Publisher’s attack on Muslims provokes backlash from Australian Jewish community

Robert MagidAn article on illegal boat people by the publisher of Australia’s main Jewish newspaper has ignited a storm of protest, with some critics savaging it for “vilifying Muslims” and promoting “xenophobic, Islamophobic and heartless sentiments.”

Titled “Curb your compassion,” Robert Magid’s article published in last Friday’s Sydney and Melbourne editions of the Australian Jewish News argued that illegal Muslim boat people are queue jumpers who deprive sanctuary to legitimate refugees.

“The Jews who fled the Holocaust fled certain death,” he wrote. “I doubt whether there is a single boat person in that position. Some may have fled a war zone or limited economic opportunities while others are seeking an easy life.”

Magid, a multimillionaire property developer who bought the newspaper in 2007, also accused illegal immigrants of “destination shopping” and suggested – despite the “collective memory of Jews’ attempts to escape the Holocaust” – that Jews curb their compassion toward boat people.

He also linked asylum seekers to terrorism, suggesting that Muslim boat people could increase the risk of potential terror attacks. “If al-Qaida or another jihad organization wished to create a network of terrorists in Australia, undocumented illegal immigration would ensure the Australian authorities had no way of verifying their bona fides,” he wrote.

The backlash to Magid’s article exploded in the blogosphere, with the vast majority of comments blasting what David Zyngier, whose mother survived Auschwitz and arrived here with no papers in 1949, described as Magid’s “anti-Jewish sentiments.”

On Monday, an open letter initiated by the left-wing Australian Jewish Democratic Society accused Magid of engaging in “group vilification and dog whistle politics” against Muslims. The letter called for an apology “to all the victims of persecution who arrived by boat.”

An online petition accrued more than 375 signatories as of Tuesday, along with a deluge of withering comments such as “anti-refugee sentiments have no place in my Jewish identity” and Magid used “fear, misinformation and biased language to vilify.”

JTA, 7 August 2012