Australia appoints special envoy to tackle anti-Semitism


Australia has appointed a special envoy to combat antisemitism and maintain “social cohesion” as tensions within the community rise over the war between Israel and Gaza.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that attorney and businesswoman Jillian Segal would consult with community leaders and discrimination experts to advise the government.

It follows in the footsteps of countries such as the US, Canada, Greece and the United Kingdom, which have held a similar position for many years.

A special envoy to tackle Islamophobia will also be appointed soon, Mr Albanese added.

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East has become an explosive political issue in Australia, resulting in protests from both Jewish and Muslim communities, as well as a sharp rise in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

The Israeli military has launched a campaign to destroy the Hamas group that rules Gaza, in response to an unprecedented attack on southern Israel on October 7 that killed some 1,200 people and took 251 hostage.

According to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, more than 38,000 Palestinians have been killed as a result of the Israeli offensive.

“Australians are deeply concerned about this conflict and many are suffering as a result. At times like these, Australians need to come together, not be torn apart,” Mr Albanese said on Tuesday.

The appointment of Ms. Segal, who has led several key bodies representing the Jewish community and held senior positions in the education and banking sectors, is a “critical step” in defusing tensions, he said.

Ms Segal said combating the “age-old hatred” of anti-Semitism had never been more important, pointing to a 700% increase in incidents since the war began in October.

“Jewish Australians want to feel free to go about their daily lives, and also want to feel safe to practice and express their religion without fear,” she added.

The announcement was welcomed by the Australian Jewish community’s national organisation, a group led by Ms Segal until last year, which said she would bring “deep knowledge of the issues and immense energy to the role”.

However, other groups, including the Jewish Council of Australia, which is critical of Israeli actions in Gaza, and the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), fear this will deepen divisions.

“There is also a risk that the worrying pattern of anti-Semitism being mixed with criticism of the State of Israel or support for Palestine will become further entrenched,” APAN said.

The Australian government supports a two-state solution and has loudly supported Israel’s right to defend itself following the October 7 attacks.

In recent months, however, it has increasingly expressed concerns about the country’s military campaign in Gaza, including after an Australian aid worker was killed along with six others in an Israeli airstrike.

The ruling Australian Labor Party is also struggling with increasing tensions. Last week, a senator quit the party over its stance on the war.

Fatima Payman said she was “banned” after breaking party rules by voting against the government in support of a motion calling for recognition of Palestinian statehood.

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