speech is often a precursor to violent behaviour and hate crimes,” Block said.

“If we truly value freedom and democracy, we need to stand firm not only against racist violence but also against the hate speech which precedes it. Hate speech has nothing to do with free speech or the robust interchange of competing ideas.”

Block also expressed sympathy for Heyer’s family and those who were injured in the car-ramming attack.

“The Australian Jewish community stands in solidarity with all who oppose the evils of racism and its ugly consequences,” he said.

“Terrorism is always to be abhorred, whether it emanates from Islamists, far-right fundamentalists or any other group, and whoever its victims may be.”