While anti-Semitic acts and remarks regularly gain widespread media attention, the harassment endured by many pro-Palestinian activists, as well as reports on anti-Muslim sentiment, often flies under the radar.
Damian Ridgwell is a student activist from the University of NSW and has been involved in the Palestinian Action Group Sydney since 2012. He has been heavily involved in organising the Sydney rallies in support of Gaza, which have been running for successive weekends through the CBD and have regularly attracted more than 2,000 people.
Last week, the Palestinian Action Group of Sydney shared an example of the sorts of threats received by Mr Ridgwell due to his role as key organiser of the rallies.
Facebook user “Barker Johnson” shared a photo of Mr Ridgewell on Facebook with the headline “Guess whose throat will be cut? I’ll give you a hint, its not going to be ol Tone.”
The Palestinian Action Group Sydney Facebook page replied: “It's sadly an all too common experience that activists who stand up for the rights of the Palestinian people and oppose Israeli war crimes have outrageous slanders and threats made against them,”
“Here is an example of the death threats that Damian Ridgwell has been receiving on Facebook after he organised the first demonstration against Israel's massacre in Gaza.”
Mr Ridgwell told New Matilda it was not uncommon for pro-Palestinian activists to be targeted by harassment.
“There have been messages basically saying threats like ‘You should have your throat cut’. There’s been a whole bunch of others saying I’m supporting terrorism and saying I should be killed for supporting terrorism,” Mr Ridgwell told New Matilda.
“And in general, this is not an abnormal occurrence. This happens to pretty much anyone who organises demonstrations in support of Palestine. They generally receive harassment via social media or via telephone.”
Mr Ridgwell often receives harassing phone calls late at night, because his number is publically available on media releases promoting the rallies.
“We have seen internationally attacks on pro-Palestinian activists.
“In Australia, it’s a way to try and intimidate people rather than it being a serious threat to a person’s safety. But I mean, a lot of the people making these threats are generally a crossover between people who are part of Zionist political organisations, or the far right, and also people who are part of fascist organisations like the Australian Defence League.
Yesterday, New Matilda columnist Michael Brull reported on the “appalling and violent” outbursts of anti-Semitism in western countries, which has been condemned by some of Australia’s most prominent Palestinian commentators.
He quoted Palestinian author Randa Abdel-Fattah, who said as a “daughter of a dispossessed Palestinian because of the racism of Zionism means it is incumbent on me to oppose racism in and of itself, not because it will hurt my agenda”.
“One day the Palestinians might have their own state or, and I think this is more likely, there will be one state for both peoples. I will never allow the racism of my people’s occupier to change my moral core.
“If you think this is about a ‘Jewish pathology’ then shame on you for not understanding the cause. If you want to advocate for a free Palestine, then you have a moral duty to educate yourself on what this conflict is about.”
But while some prominent Palestinians may condemn anti-Semitic attacks and remarks, the anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia often goes ignored or is misreported.
ABC’s Media Watch programme on Monday compared the reaction of two cartoons published by Fairfax and The Australian.
The Fairfax cartoon, drawn by Glen Le Lievre to accompany a column by Mike Carlton in the Sydney Morning Herald, was rightly condemned for anti-Semitism after evoking a litany of complaints from readers.
But Media Watch said an “equally contentious” cartoon by The Australian’s Bill Leak, which implied Hamas fighters send Palestinian children into the frontlines to be killed, did not provoke the same uproar.
Vice-President of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network told Media Watch: “For Palestinians, it’s bad enough that our children are killed in their homes, while sheltering in UN schools and playing on the beach, but can you imagine how it feels to be portrayed as sending them out in the hope that they’ll be killed?
“…This is not only racist and offensive but totally untrue.
“There is absolutely no evidence that Palestinians have ever done this and I’m at a loss to understand why a reputable Australian newspaper would demonise us in this way.”
Mr Ridgwell told New Matilda that there was a disproportionate response when dealing with anti-Muslim sentiment.
“Even if you aren’t talking about the attacks on Palestine, there is certainly a massive disproportionality in reports of anti-Semitism versus reports of anti-Muslim racism in Australia.”
That’s not to say either is right.
Writing in New Matilda, Mr Brull said “none of us should accept the moral blackmail that opposing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is a form of anti-Semitism.”
“Such an argument is based on the premise that the rights of Jews in the West is somehow more important than the rights of Palestinians under occupation.
“There is no reason that one cannot support the rights of Jews and Palestinians equally, and this should be the position of everyone.”
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