Australian Jews Come Out in Support of Israel

Melbourne rally comes as Jewish community leaders threaten lawsuit over allegedly racist political cartoon published in Sydney Morning Herald.

Henry Benjamin / J-Wire

SYDNEY, Australia — Thousands of Israel supporters filled a Sydney park in a sea of blue and white yesterday, as a “flash mob” of hundreds of Jewish youths simulated a 15-second air siren in the heart of Melbourne.

Heavy security, including riot police and scores of Jewish volunteers of the Community Security Group, surrounded a reserve near Bondi Beach as an estimated 5,000 Israel supporters gathered despite a last-minute change of venue by organizers “due to logistics.”

The rally came as Jewish community leaders threatened legal action against Fairfax Media, which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald, over a cartoon they claim breached racial vilification laws. Just hours later, the Herald apologized “unreservedly” for publishing the cartoon, which depicted a hooked-nose Jew wearing a kippa, sitting on a seat emblazoned with a Star of David and pressing a remote control to detonate buildings, presumably in the Gaza Strip.

Saturday’s rally was the first outdoor pro-Israel demonstration in Sydney during the current war in the Gaza Strip. It came after a solidarity rally at Central Synagogue in Bondi two weeks ago that prompted some Jews to say they should not have “hidden away” to show their solidarity with Israel.

Despite Saturday’s large turnout, some people expressed skepticism about the value of the event. Danny Ben-Moshe, a researcher at Melbourne’s Deakin University in Melbourne with a particular interest in anti-Semitism, said he couldn’t understand demonstrating in a largely Jewish suburb, far from the public eye, just as thousands of Melbourne Jews did two weeks ago in a park in Caulfield.

“I just don’t get it,” Ben-Moshe told Haaretz. “It’s symptomatic of us just talking to ourselves — it’s just a feel-good thing,” adding, “We’ve got to act in a manner that extends the message to the wider public and indeed directly to organizations who are supporters of Hamas. Why weren’t they in front of Parliament House or in public squares or on a road trip to Canberra to protest the Qatari and Turkish embassies?”

But Dr. Ron Weiser, a former president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, said “a feel-good exercise” is important.

“It was a great opportunity to demonstrate the differences between our style of rally, our concerns and our messages, which are reflective of the differences between Israel and in this case Hamas,” he told Haaretz.

“It was also an important vehicle by which the major [political] parties could get on the record, the messages they sent — noticeably absent from the pro-Hamas rallies.”

A message read out by Weiser on behalf of three Australian Labor Party lawmakers — whose party has had a turbulent relationship with the Jewish community in office over the last six years – said they were abhorred by the resurgence of anti-Semitism. 

“Here in Australia too, anti-Semitism has been rearing its ugly head,” they wrote. “We abhor racism in all its forms, and we do not support a right to anti-Semitic hate speech and bigotry of the kind we have been seeing.”

The biggest jeers at the rally were reserved for the Australian media, with Robert Goot, the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, accusing it of failing to guard against “biased, distorted, inaccurate and simply erroneous coverage and commentary.”

He singled out the cartoon in the Herald by Glen Le Lievre, saying it was “unquestionably anti-Semitic.”

In its apology, the Herald said: “The Herald now appreciates that, in using the Star of David and the kippah in the cartoon, the newspaper invoked an inappropriate element of religion, rather than nationhood, and made a serious error of judgment. It was wrong to publish the cartoon in its original form. We apologize unreservedly for this lapse, and the anguish and distress that has been caused.”

In an extraordinary move, last Friday’s edition of the Australian Jewish News dedicated its front page to an editorial that encouraged readers to cancel their subscriptions to Fairfax outlets.

Titled “Media disgrace,” the editorial slammed the cartoon and accompanying column by Mike Carlton as well as a segment titled “Unholy War” on the Australian version of the U.S. television news magazine program “60 Minutes.”

“Two weeks ago, a Jewish man was beaten up in Melbourne, last weekend a Jewish school in Perth had the words ‘Zionist scum’ daubed on the wall,” the editorial stated.

“How does our own media respond? First, by fuelling the fire of anti-Israel sentiment through unbalanced and misleading reporting, and second, by fanning the flames of anti-Semitism – flames whose heat we are already lamentably feeling on these shores.”

Meanwhile, in Melbourne yesterday, as many as 500 Jews hit the ground as a siren went off in Federation Square.

The flash mob protest was inspired by a similar exercise in Vienna last month, according to Asher Kozma, the head of Beitar in Melbourne.

“We were trying to give Australian people an idea of what it’s like to live in Israel,” he said. The “Code Red” rally in Melbourne a fortnight ago was targeted at the Jewish population, Kozma said. “This was targeted at the Australian public and Australian politicians.”