JTA — The premier of New South Wales, the Australian state that is home to Sydney, apologized to the Jewish community on Wednesday as they reeled from a pro-Palestinian protest that included “gas the Jews” and “f— the Jews” chants.
Chris Minns said in a statement that his local government had tried to “create a place and a space” for Jews to mourn victims of the attacks in Israel outside of Sydney’s famed opera house, which was lit up in the colors of the Israeli flag on Monday night.
But he admitted that the exterior of the opera house was “overrun with people that were spewing racial epithets and hatred.” The pro-Palestinian rally on Monday, which gathered over 1,000 people, also included the burning of an Israeli flag and the firing of several flares.
“I want to apologize to [the Jewish community] specifically on behalf of the government and myself, as the premier of New South Wales,” said Minns, a leader in the Labour Party who assumed his position earlier this year. “I really want to ensure that the Jewish community in New South Wales feel that they can have full access to this city, that they can enjoy its life, that they can be part of its culture, that they can commemorate together during solemn occasions.”
He added that a number of Australians “had family and friends that were caught up in this conflict.” One dual Australian-Israeli citizen, Galit Carbone, has been confirmed dead from the violence, while other Australians have been confirmed captured by Hamas.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese also expressed concern over the way the rally was allowed to escalate and called Hamas’ actions in Israel “completely indefensible.”
A similar rally held in Melbourne on Tuesday night drew hundreds of participants but notably lacked the inflammatory chants and behavior witnessed in Sydney. Police are separately investigating an incident in a suburb outside of Melbourne, in which a group of men allegedly said they were “on the hunt to kill Jews.”
“The idea that they’re going to commandeer Sydney streets is not going to happen,” Minns said.
Many Australian Jews, who in total number close to 100,000, are calling for details on how police handled Monday’s protest. In a statement posted to his Instagram page, Australia’s former ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma was critical of the NSW government.
“How on earth did the New South Wales Government allow this to happen? How did they allow an important show of solidarity with the hundreds of victims of terrorism in Israel to be hijacked by extremists to applaud these very acts of terror?” he wrote.
Parliament member Allegra Spender, who represents the electoral district of Wentworth — which is near Sydney and has a high Jewish population — also demanded answers. “The scenes and chanting outside the Opera House last night are abhorrent. At a time when there should be solidarity with our Jewish community, they have been subject to appalling abuse. I am seeking an urgent explanation of how this was allowed to happen,” she wrote on X, the social platform formerly known as Twitter.
Alex Ryvchin, co-chair of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry umbrella group, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the Australian Jewish community was shaken but determined to move on.
“The community wants to come together at a time of immense anguish and pain,” he said. “These atrocities have shaken us all, but we are determined to emerge united and more committed to our community and our people.”