SYDNEY – Five Jews were wounded on Friday night in a vicious fistfight that has been described by community members as “the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney for many years.”
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A mob of eight teenagers reportedly taunted the group of religious Jews with racist abuse as the four men and one woman, most of them born in Israel, were walking home from Shabbat dinner after midnight.
A violent confrontation ensued, some of it caught on closed circuit TV cameras. Security guards from a nearby nightspot intervened before police arrived. They arrested two 17-year-old boys and a 23-year-old man, but the rest of the alleged attackers fled.
The two teenagers were charged with affray and breach of bail and were scheduled to appear in court Sunday. The 23-year-old suspect was charged and ordered to appear in court on December 3.
Four of the victims were hospitalized, but have since been released. “Some have suffered concussion – there’s also a fractured cheekbone, a possible broken nose, lacerations and bruising,” a police spokesman said.
Eli Behar, 66, suffered bleeding on his brain but is expected to make a complete recovery, according to David Faktor, a spokesperson for St Vincent’s Hospital.
Faktor, who is Jewish and lives in Bondi Beach, said the victims told him the unprovoked attack was racially motivated because they were Jews.
“They were coming back from Shabbat dinner and these guys started saying ‘f---ing Jews.’ They got set upon by these guys.”
But he added that the gang of “disaffected youths would have victimized any minority” had they encountered them.
Four of the five were members of the Behar family. The fifth was Shlomo BenHaiem, the education shaliach (emissary) for the Jewish National Fund.
He was punched in the face and broke the contact lens in his eye, according to Faktor.
One of the victims, son-in-law Zeev Aronstam, who was born in the West Bank settlement of Gush Etzion, said he preferred not to discuss the incident, simply saying: “We believe in God.”
The men in the group, aged 27 to 66, were all wearing kippot and it is understood most had served in the IDF.
One close acquaintance, who declined to be named, told Haaretz they had stood their ground.
“They’re all Israelis, they all went to the army, what are they going to do? Run away when someone calls them a f---ing Jew? No, they stood their ground.”
He said the closed circuit TV footage confirmed that at least one of them was fighting back. “I don’t blame these guys for wanting to stand their ground,” he said.
Rabbi Menachem Dadon, of Kehillat Beit Yosef, said the group was at his shul on Friday night.
“Eli and Zeev came to davven [pray] and they all went to Shabbes dinner; none of them arrived on Shabbat morning. Shlomo [BenHaiem] was supposed to give the dvar Torah [sermon].”
Dadon, who spoke with Aronstam after Shabbat, said the victim told him he "was walking ahead and when he heard the screaming he raced back. He had to intervene to help his father-in-law. They also attacked Leah. She’s OK, but it was traumatic."
Asked whether the group may have reacted to the taunts, he added: “They are not the kind of people to turn a blind eye on something like that.”
Jeremy Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, told Haaretz: “I’ve been keeping the data for 25 years and there hasn’t been an incident like this before.
“There’s not been a case of a family group like this attacked by another group,” said Jones, a former president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
“There have been individuals assaulted, cemeteries desecrated, synagogues set on fire but a group of five adults, no, I haven’t come across anything like this in 25 years.”
The incident highlighted the need for effective criminal law against racist violence, said Yair Miller, president of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies.
“The attack in Bondi is the worst incident of anti-Semitic violence in Sydney for many years,” he said.
Michael Danby, a Jewish MP, said the gang members should receive maximum sentences.
“Let’s have no political correctness over who these thugs are,” he told J-Wire, a local Jewish website. “They should be responded to with the full force of the law and receive maximum jail sentences to show that anti-Jewish violence is totally unacceptable in Australia.”
Peter Wertheim, the executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said: “The incident in Bondi illustrates that the current review by the NSW government of the criminal law against serious incitement to racial hatred needs to be given high priority.
“It also highlights the need for the federal government to provide assistance to the Jewish community to meet the high costs of securing our communal institutions, not only our schools.
Wertheim, who grew up in Bondi never experiencing any anti-Semitism, added: “The brave and selfless actions of these bystanders is a much more accurate reflection of the attitude of Australians to their Jewish fellow citizens, than the hate-filled violence of the group who allegedly attacked the family.”
Chabad’s Rabbi Eli Feldman said the Orthodox community was shocked by the attack.
“Eli and Leah were founders of the Israeli Chabad community in the 1980s and they’re beloved by all sectors of the community,” he said. “The entire community is united in praying for their speedy recovery.”
Bondi Beach and the surrounding suburbs are home to a large majority of Sydney’s 45,000-plus Jewish community. There are multiple synagogues, kosher shops and communal buildings enveloped by an eruv, allowing Jews to carry on Shabbat within its perimeter.