SYDNEY – One of the victims of last year’s brutal anti-Semitic attack in Sydney is furious that two of the accused have avoided jail sentences, and is blaming Jewish community leaders for not turning it into a “showcase” trial.
Shlomo Ben Haiem, 48, was walking home from a Shabbat dinner in Bondi Beach last October, with four members of the Behar family, when the group of clearly Orthodox Jews – most of them of Israeli descent – was set upon by a gang of up to 10 youths.
A fistfight ensued, and although closed-circuit TV cameras showed at least one of the Jews fighting back, the four men and one woman were hospitalized, suffering concussion, a fractured cheekbone, lacerations and bruising. Eli Behar, 66, suffered minor cerebral hemorrhaging and was in hospital for two days. Ben Haiem was punched in the face, suffering a broken nose and eye wound from a broken contact lens.
“It’s a disgrace,” he told Haaretz this week. “And it’s a shame for the community that they [the Jewish leaders] didn’t manage to do their maximum to put them behind bars.
“The [Jewish] leadership failed to push hard and make the sentence as it should have been,” he added. “I believe they could have done more.”
Robert Clifford, 26, who was remanded in custody last November facing charges of affray, assault and possessing a knife, walked free last week after pleading not guilty.
Despite the prosecution showing his DNA on a knife located near the crime scene, the magistrate – who described the attack as “disgusting” – wasn’t satisfied the evidence had proved he had committed the crime, The Australian Jewish News reported.
In May, another of the alleged perpetrators, Spartaco Marciano Di Bella, 24, also avoided jail after the director of public prosecutions found “insufficient evidence to ensure a reasonable prospect of a conviction.”
Two 17-year-old boys who were also charged – but cannot be named – are understood to be in a facility for minors.
Ben Haiem, who was in court for Clifford’s verdict last week, said the fact that two of the alleged perpetrators avoided jail could send a message to others.
“I think it will lead to more attacks on the Jewish community,” he warned. “They bashed Jews and nothing happened.”
But Vic Alhadeff, chief executive of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, rejected Ben Haiem’s allegations. “Once people are arrested, it is up to the state authorities to press charges and to prosecute the accused,” he told Haaretz.
“It is highly improper to attempt to pressure police in any way.
“Is it disappointing that no one has yet been convicted of the shocking attack which occurred? Without doubt. But we have to rely on the rule of law,” Alhadeff added.
The Jewish community had received a “flood of supportive responses” in the wake of the attack, he said, pointing to support from politicians, religious leaders and others. “So the suggestion that the issue was kept under wraps is baseless.”
But Ben Haiem said he remains traumatized, admitting he prefers not to walk home late on Friday nights. “I stay at home,” he said. “I try not to go to Shabbat dinner outside.
“I wish things like that won’t happen again, and I’m happy the state of Israel exists.
“We can be brave and make sure nothing like that can happen again, or we can go back to 70 years ago.”
Last October, some Jewish leaders described the assault as the worst anti-Semitic incident of its kind since records began in 1989.
Jeremy Jones, who has compiled the annual report on anti-Semitic incidents in Australia since 1989, told Haaretz: “This attack was unique. Although there have been incidents of one or two Jewish people attacked by gangs making anti-Semitic comments, the Bondi Beach attack was on the largest group of Jewish people, and also not on youths.”
Last year’s Report on Anti-Semitism in Australia revealed 657 cases of racist violence against Jewish Australians and Jewish community buildings – the second-highest on record. However, serious physical attacks were at their lowest level since 2005, although did not include the Bondi attack, which will feature in this year’s annual report.
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