Allegra Spender MP – condemning antisemitism and Islamophobia and calling for social cohesion

Photo of Allegra Spender MP
November 16, 2023

We are in times of need. We need to reach out to each other now. We need to stand up against antisemitism, against Islamophobia and against racism. We need to consider our words and actions carefully.

Ms SPENDER (Wentworth) (15:58): Today is the International Day for Tolerance. This morning I attended a multifaith breakfast in Parliament House, and that was a very appropriate thing to do, because the last few weeks have been a traumatising time for our community—particularly our Jewish and our Muslim communities. Over 200 people are still hostages. Thousands of people have died. And these are not distant events. The dead, the missing, the injured—these are the friends and families of our people in Australia.

Australia has been a safe haven for many people from around the world, and for none more than the Jewish community. A woman came to see me last week. She was born in Australia, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor on one side and Jewish relatives who’d been in Australia since the 1880s on the other. After seeing the antisemitic chanting at the Opera House, her 12-year-old son asked if they were still safe here. Another man received a text from an old university friend. It was the first time he’d heard from her for ages. But the message was blunt: ‘What you are doing in Gaza is appalling.’ It was as if every Jewish Australian were responsible for every action of the Israeli government and as if Hamas had never attacked.

In my community we have seen posters of Hitler. We have seen Jewish businesses boycotted. Next door in Goldstein, we have seen a violent conflict and a deliberate and provocative motorcycle convoy to the beaches of the eastern suburbs, which is the heartland of the Jewish community in Australia. And we have seen horrific chanting at the Opera House. These are horrifying to my community, particularly because of the history of antisemitism.

The Jewish Holocaust survivors in my electorate and their families remember when they were accepted members of the Jewish community and of other European communities. They attended schools. They worshipped. They ran businesses. They fought alongside their neighbours and other people. Then, when things changed, they were almost wiped out. That is the history of the community, and this is why the fourfold increase in antisemitism since October has left Jewish Australians asking whether they are welcome here. It is up to all of us to give them the reassurance that they are.

But the Jewish community is not alone in feeling the pain of the conflict in the Middle East, nor in facing discrimination. One constituent wrote to me about his wife, a respected Palestinian Australian professional who gives her time to charity. He said: ‘I can’t believe I’m having to say this, but my wife is not a terrorist.’ Many people in this House have told me about their Islamic communities and of the challenges and the Islamophobia they have faced, and it is tragic. The Jewish community is grieving, the Palestinian and Muslim community is grieving, and the Australian community is horrified by the death of civilians overseas. It is our shared humanity that cries out at the civilian deaths.

One of the privileges of being an MP is to officiate at citizenship ceremonies, and there are incredibly moving words, which I’ll read:

We believe in a society in which everyone is equal, regardless of their gender, faith, sexual orientation, age, ability, race, national or ethnic origin. Ours is the land of the fair go, in which respect and compassion underpin our care for each other and our willingness to reach out to those around us in times of need.

We are in times of need. We need to reach out to each other now. We need to stand up against antisemitism, against Islamophobia and against racism. We need to consider our words and actions carefully.

This parliament and parliaments around the country must lead by example. Our first duty is the safety of our community. We must ensure that our laws protect our community and that their enforcement is appropriate, and I am working with the New South Wales government around that in my community. Our children are our future. We need to protect them and make sure that they feel safe and welcome and that they are educated appropriately so that the tropes of antisemitism and Islamophobia do not persist in future generations and that everyone is welcome in our universities. As leaders in this place, a microcosm of Australia with a variety of religious and other backgrounds, we need to show that we stand together. We need to choose our words carefully, because we know words matter. We cannot expect to speak with violence in this place and not expect violence to be repeated in the words and deeds of our communities.

It is very hard to think clearly when grief and anger cloud our vision, as it does in so many of our communities, but this is not the time to let Australians turn us into ‘us and them’. Regardless of how you see things overseas, everyone in Australia must recognise that this conflict, more than any other, demonstrates that we cannot take for granted our tolerant, open and multicultural society. There is nothing to take for granted, and it is up to all of us to safeguard it.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard