Perhaps the most memorable image in the Australian political debate this week was the video of a young Monash University student sitting on the ground, Israeli flag in hand. He was towered over by a group of some five pro-Palestinian students, one of whom was screaming at him with a speaker held to the lone student’s ear. According to reports, the verbal assault went on for some time.

This was a manifestation of gross bullying and intimidation that continued for some time. Two security guards stood by near the demonstrators, identified by their high-visibility vests. But neither did anything. Presumably they had decided to ensure the young man was not physically harmed but were not prepared to intervene against the ideologically motivated bullies.

It was like a scene out of China’s Cultural Revolution of half a century ago when students and academics with the “wrong” political views were silenced by intimidation administered by leftist radicals who effectively took over universities. In time, Victoria Police arrived and the intimidation ended. Opposition frontbencher Sarah Henderson told Chris Kenny’s Sky News program on Wednesday she had contacted Monash University vice-chancellor Sharon Pickering, who promised to take action.

Such instances of evident anti-Semitism in Australia have increased exponentially since the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war following Hamas’s brutal invasion of southern Israel on October 7 last year – to which Israel responded. However, the evidence suggests anti-Semitism had been increasing in Australia before October 7.

On September 23, I wrote in these pages about the decision of the Federal Court to award substantial damages to five Jewish Australian students. They had been subjected to anti-Semitism several years earlier while enrolled in Brighton Secondary College in Melbourne, a government school run by the Victorian Department of Education.

The successful applicants maintained that the headmaster did nothing to protect them and they were treated differently to other students from minority backgrounds at the school. This was a clear case of discrimination. But the Victorian Labor government, then led by Socialist Left premier Daniel Andrews, declined to settle before legal proceedings commenced, putting further pressure on the young Jewish men.

The level of anti-Semitism events in Australia has increased dramatically since then, following the commencement of the Israel-Hamas war. It has been engaged in by members of the pro-Palestinian movement along with green-left activists. There have been some important exceptions. But, for the most part, the response to anti-Semitism by educational institutions has been one of fudge and denial.

On May 6, Imogen Richards (who lectures in counter-terrorism at Deakin University in Melbourne) was interviewed by Michael Rowland and Lisa Millar on ABC TV News Breakfast. This occurred in the wake of the stabbing of a man in Perth by a 16-year old caucasian male who had been radicalised by Islamists. The alleged offender was shot dead by Western Australian police as he approached them, having allegedly failed to put down his weapon.

Rowland introduced the segment by stating “Muslim leaders are expressing concern about a possible rise in Islamophobia in the wake of the shocking incident in Perth”. Enter Richards, who managed to get through the entire interview without any mention of Islamism. Her introductory comments were so vague that Millar’s first question was “what are you referring to?”.

The question did not improve the Deakin University academic’s answer. There were references to “structural factors”, “social conditions”, “preventive measures”, the need to take “a holistic approach”, “investments in welfare” and so on. But no mention of any Islamists in our midst.

Richards’s only specific comment was a warning about a “backlash from ultra-nationalist or far right-wing groups”. The suggestion is that any backlash would be more threatening than the deed itself. The segment ignored the fact ASIO director-general Mike Burgess warned in a February 28 speech that “Sunni violent extremism poses the greatest religiously motivated violent extremist threat in Australia”. On April 24, at the National Press Club, he said there was a 50 per cent chance someone would conduct or plan an act of terrorism in the next 12 months.

On May 3, Sydney University vice-chancellor Mark Scott was interviewed on ABC Radio National Breakfast. He threw the switch to vague – stating the university would pay “close attention” to the pro-Palestinian encampments established on campus.

Scott rejected the view that Sydney University had become an unsafe place for Jewish students and academics – despite the fact many feel it is the case. He declined to state whether he had seen any evidence of anti-Semitism in the encampment. Asked if the cry “From the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea” was anti-Semitic, the vice-chancellor said the question was “very tricky”.

Asked about the word “intifada”, Scott channelled the words of the song Happiness Is, saying intifada means different things to different people. On May 7, retired senior diplomat Dennis Richardson was reported to have said, in an interview for Josh Frydenberg’s forthcoming Sky News program, Never Again: The Fight Against Anti-Semitism, to air on May 28, that the chant may incite violence.

Some say the Albanese government is worried by a number of Labor-held seats that hold large Muslim communities. This overlooks the fact these seats – mainly in western Sydney – are relatively safe and that long-term Labor voters in lower income areas are unlikely to vote for a party such as the Greens, that perform best in well-off inner-city seats.

There is another consideration: on Sky News’ The Bolt Report on May 8, former senior Labor staffer and now pollster Cameron Milner spoke about his GXO Strategies’ latest polling. Milner commented “we polled 2000 Australians … and 69 per cent … are gravely concerned about Islamic extremism”.

Right now, the pro-Palestinian demonstrators, most of whom support Hamas, along with the pro-Hamas radical green left, are getting all the attention. But if GXO Strategies polling is correct, a large majority of Australians have scant sympathy for Monash University radicals bullying a young, brave Jew.