Australian Jews’ safety at ‘high warning level’

Israel solidarity gatherings held on Sunday as pro-Palestinian protests also take place across the country

Anti-Israel rally in Sydney, Australia, July 20, 2014. (courtesy)
Anti-Israel rally in Sydney, Australia, July 20, 2014. (courtesy)

SYDNEY — Thousands came together Sunday in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth as the Australian Jewish community held rallies and solidarity gatherings in a show of support to Israel.

The events came only a week after a member of the Jewish community was assaulted for wearing an IDF shirt — and at the same time that anti-Israel protests were also staged across the country.

Though the country is largely peaceful, Jewish community security services have raised the danger level to a high warning for Australian Jews.

Ten days ago a Melbourne man was attacked for wearing a shirt with the IDF logo and Hebrew writing. Walking home after a night out, two Arabic-speaking men jumped 28-year-old Zachary Gomo.

“I noticed them when it was too late. They jumped on me, started punching, screaming ‘kalb Yehud!’ [Jewish dog], ‘Allahu akbar’ [God is great] and something about Gaza in Arabic,” Gomo told JTA after the incident.

But at Sunday’s Sydney demonstration, Israel’s Ambassador to Australia, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel told the 1,500 members of Sydney’s community gathered at the Central Synagogue on Sunday, “You are us, and we are you.”

Israel's Ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel speaks at Sydney rally, July 20, 2014. (courtesy)
Israel’s Ambassador Shmuel Ben-Shmuel speaks at Sydney rally, July 20, 2014. (courtesy)

“For all those gathered here today, we thank you for standing with us during this moment of difficulty. Your support is a source of encouragement, your compassion a source of comfort, and your solidarity a source of hope,” said Ben-Shmuel.

Ben-Shmuel slammed Hamas’s use of civilians to protect its terror infrastructure, saying, “Israel has been forced to defend itself and its people from further acts of terror” carried out by the Islamist terror group. He also restated the official goals of the operation, saying Israel would continue to fight “until it reaches its goal – restoring quiet to Israel’s citizens for a prolonged period, while inflicting a significant blow to the infrastructures of Hamas and the other terrorist organizations that threaten our state.”

As Israel’s official representative to Canberra, Ben-Shmuel used the opportunity to publicly convey Israel’s condolences to the families of the nearly 40 Australians who died when Malaysian Air flight MH-17 was shot down over the Ukraine. The act was horrific, and the lives lost tragic, he stated.

In a Melbourne park Sunday, Dr. Danny Lamm, president of the Zionist Federation of Australia, told the crowd, “Israel faces a battle on three fronts: The battle front in Gaza, the home front and the global front where the legitimacy of her operations are questioned… It is imperative that the world hears the truth and understands that Israel is acting in self-defense.”

Israel solidarity rally in Melbourne Park on July 20, 2014. (courtesy)
Israel solidarity rally in Melbourne Park on July 20, 2014. (courtesy)

Parallel to these events, and similar solidarity with Israel gatherings in Perth and New Zealand, rallies in support of the Palestinian people – and, at times, Hamas itself – were held throughout Australia.

“We are all Palestinians” was one of the most used chants outside Sydney’s Town Hall, where a few thousand people gathered Sunday. Calling for peace and mourning the deaths of hundreds of innocent Palestinians killed in Israeli airstrikes, New South Wales state MP, David Shoebridge, was one of the key speakers at the rally.

However, with many yellow Hezbollah flags waving alongside the Palestinian ones, demonstrators didn’t only chant in support of the people of Gaza, but also against Israel. Calls of “Down, down Israel” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” were heard in what appeared to be a demonstration against Israel just as much as a rally in support of the Palestinians.

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