MEDIA BACKGROUNDER: Much more than an ‘anti-crime’ protest

Attention: journalists, news editors, commentators covering the ‘Peaceful Protest: Make Victoria Safe Again’ hosted by Avi Yemini.

 

The Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre maintains a watching brief on law & order populism and its impact upon Victorian criminal justice policy and the rise of the far-right in Australia.

This Backgrounder provides important contextual information regarding Sunday’s protest event.

 

 

 

Further Factsheets and media backgrounders can be found at: www.smartjustice.org.au

smart_justice

MEDIA BACKGROUNDER

Published Saturday 16th September 2017

 

The ‘Make Victoria Safe Again’ protest event on Sunday 17th September 2017 provides the latest example of how law and order populism and racialised perceptions of crime are being used by the far-right in Australia as a means of mobilizing and building political strength.

 

Ratcheting up the politics of fear

Since March 2016 Moomba brawls that saw the term ‘Apex Gang’ sweep to prominence in media and public commentary, the racialised aspects of law & order populism have been prominent within coverage of crime in Victoria.

As we have noted previously, the term ‘Apex Gang’, quickly became a widely recognised code word for ‘African’ or ‘Ethnic’ gang which allowed an ever-widening set of commentators to evoke fear of ethnic crime whilst espousing populist law & order policies.[1]

The link between fear of crime and authoritarian politics is an old one[2]. According to social scientists, fear forms a universal reaction and generally makes people cling to the familiar and regard the unfamiliar more warily. It makes authoritarian, nationalist policy platforms who promise to ‘protect’ or ‘defend against threats’ look more inviting.

Ratcheting up fear of crime is certainly in the interests of the far-right, neo-nazi and ultra-nationalist groups in Australia who selectively re-post and amplify crime stories that meet their raciallised framing of crime.

Numerous researchers and analysts have pointed our how far-right utilize fear of crime as a way of building political power, including how US President Donald Trump has consistently depicted outsiders as a frightening threat throughout his election campaign and continues to do so.

In their 2010 paper, Fear of crime as a political weapon: explaining the rise of extreme right politics in the Flemish countryside, researchers point to the rise of extreme rightwing parties as an electoral force in democratic countries as a result of their ability to exploit racialised fear of diverse multicultural cities and their promises “to stop the imagined ‘infection’ of the ‘white’ and ‘safe’ countryside with urban ‘diseases’ like crime and foreigners.”[3]

 

More than just a ‘peaceful protest’

The protest’s Facebook event page describes this as a peaceful protest demanding tougher laws for violent offenders in response to the recent spike in violent crimes. It promotes various populist law and order positions that we address below.

It has been called and organised by Avi Yemini, an ex-IDF soldier and far-right Zionist activist. Yemini’s call for tougher punishments for youth crime and immigration bans for Muslims or Somali/Sudanese people mirror those of numerous other right-wing nationalist and racist organisations and parties.[4]

Sunday’s protest represents the latest attempt by Yemeni to hold a public protest event.

In 2016 Yemini organised a public forum with One Nation senators Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts to discuss Muslim immigration, but it was cancelled after strong protest by the group Jews against Fascism.

Yemini also planned to hold a protest in Sydney regarding a recent controversial decision to block the building of a synagogue in Bondi, however, this protest was also cancelled.

About Avi Yemini

Avi Yemini was born in Melbourne and raised as an Orthodox Jew. In 2009 he and his wife established the IDF Training gym in Caulfield North,[5] which has now expanded to the CBD, where he, along with a small team of coaches, teaches the self-defence and Israeli Army Training technique known as Krav Maga. Yemini is pro-Israel and anti-Islam, and is an avid Trump supporter.

Yemini frequently expresses his views via Facebook videos or through the media that Muslims and Somali/Sudanese/Africans should be ‘sent back to where they came from’, or refused entry into Australia. He has also explicitly stated his dislike for Muslim celebrities (Waleed Aly, Anthony Mundine).

In one video Yemini suggested that the Australian government pay money to the countries where refugees are from in order to fix the problems there, so that ‘the government wouldn’t have to let them near him and his family’.

While Yemini denies his FB videos are racist and he purely intends to tackle violent crime, Yemini has frequently associated Muslim and African immigrants with crime, and has recently also previously made comments regarding the Apex gang. Yemini has been careful not to mention Apex lately, though he frequently refers ‘these gangs’, and continues to verbally attack Somali and Muslim immigrants.

 

Links with, and support from Neo-Nazi and White-nationalist groups

Many supporters of Sunday’s protest are far-right or white-nationalist organisations or individuals affiliated with these groups. Neo-Nazi, anti-Islam and anti-immigration groups have demonstrated support by sharing the event, publically calling for members to attend and many are expected to make an appearance at the protest.

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Image 1: Avi Yemini shaking hands with former UPF leader Christopher Shortis. Photo by Ken Wardenclyffe. Fairfax journalist Luke McMahon published an illuminating article on Shortis in 2015. [6]

 

Yemini has been directly linked with former ‘United Patriot Front’ (UPF) member, Neil Erikson, who was also set to attend Yemini’s cancelled protest in Sydney[7]. Yemini held the opinion that Erikson was reformed and ‘no longer a neo-Nazi.’ Yemini stated he does not condone the behaviour of nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, however he believes free speech is necessary and was present at the recent trial in Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.[8]

Erikson has shared and promoted numerous videos uploaded by Yemini on his own Facebook page. Erikson is known as a far right nationalist, but more so as a neo-Nazi and leader of the UPF group. On 5 September 2017, Erikson, along with UPF friends Blair Cottrell and Christopher Shortis, was found guilty of inciting serious contempt for Muslims after conducting a mock beheading of a mannequin at a protest against a Mosque in Bendigo in 2015.[9]

Previously, Erikson had been convicted but not jailed for making abusive phone calls to Rabbi Dovid Gutnick. Despite his attitude towards Jews, Erikson has clearly indicated he supports Yemini’s opinions about Muslims and has stated in conversation with Blair Cottrell that he is ‘willing to focus on the problem of Muslims right now, and will come back to the Jews later’.[10]

Sunday’s protest has attracted the strong support of ‘Soldiers of Odin Australia’ (SOOA)[11], a self-proclaimed vigilante, white-nationalist group, formed on far-right, anti-immigration and anti-Islam views (as stated in their manifesto). The Soldiers of Odin were founded in Finland in 2015 by neo-Nazi activist Mika Ranta. The Melbourne-based chapter, one of many small SOO groups across Europe and North America, incorporated as a non-profit association in Victoria in June 2016. Members include former military personnel and ex-bikie club members. Yemini has visited and actively promoted the groups CBD ‘Homeless feeds’ (14 August 2017) and appears ignorant of the group’s explicit neo-nazi origins or philosophies. SOOA use fear of crime and homeless feeds in a similar way as the Golden Dawn group in Greece that serves to blame immigrants for crime, unemployment and social problems. SOOA publicly claims to stand for ‘old-school Aussie values’[12] and has declared itself to be anti-racist, anti-Nazis and that it does not support any Anti-Semitic views and yet regularly posts vile racist, Nazis and conspiracy memes with prominent ‘Star of David’ images. Prominent commentators on their page regularly espouse neo-nazi and anti-Semitic views.

Motivated by media coverage of ‘Apex-Gang’ SOOA have been sporadically ‘patrolling’ streets in Melbourne CBD and train stations. Members of SOOA stated that they were going to be singling out ‘Apex ‘ and that they would also go where other gangs caused violent crime. Members and supporters on the SOOA Facebook page routinely call for extreme violence against Africans, Muslims and immigrant groups.

The ‘True Blue Crew’ (TBC), a far right anti-Islam and anti-immigration group, were initially supportive and were set to attend the event in support of stricter immigration and deportation laws. However they recently rescinded their attendance via a public Facbook post. Their withdrawal of attendance results from Yemini’s failure to reply to TBC’s questions.

Sunday’s protest has also attracted support from the Stop the Mosque in Bendigo facebook page, which was formed specifically to protest against the building of a Mosque in Bendigo in 2015. Since then, the group has continued to share anti-Islam far-right events and statements. The ‘Bendigo Three’ were at the forefront of the group, and have been convicted for their behaviour at the protest. This group has shared Yemini’s ‘Peaceful Protest’ event on Facebook at least three times.

 

Little support within the Jewish community

Despite being treated in the media as a Jewish voice, Yemini appears to have little formal or open support withi the Australian Jewish community apart from his Facebook followers. Many individuals and prominent organisations within the Australian Jewish community have stated they do not support Yemini’s far-right views about Muslims and have refused to support, endorse or attend his events.

