Jailing won't help stop racism

Issue 

Perth man Brendan O’Connell was sentenced to three years jail under WA’s racial vilification laws on January 31. He was found guilty of six counts of vilification relating to anti-Semitic comments he posted on a YouTube video in 2009.

His jailing, and the length of the sentence, has opened up a certain controversy.

Conservative columnist Paul Murray pointed out in the February 2 West Australian that a person convicted of glassing someone in a pub could expect to receive an 18-month sentence, whereas O’Connell received three years for an “essentially political [speech]”.

It should be noted that several media reports, including Murray’s, have falsely described O’Connell as a member of Friends of Palestine WA (FOPWA).

In fact, he is not and never has been a member of FOPWA. The group has categorically condemned his actions.

There are two main issues for progressive people in this case.

First, it is undeniable that O’Connell is an odiously offensive anti-Semite. There is nothing progressive in his political outlook: he is a representative of the far right.

This is obvious for someone who described Judaism as a “satanic death cult” and a “racist, homicidal” religion.

Nevertheless, his professed support for Palestine has confused some people.

We should be clear that anti-Semites are no friends of the Palestinian people. The Zionist state of Israel has waged a continuous war against Palestinian human rights for more than 60 years. However, many Jewish people have distanced themselves from that — or even actively campaign against it.

Judaism — a religion — is not responsible for the actions of the Israeli state.

Zionists use anti-Semitism as a cynical justification for Israel’s human rights abuses. Anti-Semites hinder the Palestinian struggle against Israel’s occupation.

Second, while anti-vilification laws can seem like a progressive step forward, they are at best a double-edged sword.

Jailing far right figures for expressing their views — no matter how odious — is not an effective way to marginalise racist ideas.

O’Connell’s anti-Semitism has received far more publicity than it would were he not prosecuted. The far right will now try to turn him into a martyr.

The most effective way to combat far-right ideas is to organise a strong, anti-racist political response whenever they emerge.

More worryingly, O’Connell’s jailing sets a precedent that could extend beyond the far right and target racial minorities and the left.

For example, an Aboriginal teenager who allegedly vilified a white person in 2006 was the first person charged under Western Australia’s anti-vilification laws. The charges in that case were eventually dropped.

Comments

This is a frequent problem I have to face when it comes to "Judaism". Are you talking about the ethnic group that identify as Jews, or are you talking about the Jewish religion? What is the definition of an Anti-Semite? Someone who opposes the Jewish religion? Or someone who is racist against Jews? Because they are two completely different things. What do you mean when you say "Judaism"? Clarification is essential.

Not only that, but in your article you say that it is clear that O’Connell is an Anti-Semite because he described the Jewish *religion* as a “racist, homicidal” *religion*. I personally agree with some (some, not all) of his descriptions of the Jewish religion, the Jewish texts are full of ideas like Jews being elite over other people and the glorification of genocide. And yet I would never call myself an anti-Semite, nor do I think I should be labeled as one, since that term has overwhelming connotations of *racism*, and I have nothing against a person who identifies as Jewish, only against the organised system of belief known as Judaism. Much like a person who supports Liberal is opposed to the system of government that is Labor, and yet they are not racist against "Labor people" and wouldn't assault (I hope!) a Labor person.

O’Connell made the foolish mistake of equating the Jewish religion with the Jewish people, hence harassing Keyser for just "being a Jew". This now does make it Anti-Semitism, does make it a racist thing, and does make it fit under "racial vilification". By turning his views on an organised system of belief that a group of people hold into actually going and bothering and vilifying somebody who happens to not even necessarily believe or follow the religion, but simply identify as the related ethnicity, that is something that I certainly agree he should be and was rightfully jailed for. It would be like attacking a Christian in Spain because of the Spanish Inquisition.

What I want to say, is that if he had just made a video, a political video, or even a video against the Jewish religion, that should be fine. The word Anti-semitism should only be called on *racial* attacks, not *religious* attacks. If he wanted to make a video showing the evils in the Jewish religion, and even expressing his views about what Israel is doing, all that is allowed under freedom of speech. It's only this *hate talk*, when he dehumanises the Jewish *People* and encourages assaulting them, that should be the cause of his jailing, not his comments on the Jewish *Religion*. (Of course, by saying "you belong to that religion therefore all of their evils lie on your shoulders", it's become racial because you've identified them as part of a "race" and you're harassing them for that reason.)

P.S. You are completely right about Israel's actions are not equivalent to the actions of the Jewish religion. Most Jews living in Israel are actually not religious.

It didn't take long to realise this was no ordinary trial.

Within minutes of the jury filing into the courtroom, the defendant, Brendan O'Connell, fired his lawyer, declared the court without jurisdiction and attempted to arrest the judge for treason.

There were stifled giggles from the public gallery, but O'Connell is no comedy act.

Last Monday, the 40-year-old former registered nurse was sentenced to three years jail for racial vilification for views expressed in his online blog.

For more than two years, O'Connell has waged an online campaign against Perth Jews, posting long, rambling anti-Semitic diatribes and videos across the internet.

His hate campaign eventually culminated in a video he made of himself chasing 21-year-old Jewish man Stanley Keyser down a South Perth street, accusing him of being a "racist, homicidal maniac".

He then went to the Perth Bell Tower, looked into the camera and in a chilling monologue called for the public to rise up and consign Jews to the "dustbin of history".

