Yesterday's Sun-Herald report began innocently enough:
"The controversial commentators Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt are due to be called before an inquiry that will consider strengthening anti-discrimination laws to make it easier to convict people for serious racial vilification. The inquiry was ordered by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, who is concerned there have been no successful criminal prosecutions in the history of the NSW laws and that they have fallen out of step with community expectations. The move is likely to inflame the debate over freedom of speech, amid warnings that broadening the laws could be dangerous and unacceptable." (O'Farrell moves to strengthen hate laws, Sean Nicholls)
Hm... maybe that'll give Jones and Bolt pause before they shoot off their mouths again, I thought. I read on:
"The parliamentary inquiry will focus on Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, which deals with the criminal offence of 'serious racial vilification' and requires proof 'beyond a reasonable doubt' for a prosecution. Penalties of up to $5500 and 6 months' jail apply to anyone found guilty of inciting 'hatred', 'serious contempt' or 'severe ridicule' of a person or group by threatening physical harm to them or their property or inciting others to do so on the basis of their race... A spokesman for Mr O'Farrell said it was 'questionable' whether this section of the act 'constitutes a realistic test or is in line with community expectations. The Premier has therefore asked the [parliamentary law and justice] committee to report on whether section 20D is effective and if not, provide recommendations that will improve its efficacy with regard to the continued importance of freedom of speech,' he said."
Hm... community expectations, eh? So the people of NSW are up in arms over the efficacy of Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act (1989)? Hey, I didn't know that! And so I ploughed on until mention of a certain, all too familiar, name caused the proverbial penny to drop:
"The chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Vic Alhadeff, said the NSW law was 'completely ineffective in that for all practical purposes it is impossible to prove the elements of the offence in any specific case.'"
Right. My mind snapped back to last year's mega Israel Independence Day bash, mentioned in my 9/9/12 post From Flower to Flower, where Baruch O'Farrell addressed "550 leaders of NSW," "reaffirmed his government's unwavering commitment to Israel and announced a review of the state's racial vilification legislation."
Clearly, thought I, this is about more than the likes of Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt. Could it have to do, perhaps, with the tsunami of anti-Semitism currently sweeping the country? Well, no, because, contrary to certain parties who can detect an anti-Zionist insult sealed in kryptonite a thousand metres away and construe it as anti-Semitism (See my 28/11/11 post My Brush with Superman), the genuine article is thankfully rare in Australia.
So just what kind of 'offence' then does Mr Alhadeff wish to see 'proven' as an instance of racial vilification?
Yes, I know that Mr Alhadeff is speaking for the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, but don't let that fool you. When it comes to such an organisation, the adjective doesn't quite do it justice. As Manny Waks, a former vice president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ), complained recently:
"The centrality of Israel in the workings of the ECAJ and other mainstream 'peak bodies', such as... the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD), is misplaced and a waste of time and limited community resources. Local issues, some of which include aged care, social welfare, education, abuse, alcohol/drugs and social entrepreneurship, deserve the attention of groups whose imprimatur is to support the community needs of Australian Jews... True, fundraising in a difficult economic environment is enhanced by a pro-Israel focus, but apart from the diminution of community interests, the inappropriate attention to Zionist causes continues to alienate many younger Jews who question the centrality of Israel but nevertheless wish to work for Jewish renewal and continuity in their Australian community." (Community begins at home, The Australian Jewish News, 9/11/12)
Could the 'offence' Mr Alhadeff has in mind be trenchant criticism of Israel, often smeared by Zionist lobbyists as 'the new anti-Semitism' and framed as 'singling out Israel for selective condemnation and opprobrium' (See my 24/7/11 post Criminalising Criticism of Israel)?
And just what changes to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act might Zionist lobbyists wish to see?
A clue may be found in a 28/8/09 paper Hate Crime & Vilification Law: Developments & Directions by Peter Wertheim, a member of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and executive director of the ECAJ, no less.
At one point in his paper (it's up on the net), Wertheim argues that "[t]here is a strong argument to be made that public incitement of hatred on any of the prohibited grounds [race, homosexuality, HIV/Aids infection, transgender identity], of itself, entails a breach of the peace and that criminal sanctions are therefore appropriate where the incitement is intentional. Even if the incitement is not immediately accompanied by a threat of physical harm, or by an incitement of others to threaten physical harm, the incitement of the public to hatred on one of the prohibited grounds contributes to the creation of a social climate that is more conducive to the occurrence of acts or threats of physical harm to the groups that are targeted, and more conducive to social violence in general."
Mark, please, the highlighted words.
Wertheim's argument in a nutshell, if I've got him right, is that public (ie. any form of communication to the public) acts of incitement (ie. the stirring up of hatred in people) should be criminalised, without recourse to the criminal standard (ie. beyond reasonable doubt) and without having to prove a threat of physical harm towards a person or group or the incitement of others to threaten such harm, on the grounds that a vilificatory act need not be accompanied by threats or incitement to others to threaten physical harm to a person or group but "may nonetheless be perceived by the targeted person or group (and by others) - and reasonably perceived - as extremely threatening."
Mark, again, the highlighted words.
Now where would all of this, if enshrined in anti-discrimination legislation, leave those mere bagatelles, free speech and freedom of protest? Could BDS protesters one day be charged with the Kafkaesque offence of contributing to the creation of a social environment that is more conducive to the occurrence of acts or threats of physical harm to targeted groups? Could university students who stage a consciousness-raising Israeli Apartheid Awareness Week on campus be charged merely because the Australian Union of Jewish Students claims to perceive their anti-Israeli apartheid message as a threat to Jewish students?
Finally, lest you think me unduly alarmist, consider the plight of Stephen Sizer, author of Zion's Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel & the Church:
"Stephen Sizer has been active for many years in areas of humanitarian concern for the Palestinian population. I was with him on my recent trip to Baghdad, and I am convinced he is a good man. Stephen is a Church of England Vicar. He is under huge pressure at the moment as he is under a formal complaint from the Board of Deputies of British Jews to the Church of England on a charge of anti-Semitism. This is very serious indeed and could lead to the loss of both his job and his home. The essence of the long complaint is that he has posted links on his website to other websites which contain anti-Semitic material. It is not alleged that he has linked to material which is itself anti-Semitic; but that elsewhere on websites linked to there is such material. That may or may not be true. But in the real world, the idea that in posting a link to an article you are endorsing every other article (which in practice you cannot have seen) on a website is nonsensical and would make much current blogging practice impossible. That Stephen is not an anti-Semite and has not knowingly endorsed anti-Semitism, I have no doubt. But what worries me is the growing bravura with which all critics of Israel or supporters of the Palestinians are charged with the - rightfully - damning slur of anti-Semitism." (Defend Stephen Sizer, Graig Murray, graigmurray.org.uk, 12/1/13)
Watch this space...