In the Australian Jewish News last month, Dr Nick Dyrenfurth, executive director of the John Curtin Research Centre referred to the “unholy collection of Islamophobes and a minority of far-right Jews, including Avi Yemini” when writing about the cancelled Bondi protest and the threat posed by the far-right in Australia.[13]

The Australian Jewish News has previously voiced concerns about Yemini’s associations with anti-Semitic and far right activists pointing out that his comments on Facebook “reveal a tendency towards the far right that does not sit comfortably with a people who have traditionally been first in the far right’s firing line.”[14]

This month the Beth Weizmann Jewish Community Centre refused to hold an anti-Islamic event organised by Yemini stating “we have decided that we are not prepared to have the Jewish Community Centre of Melbourne used for or associated with an event that on its face, seeks to foment fear and hatred.”[15] Mizrachi, Melbourne’s leading Religious Zionist organisation also refused to host the event.

Yemini has recently resigned from the newly formed conservative Australia Jewish Association (AJA) claiming he was a founder of the AJA but resigned after his name and picture were pulled from its website, accusing its board of “cowardice”. [16]

The Australian Jewish Democratic Society (AJDS) has released a strong public statement condemning the protest event stating that it is

“deeply concerned by the protest being organised by local personality Avi Yemeni who is cultivating a cynical branding campaign based in racism and fear.”

The AJDS states “Avi Yemini is not a neo-Nazi. He has, however, not shied away from ingratiating himself to neo-Nazi and fascist gangs across Australia, including Nationalist Uprising and the United Patriots Front.” They go on to say, “We encourage everyone struggling against racism and fascism to expose Avi Yemini for hate speech, and for links with neo-Nazis and fascist gangs.”


Misguided at best: Debunking the Protest demands

The six demands of theMake Victoria Safe Again’ protest articulated on Yemini’s Facebook event are common populist ideas for punitive criminal justice responses to crime.

Each of these proposals have been widely rejected by criminal justice and criminological research as ineffective or at worst, counter-productive in actually reducing crime.   Misguided attacks on sentencing practices, bail or parole are common but deeply flawed positions. They demonstrate both ignorance of how the criminal justice system works and the complex factors that generate or reduce crime in society.

Mandatory minimum sentences do not work. The chair of Victoria’s Sentencing Advisory Council (VSAC) Arie Frieberg, recently made a statement that mandatory minimum sentences for violent offenders has been shown to be ineffective.[17] VSAC’s evidence indicates that potential offenders do not consider possible sentences, but rather than probability of being caught. Statistical analysis also shows that there is no necessary correlation between the number of people in jail and the crime rate.

Parole laws in Victoria have already been amended following the Adrian Bailey case. Changes to the Bail Act were instituted by the previous government in 2013. In response to the Bourke St Mall incident, Daniel Andrews stated there would be a full examination of the bail system in Victoria.[18] However, each case for bail or parole needs to be judged on its own circumstances, simply implementing a strict no bail or parole policy would eliminate the fairness of the justice system.

A plethora of research has been conducted into consequences of placing juveniles in adult prisons. The Australian Law Reform Commission found that it does little to advance the rehabilitative aims of juvenile justice and has the potential of further criminalising young offenders due to regular contact with adult offenders.[19] Additionally, it was the current Daniel Andrews who transferred children to Grevillea Unit in Barwon Prison in November 2016, a maximum security adult prison, and it was this transfer that was deemed unlawful by Justice Dixon. [20] It is unclear whether Yemini is aware that Andrews has already tried this.

 

Calls for deportation

Nothing exemplifies the racialised perception of crime more than the calls for ‘deportation’ as a primary criminal justice response. It is fed by the false idea that immigration brings crime – when in fact immigrant groups are vastly under-represented in crime stats. As a policy it is patently ineffective as a deterrent or a response to crime.  Despite the vast majority of crimes being committed by Australian-born and Australian citizen, calls for deportation accompany almost every crime report and are being promulgated by far-right and nationalist groups.

Feeding into and capitalizing upon anti-immigration sentiment, the Abbott government changed the Immigration Act in December 2014 allowing all those sentenced to one year to have their visa’s cancelled. Since then more than 2,358 people, some of whom have been in Australia since they were infants, have had visas cancelled. Many have been deported for relatively minor offences or now languish in detention centres.[21]

Read Discrimination, Double Punishment and Death: The Case aginst Deportations

 

Recommendations for journalists, media workers and commentators

A clear and immediate pathway to reduce the influence of White-nationalist and far-right groups in Australia is to challenge racial perceptions of crime across media and society.