It is the first time in WA that someone has been jailed for racial vilification, an offence introduced by State Parliament in 2007.

During the two-week trial, which at times threatened to descend into farce, O'Connell and his small band of followers in the public gallery refused to acknowledge the authority of the court. They sat as District Court Judge John Wisbey entered and left the room and stood as the jury did the same.

Far from denying his actions, O'Connell told the jury he would "proudly . . . do it all again, 1000 times again".

O'Connell referred to three books throughout the trial: the Bible, the Australian Constitution and an anti-Semitic tome called Judaism Discovered.

He compared Judaism to an organised crime syndicate and made wild statements that Israel was planning to invade Australia within a decade.

O'Connell intimated that he was somehow responsible for the resignations of several high-profile West Australians, including former Director of Public Prosecutions Robert Cock. He also accused police of deleting from his computer footage of UFOs that he had taken in Esperance.

"Jews control the entire world," he told the jury. "It seems like something from nazi propaganda but it's true."

O';Connell's actions have struck fear into the Jewish community in Perth since 2008, when he started to harass a Jewish man employed by an Australian Defence Force contractor - a combination O'Connell found unpalatable.

He has stated in online political forums that he was willing to die fighting for what he calls "the truth".

He caused the leaders of one synagogue to ask for police protection for the property after he posted photos of it online - it looks like a private house from the outside.

He also wrote in an online forum he was planning to "pack 100kg of powergel and 40 bags of ANFO on to the back of a scooter and park it at the local synagogue - shout 'free bagels and kiddie porn' - and then run like hell."

The rabbi and his family who live at the synagogue spent two nights elsewhere, terrified that O'Connell would turn his words into actions.

Perth MP John Hyde requested assistance from the WA Police Dignitary Protection Unit after O'Connell made a public appeal for what Mr Hyde referred to as "an incitement for action at my office".

But it was O'Connell's blog which eventually landed him before the courts.

"Fairly soon Jews will realise that people are thoroughly sick of them," he wrote in a typical post.

"Their whining. Their perpetual victimhood and their demands for people to bow down and worship their dodgy religion of 'holocaustianity'".

Although he had been monitored for years by the WA State Security Investigation Group and was known to the Jewish Community Security Group, his bullying was taken only half seriously.

When he sent a menacing email to a number of Jewish community leaders in early 2009 it was passed on to police but soon forgotten.

It was the video of him chasing Mr Keyser down the street yelling abuse which prompted a shift in thinking about O'Connell from fringe lunatic to serious threat.

"When the video appeared on YouTube it was like wildfire through the community," Steve Lieblich, director of public affairs at the Jewish Community Council, said.

"I called a public meeting because there was an incredible amount of concern.".

The film was taken at a Friends of Palestine protest outside a South Perth supermarket on May 2, 2009.

O'Connell went along to take part in the protest against the sale of Israeli fruit.

Mr Keyser and Timothy Peach, who were members of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students, went to the protest intending to hand out pamphlets with an opposing point of view. But as the protest was small and peaceful, they instead decided to take a photo and leave.

In the paranoid mind of O'Connell, however, they were Israeli spies, sent to gather information.

The film shows O'Connell yelling at Mr Keyser that Judaism is a religion of "racism, hate, homicide and ethnic cleansing".

He then filmed himself at the Bell Tower calling Judaism a "death cult".

"I want the Judaic community to listen to those bells because they toll for you," he tells the camera as the bells rang out.

"Their mass murder, their homicidal mania, their disgusting religious texts which they claim to be wise wisdom from the rabbis - it's time to consign them to the dustbin of history.".

O'Connell may be in jail but his supporters still spew their own brand of racist hate online and Mr Keyser is still feeling its effect.

Since the sentencing he has received hate mail from around the world, including emails telling him "your days are numbered".

Though he has not been physically harmed, Mr Keyser said O'Connell's views were menacing.

"We live in Perth and in a great country, but we also lived in freedom in Germany in the 1930s and then all of a sudden there was the Holocaust," Mr Keyser said.

"My grandmother, her entire family died in the Holocaust and when she was in court, she couldn't deal with it because the things that were being said were exactly what happened in Poland, the same comments, same theories and it was horrible and horrific."

You should watch the video and read his blog before you comment. This man attacked the jewish people and he calles for them to be sent to the dustbin of history.

He accuses jews of being responsible for september 11, the Bali bombings and the Port Author Shootings.

He tell his supports that they to need to take to the streets and help expose the jews for who they are,

This man in a delinquent who I believe should have got even more jail time.

For people like O'Connell jail is just making a martyr of him. Especially by like minded people in the WA region, racism is like breathing.

He should have been sentenced to 3 years community service in the Perth jewish communities. Perhaps being the Man Friday to many Perth jewish families for next 3 years would have done the man some good. He could have been rehabilitated in his thinking and beliefs. In the very least, exposed to how messed up his beliefs are.

Standing on the other side of the wall, (or monitor) and calling someone a freak is easy - but if you have to live, eat, sleep, pray, work, and take care them - all up close and personal, now thats a different story.

Perth jails will only serve to reinforce his perverse beliefs, it is sterile, base and removed from the essense of the offense. He doesn't have to deal with it in any way OTHER than serving time. How convenient, more time to plan, undisturbed, some malicious response to his sentence perhaps?

After all aren't Perth Jails where many like minded people reside?!!

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