Australia forms new plans to tackle antisemitism

Australia has appointed a special envoy to address antisemitism and maintain “social cohesion” amidst increasing community tensions related to the Israel-Gaza conflict. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that lawyer and businesswoman Jillian Segal would engage with community leaders and discrimination experts to provide guidance to the government. This move mirrors actions taken by countries such as the US, Canada, Greece, and the UK, which have had similar positions for years.

Additionally, Mr. Albanese mentioned that a special envoy for addressing Islamophobia would be appointed soon. The ongoing Middle East conflict has become a contentious political issue in Australia, leading to protests from Jewish and Muslim communities and a significant rise in both Islamophobia and antisemitism.

The Israeli military initiated a campaign to dismantle the Hamas group governing Gaza in response to a severe attack on southern Israel on October 7, which resulted in approximately 1,200 deaths and 251 hostages. According to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry, Israel’s offensive has resulted in over 38,000 Palestinian deaths.

Mr. Albanese emphasized the importance of unity during these times, stating, “Australians are deeply concerned about this conflict, and many are hurting. In times like this, Australians must come together, not be torn apart.”

He highlighted Ms. Segal’s extensive experience in leading key Jewish community organizations and her roles in the education and banking sectors as vital in reducing tensions. Ms. Segal noted the urgency in combating the “age-old hatred” of antisemitism, citing a 700% increase in incidents since October. She stressed the need for Jewish Australians to feel safe and free to practice their religion.

The national peak body for the Australian Jewish community, previously led by Ms. Segal, has praised the appointment, citing her deep understanding and energy. However, other groups, including The Jewish Council of Australia and The Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), expressed concerns about potential increased division. APAN specifically warned against conflating antisemitism with criticism of Israel or support for Palestine.

While the Australian government supports a two-state solution and Israel’s right to self-defense, it has recently voiced concerns about Israel’s military actions in Gaza, particularly following the death of an Australian aid worker in an Israeli air strike. The governing Labor party is also experiencing internal tensions, highlighted by Senator Fatima Payman’s recent departure from the party due to its stance on the war.

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