However, the IHRA definition explicitly notes that any criticism against Israel that is similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be described as antisemitic. So if Israel is seen and judged on the same conditions as other countries, then it cannot be described as antisemitic.
Ms SPENDER (Wentworth) (17:31): I’d like to thank the member for Macnamara for moving this motion and offering me the opportunity to second it, and to speak as to why I believe the work of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, or IHRA, is so important. I also want to acknowledge the member for Berowra for also speaking on this motion and for being co-chair of the Parliamentary Friends of IHRA.
Australia’s society has come a long way in my lifetime in many ways but not in this. Certain behaviours and views which were once considered acceptable are now increasingly considered unacceptable as they perpetuate attitudes and stereotypes which are not just wrong but harmful. Australians should be proud our community is more open, tolerant and respectful in so many ways now than it was historically. But that is not the case in terms of antisemitism. The member for Berowra spoke personally about his time and experience at university 20-odd years ago and how, as a Jewish student, he felt there were elements of antisemitism but he felt broadly accepted. Sadly, talking to Jewish students in my community of Wentworth, that is not the case. Many of them that spoke to me talked about some of the horrors of trying to live with expressions of antisemitism, of money being thrown at their feet, of abusive notes being put into their pockets, of hiding their identity or jewellery or other things that might give away that they are Jewish because they do not feel welcome, most particularly on our Australian campuses. This is most concerning because universities have always been at the forefront of social progress, but on this particular issue, of antisemitism, it seems we have gone backwards, particularly at universities.
This is why the work of IHRA is so important. By proposing a working definition of antisemitism, it provides a tool for organisations, including government and universities, to frame what constitutes antisemitism, to set clear expectations and to help ensure the behaviour of individuals in these organisations is appropriate and respectful. I note there has been some criticism of the IHRA definition both in the other place and from members of the community, including the Jewish community, but I believe this criticism is misplaced. The strongest criticism against IHRA has been that the definition is there to stifle reasonable debate, and I really take issue with that. You can’t have a conversation about IHRA without talking about the state of Israel, and criticism around the state of Israel goes to the heart of this because many say the IHRA definition stops criticism of Israel. However, the IHRA definition explicitly notes that any criticism against Israel that is similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be described as antisemitic. So if Israel is seen and judged on the same conditions as other countries, then it cannot be described as antisemitic. But I will say—thinking of the example from the member for Berowra—that if somebody in a university screams, ‘Death to Israel,’ you can see that that would be deeply disturbing to Jewish students, because Israel has been the home of the Jews for over 3,000 years and is the one place in the world where the land, name and language are essentially the same as they were 3,000 years ago.
I commend the University of Melbourne for adopting the IHRA definition, alongside the definition of ‘Islamophobia’, as part of its four-part antiracism commitment, because individuals who are subject to racism should be listened to as we try to define what racism is in relation to these people. My vision, and the vision of other people, is for universities to continue to be places where everybody feels welcome, safe and that they belong. This is a goal I think that every university and institution in Australia shares. The University of Melbourne should continue to commit to embedding this value throughout their work, their actions and their words, and other universities should follow their guidance.
I also commend the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for the work they have done on this, particularly the work they are doing in measuring antisemitism, because it has had significant rises in the last two years. It is through this continuous vigilance, through examining these issues and through seeking change at universities that we will make the greatest difference.