SYDNEY, Australia — Israel’s showdown with Hamas in the Gaza Strip has claimed its first political casualty in Australia, following the resignation on Sunday of a senior Jewish leader from a high-profile government post that promotes racial harmony.
Vic Alhadeff, the chief executive of the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, on Sunday announced he was stepping down as chairman of the N.S.W. Community Relations Commission, a part-time position.
The announcement came two weeks after he sent an email to the state’s Jewish community accusing Hamas of “war crimes,” provoking outrage from Arab and Muslim organizations.
“It is with considerable regret that I have decided to resign from my position as chair of the N.S.W. Community Relations Commission,” Alhadeff said in a short statement on Sunday. “I have chosen to do so in the interests of the CRC and its important work in fostering social harmony within our society.”
Alhadeff, who was born in Zimbabwe, is a former Sydney editor of the Australian Jewish News. He had stood by his comments and was backed with “full confidence” by NSW Premier Mike Baird.
But some Arab groups, including the Lebanese Muslim Association and the Australian Arabic Council, were irate, and boycotted an iftar Ramadan break-fast celebration at Parliament House in Sydney Thursday night over the email controversy.
The email, headed “Israel under Fire,” was distributed by Alhadeff in the capacity of his position as CEO of the N.S.W. Jewish Board of Deputies. In it, he wrote that Hamas was guilty of “war crimes” while Israel was “operating with care to avoid civilian casualties.” Alhadeff made no reference to the Palestinian fatalities in the Gaza Strip as a result of Israel’s military operation.
“Israel has made it clear that it is not interested in further escalation, but will do whatever is needed to defend its citizens. All options are on the table,” Alhadeff wrote in the email.
“What message does his statement send to half a million Australian citizens of Arab ancestry, many with relatives cowering under beds in Gaza?,” wrote Joseph Wakim, a founder of the Australian Arabic Council, in Guardian Australia. “Would such statements build bridges and community relations, or build a wall between us and them?”
In resigning on Sunday, Alhadeff conceded his email “inadvertently caused offense to some.”
“This is greatly regretted,” he added. “While this was unintended, and despite the backing of numerous community leaders who acknowledged my record of goodwill, the reaction from some has become a distraction to the work of the CRC and the role of the chair.”
By sending the email, Alhadeff had “betrayed the sensitivity of his [CRC] role,” an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald opined on Saturday.
“It is sad that some ill-chosen and insensitive words at an inopportune time have tarnished otherwise fine work,” the editors wrote.
“But the disharmony Mr. Alhadeff has fomented and the weakness of his apology are all the doing of him and Mr. Baird.”
Mirza Ramzan Sharif, national secretary of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, was among those offended by Alhadeff’s “inappropriate, untimely and irresponsible” comments.
But Sharif told Haaretz: “I’m pretty alarmed he resigned. There were a lot of positive things he had done,” adding, “Maybe it’s a lesson for the next person who comes into office.”
Accepting the resignation, the state’s Minister for Citizenship and Communities, Victor Dominello, said that Alhadeff had committed his working life to promoting intercultural harmony.
“I have no doubt he will continue to be an agent for harmony and tolerance in our community,” Dominello said.
“The conflict [of interests] was there from day one,” according to one Jewish community leader in Sydney, who did not want to be identified in this report. “I think it damaged the brand [of the Jewish community]. It looks like we overreached.”
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