An Australian lawmaker has apologized for remarks she made referring to Jewish and Zionist lobby groups extending their “tentacles” into areas of power, but maintained that Israel is an apartheid regime committing genocide against Palestinians.
The comments by Jenny Leong, a member of the New South Wales parliament for the Greens Party who touts her anti-racist stance, drew outrage from local Jewish groups and prompted Premier Chris Minns to warn lawmakers against divisive language.
Leong made the remarks at a Palestine Justice Movement forum in Sydney in December. A video of the incident surfaced earlier this week.
“The Jewish lobby and the Zionist lobby are infiltrating into every single aspect of what is ethnic community groups,” she said at the time. “Their tentacles reach into the areas that try and influence power and I think we need to call that out and expose it.”
New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies, the representative organization of the local Jewish community, posted a statement on X (formerly Twitter) saying Leong had “plumbed new and dangerous depths by using one of the oldest and darkest antisemitic tropes to accuse Jews of covertly manipulating civic life.”
“She has outrageously suggested that there is a sinister or evil purpose associated with Jews undertaking the most normal of activities – interacting with other Australians,” the statement said, adding that her comments “echo antisemitic propaganda throughout the ages, including Nazi propaganda, that Jews were conspiring to control the world.”
A notorious 1938 Nazi German cartoon by Austrian artist Josef Plank depicted Jews as an octopus encircling the world.
Leong has plumbed new and dangerous depths by using one of the oldest and darkest antisemitic tropes… pic.twitter.com/P9LokLFQwU
— NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (@NSWJBD) February 6, 2024
Dvir Abramovich, chair of the Anti-Defamation Commission, a leading civil rights organization fighting antisemitism, responded that Leong’s comments were “beyond obscene.”
“Who would have thought that in modern-day Australia, we would have an elected member of Parliament use antisemitic themes such as ‘Jewish lobby’ and ‘tentacles’ that most Jews and especially Holocaust survivors thought they would never hear in their lifetime,” he told The Times of Israel in a statement. “I’m sure that Josef Plank… is smiling from the place in hell reserved for antisemites like himself, knowing that his evil drawing has now been revived and given legitimacy in 21st-century Australia.”
“Ms. Leong has brought dishonor to her party and to the NSW parliament, and her so-called apology is a little too late and insufficient,” Abramovich said.
In a statement Thursday, Leong apologized for her controversial remarks in December, saying, “I used an inappropriate word and framed an argument in an inappropriate way that has caused offense, had antisemitic implications, and has been hurtful to people. For that, I apologize wholeheartedly and unreservedly.”
She also apologized that her comments suggested that “Jewish people involving themselves in civil society and campaigns against hate do so with ulterior motives.”
Leong then clarified that her intention at the Sydney forum was “to criticize those who support and back a Zionist agenda and pro-genocide, pro-apartheid stance.”
Josef Plank (“Seppla") was the most infamous of Nazi Germany’s cartoonists. Blue Octopus, easily his best-known image, is at the Holocaust Museum. It articulates many lies his evil masters were trying to spread about Jews, Winston Churchill and Britain. https://t.co/8fJIRv6TJc
— Joe Rich (@joerichlaw) November 21, 2023
New South Wales premier Minns said in a statement: “Everyone, particularly [the] Greens MP, has to be really careful about commentary, particularly in relation to ethnic groups, racial groups, particularly for longstanding tropes.”
“I acknowledge that she’s apologized for that,” Minns said. “That’s really important. But when passions run high, people can stumble into terrible, terrible comments that further divide and sow disunity in our community and that is the last thing we need right now.”
Leong previously waded into controversy on October 9, two days after the deadly Hamas attack on Israel, when she criticized as “disgraceful” Australian Defense Minister Richard Marles, who said the terror group’s assault was “unprovoked.”