The United Nations declared in 1981 that discrimination based on religion or belief includes any distinction, exclusion, restriction, or preference based on religion or belief and that such treatment impacts human rights and freedoms. Such discrimination is unlawful in most states and territories of Australia.
The Islamophobia Register and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry Antisemitism report demonstrate the extent of this problem. Antisemitism and Islamophobia have been identified by some academics as contemporary forms of racism and acknowledged, in paragraph 61 of the declaration and programme of action of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.
Australia has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) ‘Working Definition of antisemitism’.
Antisemitism often manifests through the expression of terms that depict Jewish people as inferior. Other examples of antisemitism include, but are not limited to, the denial of the Holocaust, blaming Jews for the murder of Jesus, accusing Jews of the murder of non-Jews, the use of Nazi symbols and gestures as well as conspiracy theories that accuse Jewish people of controlling the world or causing world disasters.
The Executive Council of Australian Jewry report notes that the term antisemitism was first used by Wilhelm Marr in 1879. Marr subscribed to the now debunked theory that society was divided along biological lines (ECAJ, 2022). In his use of the term antisemitism, Marr was aiming to focus on racial rather than religious characteristics.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief identified the dangers that antisemitism poses to any society in which it is exists. The Secretary-General António Guterres, has warned that “where there is antisemitism, there are likely to be other discriminatory ideologies and forms of bias-feeding each other in a cauldron of contempt”, imploring all to speak out against hate.
The fourth Islamophobia in Australia report 2023 reveals a concerning level of religious discrimination and racism against Muslims in Australia (Iner,2022). The report found that most targets were women, whilst children were also particularly vulnerable to attack (Iner, 2023). Alia Imtoual’s research highlights that the hostile and negative portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the media, not only reflects the religious racism that is experienced, but also influences the prevalence of such racism in society more broadly (Imtoual, 2005).
Education, as reinforced in paragraph 23 of the Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, is the key to any long term solution to combat racism and religious discrimination. Schools are well placed to be able to both recognise racism and discrimination and develop and implement plans to address and prevent it.
Elias, A 2021, The many forms of contemporary racism, viewed 14 August 2023, https://www.crisconsortium.org/blog/the-many-forms-of-contemporary-racism
Guterres, A 2018, Remarks to High-Level Event on the Power of Education for Countering Racism and Discrimination: The Case of antisemitism, https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2018-09-26/power-education-countering-racism-and-discrimination-remarks , viewed 7 August 2023
Imtoual, A 2010, Religious Racism and the Media: Representations of Muslim Women in the Australian Print Media, https://fac.flinders.edu.au/dspace/api/core/bitstreams/1826619f-e0cb-48cf-861e-b9a55d98bbfa/content, viewed 7 August 2023
Iner, Derya 2022, Islamophobia in Australia – IV (2014-2021), Islamophobia Register Australia, Sydney, Australia.
Nathan, J 2022, Executive Council of Australian Jewry report on antisemitism in Australia 2022, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Sydney, Australia
United Nations, Durban Declaration and Plan of Action, Adopted at the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Violence, 8 September 2001, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/Documents/Publications/Durban_text_en.pdf , viewed 7 August 2023
United Nations, Report of the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the implementation of the General Assembly resolution 68/150, 10 April 2014, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G14/133/36/PDF/G1413336.pdf?OpenElement , viewed on 14 August 2023
United Nations, Elimination of all forms of religious intolerance, Report of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religious belief, 20 September 2019, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N19/289/00/PDF/N1928900.pdf?OpenElement , viewed 7 August 2023.
United Nations, Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. [online] Available at: https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/declaration-elimination-all-forms-intolerance-and-discrimination, viewed 4 September 2023.