An Australian hospital worker has said on social media that dozens of Jews who violated a strict coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne by holding an engagement party should be put in “a gas chamber,” amid an outpour of antisemitic rhetoric directed at the local Jewish community after a video of the event was shared online.
Among numerous other incidents, a synagogue and a Jewish institute have both received hate calls.
“It’s been a terrible day for the Jewish community,” Dvir Abramovich, chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission, told The Times of Israel on Monday, adding that there have been thousands of antisemitic remarks recently made on social media.
During a discussion about the party in a Facebook group, user Doreen Bonello posted a comment saying: “Put them in a gas chamber.”
Abramovich posted a screen capture of the comment which was shared by members of the Jewish community, many of whom are descended from Holocaust survivors, and who identified Bonello — according to her own profile — as a clinical assistant at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.
Community members contacted the hospital to complain, and several of them later posted a response they received that stated: “We have been alerted to the post and have escalated the issue to our executive team for action.
how do we report this to the royal melbourne hospitalTHISISNOTOK!!!(thanks to Dvir for posting it)
“These comments do not reflect the Royal Melbourne Hospital and our values,” the response said, adding that the medical center had “reported the post.”
“We understand this language can be triggering for members of the community and are working to rectify this situation,” the hospital said.
The hospital did not respond to a request for comment by The Times of Israel.
Abramovich also posted recordings of messages left by phone at a local synagogue and a Jewish institute, neither of which he identified.
“You guys are all pieces of shit,” said one caller. “All you Jewish [sic] are pieces of shit. How dare you guys have a party.”
“I hope you all die,” the caller added along with a torrent of cursing.
In another call, a man said: “I don’t know why you scumbags, Jews, think you can have a party while we’re all in lockdown and scumbags like yourselves think you are above the world as Jews. It is bad enough that I can’t stand Jews but now it’s even worse.”
The phone calls were reported to police, Abramovich said, assessing that anger over the party has been fueled by frustration at the extended lockdown.
“Everyone’s tolerance threshold is at breaking point,” he said.
“The genie of antisemitism is out of the bottle. All these dark influences that are under the surface have come out. It is really terrifying,” Abramovich said.
“This event has given people license to express ugly antisemitic views,” he said. “People are using this as an excuse to scapegoat the Jews. People are pointing the finger as if the lockdown is caused by the Jews. It has reinforced antisemitic myths that Jews cannot be trusted” and other conspiracy theories.
However, Abramovich said, he is not aware of any physical violence against Jewish people and that although the engagement party made headlines across Australia, the response to it has been focused in Victoria.
“Don’t forget we are in lockdown so people’s movements are limited,” he said.
The engagement party, which was roundly condemned by the rest of the Jewish community, was also mentioned by Victoria State Prime Minister Dan Andrews during a press conference in which he announced a further tightening of lockdown restrictions, including a nightly curfew, as the state battles to curb coronavirus infections.
Andrews brought up the engagement party as an example of the selfishness shown by some and lamented the toll it would place on epidemiological teams trying to trace those who were in contact with people who attended.
“I’m angry,” Andrews said, without mentioning that the party was in the Jewish community. “I know many people across Victoria are angry about that event, it shouldn’t have happened.”
Andrews confirmed that COVID-19 infections have been identified at the party, making it a “transmission event.”
The engagement party video has offered what many say is hard proof that some Orthodox Jews are not taking the pandemic seriously. Under current rules, visiting other people’s homes is banned.
The video, which is circulating online, shows a groom speaking to a crowded room of unmasked guests, at one point joking: “Clearly this is legal, because this is a group therapy session.” Laughter follows.
Only 68 people at this party as far as I know.
Contact tracing interviews and testing began much earlier today.
If you’re angry, believe me you are not as angry as almost all of the Jewish community. https://t.co/0jdDIDUxGi
— Rafael Epstein (@Raf_Epstein) August 15, 2021
According to Rafael Epstein, a journalist with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 68 people were present and contact tracing is underway after someone at the event tested positive for COVID-19.
Compliance with local rules has been spotty across Melbourne during the latest lockdown, which comes after a year and a half of intense restrictions meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus there.
But the local Jewish community is again emerging as a hotspot. Local authorities are planning to set up vaccination and testing sites in the heavily Orthodox suburb of St. Kilda East after a mother and son there tested positive. Sights in other Orthodox areas, including Caulfield and Balaclava, have landed on the growing list of locations with known exposures. In Melbourne, 25 people tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday.
Australia has experienced perhaps the world’s most stringent restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19. Since the pandemic began, Australians and permanent residents have effectively been barred from leaving the country, while only a small number of people have been allowed to enter. Under the current lockdown in Victoria, Melbourne’s state, all gatherings in private homes are banned and the only kinds of gatherings that are allowed are funerals with 10 or fewer attendees.
Tension over compliance with COVID-19 rules has emerged around the world in and around Orthodox communities since March 2020, when rules aimed at stopping the spread of disease made minyans, or the quorums of 10 people required to say some prayers, illegal in many places.
Early in the pandemic, Melbourne police raided several sites where Orthodox Jews were illegally holding minyans. Last October, private citizens confronted a group of ultra-Orthodox men leaving a school.