THE holiday tranquillity of the first Saturday of January along Melbourne’s St Kilda foreshore should only be shattered by cries of delight from excited children enjoying the rides in Luna Park, not by bigoted and hate-filled diatribes emanating from a far-right rally where arms jut out in “Sieg Heil” salutes.
This is the bayside that once gave shipboard Holocaust survivors their first sighting of Australia, a destination these haunted people hoped would be a peaceful haven and a fresh beginning.
But last Saturday, on the centenary of the founding of the German Workers Party, forerunner of Hitler’s Nazi movement, it became a coastline marred by the ugly and unacceptable spectre of contemporary neo-Nazism.
Spearheaded by convicted criminals Blair Cottrell – who wants portraits of Hitler in Australian classrooms – and Neil Erikson, both of the United Patriots Front, the alarming spectacle near St Kilda Beach sent shockwaves through our community – shockwaves exacerbated by a spate of antisemitic incidents in neighbouring Caulfield the very same week: stickers bearing swastikas from neo-Nazi group Antipodean Resistance posted on the gates of the Emmy Monash Jewish aged care facility and at the entrance of a nearby apartment block; the words “Are Jews … religious … or crimimals [sic]?” graffitied outside a nearby theatre; and a swastika daubed on equipment in a nearby playground.
As the Jewish Holocaust Centre stated, it is particularly galling for our community to see these vestiges of Hitlerism – in this city, in this country, that indeed became that yearned-for haven.
Alongside the rabble-rousing racist rhetoric, the Nazi salutes and the SS paraphernalia on display, the most disturbing aspect of Saturday’s rally was the attendance – at the taxpayer’s expense – of Senator Fraser Anning, already notorious for a maiden Senate speech recommending a “final solution” for our immigration policies.
His presence was rightly, if belatedly, condemned by leaders across the political spectrum. Anning, in turn, claimed to be a “supporter of the Jewish community”. Such support, however, is not invited or reciprocated.
We too condemn him. In joining those who use language clearly intended to inflame the basest instincts of fear and hatred, he violates our most fundamental values.
Confronted by images from the rally as well as the antisemitic stickers and daubings in the heartland of the Jewish community, the cry, “we have seen it all before”, feels so ineffective.
As we begin another year further distant from 1939-45, we continue to see a gathering return to extremism globally. A deep pessimist might even see an incremental slide into the type of conditions that yielded the Holocaust.
Thankfully, though, that’s still very far-fetched, the near universal condemnation of Saturday’s rally – from the government, the opposition, the race discrimination commissioner, and leaders within and beyond our community – confirming that those responsible are, and will for the foreseeable future, remain on the fringes.
Nonetheless, we must be on our guard. On the fringes they may be, but their language and their actions impact on Australian Jewry just as they impact on other minorities.
It is incumbent on us to stand up. It is incumbent on us to speak out. Never again.
For full coverage, see this week’s AJN