Journalists in particular should be aware that there is absolutely no causal link between ethnicity and criminal behavior. The perceived race or ethnicity of an offender has no bearing on the crime itself or its likelihood.

This issue has been studied by the Australian Institute of Criminology and similar institutes around the world over many decades. Consistently researchers find that a person’s ethnicity or race has no determination on their likelihood of being involved in crime.

When seeking prevent or reduce criminal behaviour most police and justice agencies now recognise, at least formally, that socio-economic factors, gender, age or situational related factors are what needs to be focused upon.

It is vital that media commentators do not buy into or amplify far-right wing racist narratives and challenge internally held biases. Studies conducted by The Sentencing Project in the United States found that journalists had the tendency to gravitate towards crime stories with a white victims and a black perpetrator. Studies drew the conclusion that newsworthiness is not a product of how representative or novel a crime is, but rather how well it can be “scripted using stereotypes grounded in racism.”

Journalists conducting interviews need to conduct adequate background research and critically examine the statements of spokespeople at events like this on Sunday. Extreme white-nationalists and neo-nazis in Australia commonly present themselves as ‘ordinary Australians’ and have been presented as such by uncritical media.

Journalists can expand their sources when covering crime and contextualise crime within broader social problems and longer-term trends.

For detailed factsheets on effective, evidence-based responses to crime, journalists are encouraged to bookmark http://www.smartjustice.org.au/cb_pages/factsheets.php

The onus is upon media spokespeople, editors and commentators not to buy into the racialised, anti-immigrant framing or reinforce black-crime stereotypes.

Media agencies should recognize that community leaders and spokespeople are deeply sick of the toxic stereotyping and who feel that they have to accept blame for the actions of a relative few young people. Journalists should recognise that the stress upon immigrant and refugee families and their community leaders is immense.

More reflective, better researched and ethical public commentary around these issues will go some way towards reducing the racialised fear of crime currently being utilized by far-right groups.

 

 


 

End Notes

[1] http://www.policeaccountability.org.au/racial-profiling/apex-gang-and-coded-racism/

[2] Corey Robin, How Political Fear Works, New Republic, 7 February 2017 https://newrepublic.com/article/140431/political-fear-works

[3] Nick Schurmens & Filip De Maesschalck, Fear of Crime as a political weapon: explaining the rise of extreme right politics in the Flemish countryside Published online: 16 Mar 2010, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14649361003637190

[4] https://antifascistactionsydney.wordpress.com/category/avi-yemini/

[5] https://www.timesofisrael.com/caller-threatens-to-kill-melbourne-jewish-gym-owner/

[6] http://www.smh.com.au/national/guntoting-antimuslim-crusader-at-lead-of-united-patriots-front-20151105-gkrk80.html

[7] https://www.jewishnews.net.au/real-threat-facing-us/67929

[8] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4875028/Jewish-activist-mocks-neo-Nazi-thug-wanted-fight.html

[9] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-09-05/three-men-found-guilty-of-inciting-serious-contempt-for-muslims/8874804

[10] http://slackbastard.anarchobase.com/?p=39560

[11] Soldiers of Odin Australia Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/soomelbau/

[12] http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/vigilantestyle-group-soldiers-of-odin-patrolling-melbourne-cbd-20161009-gry51g.html

[13] Dr Nick Dyrenfurth, The real threat facing us, Australian Jewish News, August 24, 2017

https://www.jewishnews.net.au/real-threat-facing-us/67929

[14] Unsavoury Bedfellows, AJN editorial August 11, 2017 https://www.jewishnews.net.au/unsavoury-bedfellows/67283

[15] http://www.jccv.org.au/news/1321/59/BW-Response-to-Nothing-Left-Event-Booking.html

[16] https://www.jewishnews.net.au/controversial-new-organisation-launches/68513

[17] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-04-11/mandatory-minimum-sentences-victorian-opposition-proposal/8433096

[18] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-23/how-does-victorias-bail-justice-system-work/8202976

[19] http://www.alrc.gov.au/publications/20-detention/separation-adults-and-juveniles-detention

[20] https://www.hrlc.org.au/news/2017/1/31/explainer-children-should-not-be-held-in-adult-prisons

[21] http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/173-criminals-including-two-from-the-apex-gang-set-for-deportation-under-tough-new-migration-laws/news-story/c0edb369de48c1a66745e34ab5a310d0; http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/2017/03/15/will-keep-happening-warning-over-established-migrant-deportations

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