Senator Paul Scarr – anti-Semitism in Queensland and in schools

Photo of Senator Paul Scarr
February 27, 2024

It is unacceptable that children going to schools in Australia should be suffering from vile antisemitic attacks of the nature detailed in this letter. It is unacceptable, and all of us, as leaders in this country, need to stand up and fight the scourge of antisemitism in our country.

Senator SCARR (QueenslandDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (19:30): During the first week of the parliamentary calendar year, I spoke on the issue of antisemitism in my home state of Queensland. I spoke about the fact that I’ve been approached by members of Queensland’s Jewish community, who gave me a dossier of quite vile antisemitic Facebook posts and other material which they’ve been subjected to. Since that time, I have now received a letter which I want to speak to during this adjournment debate.

At the outset, I say that I’m going to be very careful when I’m reading this letter from someone who’s written to me as both a teacher and a concerned parent in relation to antisemitism in our Queensland schools. I’m going to be very careful that I do it to maintain the anonymity of the person who wrote to me. The parent is concerned to make sure that their anonymity is protected, and I want to do my best to do that. I’m going to read parts of this letter from this parent, which is heartbreaking:

I hope this message finds you well. I write to express my grave concern about the increased experience of antisemitism for children in our schools. I write as both a teacher and a concerned parent of … children who have all experienced negative sentiment while attending school.

The reported increased incidents of antisemitism are extremely distressing and pose a significant threat to individuals. It is essential for our leaders to address this issue head-on, implement measures to curb antisemitic behaviour and foster an environment that promotes tolerance and understanding. My … children all now have stories to share of victimisation in the playground, hurtful remarks, labels and threats. This was unimaginable in Brisbane for our family prior to 7 October.

‘Unimaginable prior to 7 October’ is what this teacher and parent in my home state of Queensland says.

This teacher and parent recounts how a fellow student came up to one of their children and said, ‘I have hatred for all Jews.’ This is what was said to this teacher and parent’s child by a fellow student in a Queensland school.

The teacher and parent goes on:

We informed the school but are still unclear how this was dealt with from their end. I have needed to manage school refusal from my children due to their feelings of unsafety, while feeling a knot in my stomach with worry about if they are indeed safe if we do send them? We felt compelled to make the difficult decision to move my son to a private school to ensure that he feels safer each day.

So this parent and teacher had to move their child to a different school because of antisemitism in schools in Queensland. I continue:

Late last year, promotional material shared by local members of the Greens party was targeted at children and teachers to participate in a … rally. I was deeply concerned to see children being swept up in a one-sided political agenda which will only incite more one-sidedness and hate along with misunderstandings. The flyer also contained an image of Israel superimposed with the Palestinian flag which is representative of a call for the removal of Israel and its people from the map. This is deeply worrying and unsettling in the context of being directed towards children. These images in our community along with swastikas are clear messages of hate and are impacting on the wellbeing and safety of our children. I wrote to our local Greens member … in November—

this letter was addressed to me on 20 February—

to address my grave concerns for my children’s safety but still await a reply.

I urge you again to take a proactive stance against antisemitism in our schools and in any form of political marketing targeted at children and trust that, with your influence, we can collectively work towards creating a community that is safe, inclusive, and free from the shadows of antisemitism.

That is from a teacher and parent in my home state of Queensland. These were terrible, terrible, terrible experiences suffered by the children of that teacher and parent at a school in my home state of Queensland. It shouldn’t happen. It shouldn’t happen in this country. It’s unforgivable. But it’s happening, and we know it’s happening because the Blueprint Institute—just today, a week after I received that letter—released the report Antisemitism in Australian schools: an examination. This is what they’ve found, and I congratulate them on this research. I quote from the executive summary:

Our poll, consisting of a nationally representative sample of 510 employees in the Australian public school workforce, has uncovered widespread reports of antisemitism in Australian primary and secondary schools.

Their research validates the experiences detailed in this letter. They say:

… our results suggest an average of approximately 75,000 incidents per year in government schools across the country—

an average of 75,000 antisemitic incidents per year in schools across the country. Further, they detail how the problem is elevated at high schools. On page 6 of the report it says:

Incidents of antisemitism were reported as more prevalent in secondary school settings, with 35% of secondary school teachers and administrators compared to 16% of primary school teachers and administrators surveyed reporting they had directly experienced, witnessed, or been informed by others of antisemitism

That’s 35 per cent of secondary school teachers reporting that.

In the course of the estimates process I raised the fact that, whilst the government has provided money to enhance safety at Jewish schools and preschools, there has been an absence of an allocation of sufficient funds to conduct a program to support agencies, NGOs and the wider community to combat the scourge of antisemitism in our community. There was a noble grant that was offered, a social cohesion measures grant, to combat Islamophobia. Its purpose and objectives were to combat Islamophobia, develop communications to combat Islamophobia and racism, and mitigate the harms of misinformation and disinformation narratives that impact communities. That’s an important grant, with noble purposes, but what we need to see—as the evidence being provided from parents and teachers and other members of the Jewish community across this country and the research are indicating to us—is the Labor government dedicating sufficient funds to a program to combat the scourge of antisemitism. That’s what’s needed.

It is unacceptable that children going to schools in Australia should be suffering from vile antisemitic attacks of the nature detailed in this letter. It is unacceptable, and all of us, as leaders in this country, need to stand up and fight the scourge of antisemitism in our country.

Link to Parliamentary Hansard