By Mark Schliebs
January 7, 2019
Jewish leaders say an increase in neo-Nazi imagery being posted in public locations has coincided with Australia’s far-right groups broadening their focus from anti-Islam protests to target other minorities.
Members of the crowd at a far-right rally at Melbourne’s St Kilda Beach on Saturday were seen giving Nazi salutes and a helmet bearing the SS logo was photographed, days after a sticker bearing the image of a swastika was put on the front gate of a Jewish aged-care home.
A swastika was also spray-painted on to a children’s playground in nearby Caulfield — which has a strong Jewish community — on the day of the rally, shocking the chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission.
“Imagine how traumatised and upset a Holocaust survivor, taking their grandchild to this playground, would be when confronted with this evil symbol of genocide,” Dvir Abramovich told The Australian.
Targeting what they claimed was an issue with violence by African youth and migration, the protest organised by far-right figures Blair Cottrell and Neil Erikson attracted an estimated 100 supporters — including Queensland senator Fraser Anning.
The protest was dubbed “Reclaim St Kilda” — similar to the “Reclaim Australia” anti-Islam rallies of recent years embraced by Mr Cottrell, Mr Erikson and the United Patriots Front group linked to both men.
That alt-right group went on to campaign against same-sex marriage before turning its sights on African youth in Melbourne.
Three people were arrested at Saturday’s rally, which saw an estimated 200 counter-protesters come to the beach. There were some scuffles but no serious violence took place.
One person was arrested for possessing drugs, another for breaching bail and a third for carrying weapons, described as large fishing sinkers.
Nyuol Chol, the secretary of the South Sudanese Community Association, said alt-right protesters would still have held a rally aimed at another group of people if no one had migrated to Australia from the east African country.
“The people who were protesting, if there were no South Sudanese, they would be against the rest of the other Australians because they don’t have anything else to do,” Mr Chol said.
“Everyone has the right to protest but you have to do it in the right way.
“Australia is a multicultural society. If you go out there to protest, you can protest, but it’s not good to do it in a violent way or a racial way … because it divides the nation,” Mr Chol added.
Dr Abramovich said the alt-right often sought to “mainstream” views held by white supremacists or neo-Nazis.
“They’re trying to camouflage or mask their real agenda, which is divisive and trafficking in fear through demonising and targeting specific minority groups,” he said.
“It’s Muslims, and then it can be Sudanese, and then it can be other groups.
“It may not begin with the Jews, but it will end with the Jews. So we have to denounce and we have to call out this kind of bigoted agenda, no matter who they’re targeting.”
The graffiti at the playground followed a sticker bearing a swastika being placed on the front gate of the Emmy Monash aged-care home and at the entrance of a nearby apartment building.
“We’re obviously seeing the white supremacists and the neo-Nazis running a blitz or a campaign of intimidation,” Dr Abramovich said. “That’s what really concerns us.”
Australia and Israel Jewish Affairs Council chairman Mark Leibler said the messages at the rally were “appalling” and police should take a close look at some of the protesters.
“The behaviour of these people is absolutely appalling,” Mr Leibler said. “They’re inciting, in effect, to violence.
“This is something that needs to be looked into by the police. And I must say, seeing alongside them one Senator Anning, I find it totally appalling and a complete disgrace.”
A Victoria Police spokeswoman said: “Victoria Police is continuing to investigate the anti-social behaviour which occurred at yesterday’s rally in St Kilda.
“As part of this review, police will look into whether anyone engaged in any criminal acts.”
Mr Chol welcomed the statements from Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten criticising the protests, but said more should be done.
“They need to do more in the future because they need to be proactive in discouraging things like that from happening,” he said.
“It’s OK to protest, but don’t do it in the wrong (way).”
AIJAC’s Jeremy Jones said Senator Anning, following on from his maiden Senate speech where he referred to a “final solution”, had taken it to the “next level to go and grace a group of these lousy thugs — it’s not one of these accidental things”.
He also said there had been a rise in the number of anti-Semitic posters appearing in public, but not in terms of violence against members of the Jewish community.
“In terms of reports of encounters with anti-Semitic material, there’s definitely been an increase in each of the last couple of years,” he said.