WHEN did the world turn upside down? This Sunday, Neil Erikson, who in 2014 pleaded guilty to making racist phone calls to Melbourne’s Rabbi Dovid Gutnick, was due to rally alongside Jewish activist Avi Yemini in Sydney to demonstrate against the court ruling on the FREE shule in Bondi.
Irrespective of the false premise underlying the now-cancelled protest – the court decision was far from the victory for terrorism and the infringement of Jewish rights that many in the media and our own community have made it out to be – we cannot turn a blind eye to those who claim to speak for us in the public domain and those associated with them.
As well as his calls to Rabbi Gutnick, which the judge said were “motivated by prejudice, if not hatred, towards the victim because of his race”, Erikson also allegedly staged a mock beheading during protests against a Bendigo mosque.
This week, in a video posted online, Erikson said he would join Yemini at the Bondi rally, before later withdrawing after being contacted by Yemini. But Erikson was not the only supporter of the planned protest whose associations should spark our concern.
For his part, Yemini said he would not tolerate neo-Nazis at the rally. It’s a step in the right direction for the Melbourne gym owner who has carved out a position in the public eye as an outspoken critic of the threat he claims is posed by Islam, and in the media as a go-to guy for a Jewish point of view.
While the passion infusing his advocacy for Israel and the community are commendable, and while there is no question that others within Australian Jewry share his views, comments that he and others have posted on his Facebook page reveal a tendency towards the far right that does not sit comfortably with a people who have traditionally been first in the far right’s firing line.
Nor does it sit well with a community that has been, and still is, at the forefront of promoting religious tolerance and equality both on these shores and overseas.
Just as we call for moderate mainstream Muslims to speak out against radical Islamism, so too moderate mainstream Jews must ensure that their voices are not drowned out in the public sphere by those on the fringes.
The issue of the FREE shule is a case in point. There had already been enough misinformation spread about it, without it then being hijacked by those with a radical agenda.