When Racism Against Arabs And Muslims Is Different


Vic Alhadeff is the chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD), and also the chair of the NSW Community Relations Commission.

In his capacity at the head of the JBD, Alhadeff has spent many years advocating in defence of the Israeli government.

In my view, this made him a strange appointment to the Community Relations Commission, and the appointment has become controversial.

We are currently in the middle of another Israeli attack on Gaza. At the time of writing, the most recent UN statistics reveal that 114 Palestinians have been killed by Israel, 88 of them civilians; 680 Palestinians have been injured; 512 homes have been damaged or destroyed; 3250 Palestinians have been displaced; and 350 000 have been affected by damage to water infrastructure.

Zero Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza.

Alhadeff responded to Israel’s onslaught as he usually does to Israel bombing Palestinians: by rallying to Israel’s defence.

He sent an email blaming Hamas for the suffering and bloodshed, and saying Israel would “do whatever is needed to defend its citizens. All options are on the table”.

Arab leader Joseph Wakim responded with outrage, saying that his defence of Israel was inconsistent with his new role at the Community Relations Commission.

The Premier Mike Baird accepted this criticism, and said Alhadeff’s comments had been “inappropriate”, and his comments “may be considered inconsistent” with promoting community harmony.

So far so good, although the Greens correctly went further and called for Alhadeff’s sacking.

But then, the response to the controversy got a little strange. The spokesperson for Baird claimed that, “Few people have done more to promote inter-faith engagement and understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities in NSW than Mr Alhadeff”.

The Lebanese Muslim Association president Samier Dandan similarly testified on Alhadeff’s behalf, saying that he had “helped the Muslim community”.

Alhadeff similarly weighed in in his own defence. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, “Mr Alhadeff said he frequently spoke out to condemn racism against the Muslim community”.

Indeed, Alhadeff claimed to have “worked tirelessly with leaders across the Muslim and Arab communities”.

In fact, Alhadeff has held a role in the leadership of the Jewish Board of Deputies for many years. The two major tasks the JBD seems to set for itself is to condemn anti-Semitism, and to support the Israeli government.

Since accepting his role at the Community Relations Commission, he has been quieter on the subject of Israel, though a browse of his twitter feed shows that he has not been completely silent on the subject.

When a church was desecrated by vandals, Alhadeff expressed his disapproval in an unusual way. He said it was “deeply disappointing that some have seen fit to import overseas conflicts and hatreds into our country”.

One might regard it as disappointing that a Community Relations official should purport to be offended that people who have immigrated to Australia have arrived with their own beliefs, values, and opinions on political conflicts in other parts of the world.

Yet if we were to adopt his standpoint, has he not also “seen fit to import overseas conflicts and hatreds into our country”?

Whilst Alhadeff claims to frequently condemn anti-Muslim racism, and to work tirelessly with Muslim and Arab leaders, there is a point in his record which apparently has gone unnoticed, despite my best efforts.

About five years ago, I wrote this, at New Matilda:

The state's leading communal Jewish body, the Jewish Board of Deputies (JBD), lent its support to Benny Morris.

I heard its CEO, Vic Alhadeff, introduce a man who thinks the Palestinians are a "wild animal" who should be put in "something like a cage".

Alhadeff introduced Morris by talking about the JBD's struggles against racism.

Benny Morris doesn't deny the Nakba — he's conducted some of the most important historical scholarship exposing Israeli massacres and expulsions. And he supports it.
"It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on."

Indeed, from Morris's perspective, the "serious historical mistake" of Israel's first prime minister was that Ben-Gurion failed to "carry out a full expulsion".

Evidently, this passed by unnoticed. So I raised the issue again, when I spoke at the Jewish festival of learning, Limmud Oz, in 2011.

I noted, as above, Morris supported the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1947-9, and also that his speaking tour was “supported by the Jewish Board of Deputies”, and that other highlights included Morris asserting that “The Arab world as it is today is barbarian.”

I went on to note that “The Cambridge University Israel Society disinvited Benny Morris from speaking, explaining ‘that the intention of the Society was never to give racism a platform.’”

Evidently, this was not a problem for Mr Alhadeff.

In 2013, I spoke at Limmud Oz again. One of the conditions for them allowing my panel to go ahead was imposing a speaker from the Jewish Board of Deputies, Yair Miller, on my panel.

I assumed this was another good opportunity to raise my concern that Alhadeff had supported the tour of a man who thought the Arab world barbarian.

And so I did, noting other insightful comments by Morris, such as that Palestinian society “is in the state of being a serial killer. It is a very sick society”.

I noted that when it comes to Alhadeff’s claim to be fighting racism, whilst supporting Morris, that “No-one else has commented on, or detected any irony in this. And why should they? The JBD claims to be upset by racism, but what they really care about is anyone criticising the Israeli government, and, occasionally, actual anti-Semitism”.

I hoped that Mr Miller would respond to my criticisms of his organisation, as he spoke after me, but he decided against it, and so my objections continue to remain unanswered.

And so, we have a chair of the Community Relations Commission, who openly supported the tour of a man who thought the Arab world barbarian – a man whose views were so extreme that the Cambridge University Israel society disinvited him, because they didn’t want to “give racism a platform”.

Alhadeff detected no inconsistency in these two facts, and evidently, neither did the NSW government that appointed him to this role.

This is yet another demonstration of the political triviality of racism towards Muslims and Arabs in Australia and NSW.

Does anyone think an Arab man could be appointed to chair the Community Relations Commission, if he had supported the speaking tour of a Muslim scholar who argued that the Jews were “sick”, like a “serial killer”, and that we were “barbarians”?

Yet the casual acceptance of the appointment of Alhadeff – and the complete lack of interest in his open support for a man who shamelessly flaunts his anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism – shows once again the kinds of bigotry that are considered untroubling and insignificant in Australia.

And, I would argue, it is this kind of bigotry that allows Australians to react with such indifference to the bloodshed we’re responsible for in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

It is also this kind of bigotry that is reflected in the Australian media’s lacklustre and uncourageous reporting on Israel’s latest barbarities in Gaza.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.