A pro-Gaza rally in Sydney, Australia, July 20, 2014
A pro-Gaza rally in Sydney, Australia, July 20, 2014. Photo by Reuters
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Henry Benjamin / J-Wire
Pro-Israel demonstration in Australia, August 3, 2014. Photo by Henry Benjamin / J-Wire

A visiting rabbi from Jerusalem was threatened and verbally abused by a gang of youths in a shopping mall in Western Australia on Monday.

Rabbi Avraham Shalom Halberstam, known as the Stropkover Rebbe, is visiting Australia on a lecture tour. On Monday he and his assistant were set upon by up to six pro-Palestinian youths at a big mall near a Jewish suburb, according to an eyewitness.

Danny Mayer, a modern Orthodox Jew who went to pick up the two ultra-Orthodox Jews, told JTA: “I’m a bit shaken from [Monday]. I’m the one who pretty much rescued the rebbe.”

He added: “They were surrounding him, so I raced over to get him into the car and they surrounded the car screaming, ‘You are killing babies in Gaza.’”

Mayer said the teenage gang got “very agitated” and started banging on the car and spitting on it.

“I’ve been in Israel for seven years,” added Mayer, “and it wasn’t too far from being in an Arab village and trapped in a car. We absolutely felt threatened.”

“The rebbe is shaken but OK,” he said.

The youths ran away when Mayer started taking photos on his phone, he said. “The wider community needs to know that Jews around the world are being affected because they are Jews,” Mayer said.

The incident has been reported to police and close-circuit TV footage is being checked.

The incident comes less than two weeks after the walls of Perth’s only Jewish school were painted with graffiti that read “Zionist scum.” It also comes in the wake of police confirming that a Perth-based Islamic preacher who described Jews as “filthy rapists” won’t be prosecuted under the state’s race-hate laws.

Ian Britza, a state lawmaker in Western Australia, told JTA: “I was absolutely horrified. I condemn it in the highest possible terms.” The state government should publicly condemn it and even offer the rebbe a public apology, he said, adding, “I’m not ashamed to be a friend of Israel.”

Halberstam, who runs several yeshivas in Israel, leads the Hasidic sect that originates from Stropkov, a town in Slovakia.