SYDNEY, Australia (JTA) – A crowd of angry pro-Palestinian demonstrators in Melbourne marred the annual celebration of Israel’s independence.
Attendees at Tuesday night’s high-profile gathering of politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats and Jewish leaders were forced to walk past the 100-strong crowd who were held back by police, the Australian Jewish News reported.
Among the banners brandished by the protesters were “Israel – an apartheid state” and “Free Palestine.” At one point the protesters burned an effigy of Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu.
Inside the hotel, Victoria’s leader defended the protesters’ right to express their views, but retorted by saying: “The wonderful thing in this country is that you can have your view. The even better thing is I can stand here and say, ‘You’re wrong’.”
BDS, an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, should be re-named “Bigoted, Dangerous and Shameful,” the newspaper quoted Baillieu as saying.
His counterpart, Labor’s Daniel Andrews, said of the protests outside: “If we have to come through those scenes again [next year], then we’ll all do it with pride.”
In his address, Israeli Ambassador Yuval Rotem offered an olive branch to the Palestinians: “We want to live with you and not die with you,” he said. “We want to respect you as good neighbors and not fear you as a dreaded enemy.”