Gulf War Seen As Cause of Increase in Australian Acts of Anti-semitism

A sharp escalation of anti-Semitic acts in Australia during the first half of 1991 has been attributed in large measure to the Persian Gulf War.

January 1991, when the war began, was in fact the worst month on record. There were 31 overt acts of anti-Semitism reported, including the first of five arson attacks on Sydney synagogues and a series of bomb threats to Jewish institutions.

There was an 8 percent rise in anti-Jewish violence, vandalism and harassment for all of last year, according to figures released last week by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. But more than 80 percent occurred in the first half of the year.

“Our records clearly show that during the Gulf war, the incidence of racist violence against Jews and Jewish property escalated to a level of most serious proportions,” said Leslie Caplan, president of the Executive Council.

The Jewish community believes that concern over the ease with which racism entered the public debates over the Gulf war and immigration policy has been reflected in the federal government’s outspoken support for national anti-racism legislation.

Anti-Semitic acts diminished in the second half of 1991 due in part to arrests, better policing of Jewish communal buildings and the publicity given bomb threats and telephone harassment, the Executive Council reported.

Of particular concern to the Jewish community was the vandalizing of 22 synagogues in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capitol Territory and Tasmania, which is off the mainland.

Serious damage was done and one congregation was forced to close.

The Executive Council said the criteria for “racist violence” it used to compile the record were established by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. They are considerably narrower than those used in the United States and Canada.

The community recorded 165 incidents of arson, vandalism, daubings, hate mail and threatening telephone calls in 1991.

There was a decrease from the previous year in anti-Semitic graffiti. But “even ‘normal’ levels are unacceptable,” Caplan said.

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