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Research Guides


Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia


Antisemitism in Australia

'Antisemitism was never part of the Australian mainstream', observes historian Hilary Rubinstein, noting that no social or legislative impediment prevented Sir John Monash or Sir Isaac Isaacs from reaching the pinnacle of military and civic leadership in their time.57 To some extent, this was due to the 'normalcy' of Jewish life in this country – Jews had been here ever since 1788, and until the 1930s, the majority were English-speakers. Also the Australian colonies were born 'modern', spawned by an English-speaking (Protestant) democracy which had no strong indigenous tradition of Jew-hatred. Indeed, Australia – and Britain – have been notable for an ongoing tradition of philosemitism. The small size of the Jewish community ensured that Jews were non-threatening numerically.

Even so, antisemitism has always been a factor (more often a minor 'irritant' than a full-blown pathology, admittedly) with which Australian Jews have had to contend. In general, the local Jewish community has managed to keep manifestations of Jew-hatred in perspective (the exception clearly being the response to the 'Russian invasion' of the 1880s and 1890s).58 Communal commentators have argued that the rise and consolidation of the home-grown Anglo-Australian Jewish middle class in the late 19th century was paralleled by the emergence of 'populist, pro-Labor antisemitism'.

At one level, this took the form of the proliferation of unflattering mythology, including the depiction of Jews in popular literature and culture as stereotyped unscrupulous financiers, parasitic profiteers or social-climbing vulgarians. A number of well-known literary figures were persistent offenders in this regard, among them Marcus Clarke, Norman Lindsay, Henry Lawson and 'lesser' contributors to Smith's Weekly, Melbourne Punch, The Bulletin, or Labor newspapers such as The Worker, Tocsin or Labor CallThe Bulletin, for instance, 'used the euphemism 'Cohen' for international finance, and 'John Bull Cohen' for British-Jewish monetary power, just as it used 'Ikey Mo' in its mocking portrayal of Jewish bookmakers and moneylenders'.59 There were claims, quite widely believed, that the Boer War had been fought primarily in the interests of Jewish capital. Subsequently concerns were expressed at seemingly dubious financial and familial links between Anglo-Jewry and 'the enemy'. Lawson, for one, expounded the view that Jews were profiting from World War I.

At another level, anti-Jewish sentiment was clearly linked with the rise of Australian nationalism, akin to anti-Orientalism and part of a generalised xenophobia. As noted earlier, White Australia Policy lobbying was, in part, spurred by the desire to keep Russian Jews out of the country. Fear or dislike of the Jew as all-powerful capitalist was compounded by claims that the Jew was spiritually 'in tune' with Bolshevism or other manifestations of political subversiveness in the wake of the Russian Revolution.

'Grumblings and rumblings' increased inevitably (as they had done in the 1890s) in response to the arrival of sizeable numbers of refugees in the 1930s and 1940s. The Australian branch of the Social Credit movement warned against Jewish banking interests in its journal New Times and even went so far as to reprint the notorious forgery Protocols of the Elders of Zion (two decades after the London Times had publicly exposed the booklet as a fake). Several other right-wing, antisemitic groups emerged briefly in the 1930s, among them the Guild of Watchmen (with headquarters in South Australia), the Sydney-based New Guard, a scattering of Nazi Party offshoots, and the Australia First movement. Public statements by antisemitic politicians such as Victorian MLA Sir Frank Clarke or Federal Liberal H M Gullett, while isolated, were nonetheless disturbing. See Chapter 2 of this guide for records which appear to underline a degree of antisemitism in Government departments which formulated and implemented immigration policy.

From the early 1940s, the chief mouthpiece for lunatic-fringe anti-Jewish rhetoric was the League of Rights. As W D Rubinstein has written:

For over fifty years its magazines have presented a ceaseless stream of antisemitic hatred and propaganda, while today it is the most important Australian distributor of antisemitic books from overseas, many from European and American neo-Nazi sources...60

A degree of antisemitism has characterised some criticism by left-wing groups of Israel (particularly since the Six-day War of 1967). The phenomenon of Holocaust denial has enjoyed some vocal endorsement in Australia while periodic attacks on Jewish buildings continue to cause concern to the community.

By and large, however, antisemitism has declined markedly in Australia, in line with the trend towards multiculturalism and in line, also, with the average Australian's increasing sophistication. Surveys conducted by the Australian Institute of Jewish Affairs indicate a predominantly positive view of Jews among the greater Australian public. The Jewish community itself has worked concertedly to arrest any outbreak of antisemitic fervour, first through the Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, and latterly, through the anti-defamation and public relations sub-committees of the various communal roof-bodies.61

A survey of records has located several series which contain items dealing with antisemitism. These include:

CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH OCCASIONAL 'G' (GENERAL REPRESENTATIONS) INFIX, 1956–
Canberra
Series: A463
Quantity: 701.38 metres
Recorded by: 1956–1971: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Anti-Jewish Campaign, 1960 – General, 1960–61 A463, 1960/3107
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'W' (WAR) PREFIX, 1939–49
Canberra
Files in this series arise out of wartime legislation, particularly National Security regulations.
Series: A472
Quantity: 32.34 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1949: Attorney-General's Department, Central Office (CA 5)
Australian Jewish Welfare Society Advertisement in 'Daily Telegraph' 9 Feb 1940. Formation of anti-Jewish association, 1940–41 A472, W2233
Crown Solicitor's Opinion No. 69 of 1941 Pamphlet 'The World Government Plot Exposed'. Victorian Jewish Advisory Board, 1941 A472, W2695
Samuel Biber – re anti-Jewish Propaganda. Distribution of leaflets, 1941 A472, W4046
L J Darling – re Jewish and Other organisations, 1941 A472, W4408
Acquisition of land by aliens – Protests. Jewish aliens, 1941 A472, W4542/11
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES (CLASSIFIED), 1957–
Canberra
Series: A1209
Quantity: 1131.68 metres
Recorded by: 1957–1971: Prime Minister's Department (CA 12)
Anti-Jewish Manifestations 1960, 1960 A1209, 1960/52
SUBJECT FILES, MULTIPLE NUMBER SERIES, 1949–
Canberra
Series: A6122
Quantity: 34.74 metres
Recorded by: 1949–: Australian Security Intelligence Organization (CA 1297)
Communist Party of Australia – Attitude towards Antisemitism, 1953 A6122, 462
CORRESPONDENCE FILES OF COMMONWEALTH IMMIGRATION SERVICE, 1916–60
Canberra
Series: A8911
Quantity: 3.51 metres
Recorded by: 1919–1946: Investigation Branch, Central Office, Melbourne and Canberra (CA 747)
Jews – Anti-Jewish Propaganda (Letter to West Maitland 'Mercury' newspaper), 1942 A8911, 258
R.G. CASEY, MINISTERIAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1956–60
Canberra
This series was the main filing system of Lord Casey during his ministry, covers both official and electoral business.
Series: A10302
Quantity: 9.1 metres
Recorded by: 1956–1960: Department of External Affairs (II), Central Office (CA 18)
Jewish Council to Combat Fascism and Antisemitism, 1956–57
This file contains correspondence between the Council and Government regarding antisemitic publications and individuals in Australia.
A10302, 1957/320
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE, DEWEY DECIMAL SYSTEM, 1945–46
Canberra
Series: SP109/3
Quantity: 8.37 metres
Recorded by: 1945–1946: Department of Information, Central Office (CA 34)
'Programme of Confusion'. Article on Jewish financiers by Gustard, 1941 SP109/3, 304/03
Censorship, Subversive Organisations and Literature. Racism and Antisemitism, 1944 SP109/3, 316/39
GENERAL CORRESPONDENCE FILES, 1939–46
Canberra
Series: SP112/1
Quantity: 13.68 metres
Recorded by: 1939–1946: Department of Information, Central Office – Press Division (CA 34)
Memorandum from the Jewish Welfare Society of Australia on the subject of publicity to counter anti-Jewish feeling in the community, 1940 SP112/1, 5/1/4
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1871–1962
Adelaide
Series: D596
Quantity: 65.34 metres
Recorded by: 1871–1962: Australian Customs Service, State Administration, SA (CA 802)
Alleged importation of Fascist and Anti-Jewish booklets, 1947 D596, 1947/4792
INVESTIGATION CASE FILES, SINGLE NUMBER SERIES WITH 'SA' (SOUTH AUSTRALIA) PREFIX, 1917–69
Adelaide
The series consists of sensitive case files on issues of national security.
Series: D1915
Quantity: 50.76 metres
Recorded by: 1919–1946: Investigation Branch, SA (CA 905)
Anti-Jewish Laws of NSDAP, 1933–39 D1915, SA19622

Notes

Chapter notes | All notes

57 L.M. Goldman, The Jews in Victoria in the 19th Century, Melb 1954, p.405-6.

58 Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora, p.133-9; Hilary L. Rubinstein, Chosen, p.153-9; Hilary L. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: a Thematic History, Vol 1, p.400-6; Harold Boas & A.W. Hyman, "The Australian Jew in the Great War", AJHSJ 1(4), 1940, p.97-105; David Mossenson, Hebrew, Israelite, Jew, Perth 1990, p.88-9.

6 Australian Jewry's Book of Honour World War II, ed. Gerald Pynt, Netley (SA), NAJEX 1973, passim; Hilary L. Rubinstein, The Jews in Australia: a Thematic History, Vol 1, p.400-6.

60 Raymond Apple, "The Jewish Military Chaplaincy in Australia", in A Portion of Praise: a Festschrift to Honour John S. Levi, ed. Howard Freeman, Melb 1997, p.238.

61 Raymond Apple, "Francis Lyon Cohen: the Passionate Patriot", AJHSJ 12(4), 1995, p.696-7.


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Chapter 6
Aspects of Jewish Life in Australia