The ANU has recently been plagued by literature surrounding the doctoring of history. Holocaust denial pamphlets have been distributed to cars around campus, in an unusually blatant act of antisemitism.
However this is not the first antisemitic act to occur on ANU campus, and certainly not the first to occur in Canberra.
There is a long history of letters being used to propagate and combat antisemitic attitudes on campus, particularly in times of high political tension in Israel.
In September 1978 The Canberra Times ran an article under the headline ‘Jews threat to whole world.’ The headline was taken from a quote by interviewee and visiting Professor Qazi.
The article was the subject of a series of Letters to the Editor by several distinguished ANU academics.
While one letter from the professor of history John N Molony attempted to defend Qazi and chastise The Canberra Times for its conflation of Qazi’s statement, most condemned the article.
Chris Duke, then director of continuing education at the ANU, led the charge in distancing his faculty from the visiting professor. A H Johns, dean of the faculty of Asian studies, followed suit.
A 1981 Letter to the Editor at Woroni also denounced anti-Jewish sentiment. Ezra Gitner recounted a Student Association election where ‘one candidate was an object of general mirth and hilarity for no better reason that he was a Jew’. He said: ‘I hope that I have made at least some of those responsible feel a little ashamed’.
Ben Sakker Kelly and supporters frequently used Woroni as a means to combat the antisemitism seen on campus, in the midst of more recent early-2000s political tensions on the role of Israel in the Middle East.
In a 2005 interview in his capacity as head of the ANU Jewish Students Society, Kelly recounted being told the Jewish community had been ‘bathing in the blood of Hitler for 50 years’. He also described instances of more casual antisemitism in politics tutorials, where tutors ‘conceded’ that Jews controlled the American economy and elections.
Such robust condemnation of intolerance as a basis for, or tenet of, political debate at the ANU is to be commended. Particularly so in light of the wider context.
From October 2000 to April 2002 there were four separate attacks on Jewish centres of worship in Canberra. Each time petrol bombs or Molotov cocktails were thrown at the centres, causing damage to the exterior. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry lists them each year in their Report on Antisemitism in Australia under ‘serious anti semitic attacks since 1990’.
However the incidents received little reporting from Canberran news outlets. Both the first and most recent attacks elicited short articles from The Canberra Times, but little else.
The Holocaust denial material found in 2017 and 2016 is unfortunately not an unusual addition to the list of antisemitic attacks intertwined with the history of the ANU. Antisemitism is not a stranger to ANU’s history. Also present in discourse, however, is strong condemnation of such beliefs and a reinforcement that no political attitude should allow for intolerance.