Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Melbourne protest against Israel Independence function provokes backlash

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On Tuesday night a belated Israel independence celebration was held at the Windsor Hotel. Students for Palestine decided to target the event, and staged a protest outside the hotel. The protest has been described as ‘ugly', with protestors burning an effigy of the Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu for supporting ‘apartheid' and calls for the destruction of Israel as the protestors chanted "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free." The protest was reported in the Age and Herald Sun. The Australian Jewish News captured footage of the protest and the event - click here.

Despite the noise created by the protest, the celebration continued inside the Windsor with around 300 guests - including leaders in the Jewish community, Premier Baillieu, Leader of the opposition Daniel Andrews, Israeli Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem and other diplomats.

In addition, approximately 50 Liberal Party, ALP and Nations Members of Parliament were escorted by the police to the Windsor Hotel through the noisy throng of protestors to attend the event. The police are to be commended for their professionalism and effective crowd control.

The Independence day function is an annual event held for many years, and the turn-out of especially state MPs was larger this year than in most previous years. According to at least some of the MPs who attended, it was the presence of the "ugly' protest that led them to make a special effort to come over to the function from Parliament House during the Parliamentary dinner break.

The strong showing of bi-partisan support for Israel was praised by many of the speakers including the Premier who stated:

"And this event has been an event that has been proudly bipartisan, proud in its conviction, in every possible sense, in a belief that Israel has a right to exist and has a right to be supported. And I stand here unashamedly tonight to repeat that message to one and all here..."

Regarding the protesters he said:

"In our city from time to time - in our state, in our country - we will confront those who have a different view, and that is part of a peaceful democracy: the right to express your view. The wonderful thing in this country is you can have your view. The even better thing in this country is I can stand here and say, ‘You're wrong.'"

The Premier also lamented that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign has been given an acronym ‘BDS' which he said "gives them a legitimacy they don't warrant or deserve", and said that the acronym should be turned back on them and renamed "Bigoted, Dangerous and Shameful".

Victorian Leader of the opposition Daniel Andrews also made an impressive speech in support of Israel. He said that when asked to confirm whether he would be attending:

"I made the point that protest or no protest, I would be here tonight to make it very clear to this group and the broader Victorian community that I fundamentally support the right of the State of Israel not only to exist, but to exist in secure and defendable borders."

Andrews also praised the Victorian Jewish community, which "has made Victoria a fairer and better and stronger state" and said that it "should be a source of abundant pride to every member of Victoria's, and indeed Australia's, Jewish community".

Israeli Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem noted Israel's "outstanding contributions to all spheres of human activity" and also described the challenges including the double standard - which is applied to Israel in the world arena:

"At 64, we are the only United Nations member state whose right to exist is constantly challenged, whose elimination from the world map is an aim of at least one other United Nations member state and whose population centres are deemed fair game for rockets fired from Hamas-controlled Gaza and Hezbollah camps in Lebanon. At 64, none of the countries that are serial human-rights violators - not Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Sudan or any of the others - get anything near the relentless, obsessive, guilty-till-proven innocent scrutiny that democratic Israel receives from United Nations bodies with their built-in anti-Israel majorities in New York and Geneva."

The Ambassador also extended a hand of friendship to Palestinians:

"We have no reason or interest to fight you, we don't wish to control you, rule over you or determine your life. We want to live with you and not die with you. We want to share with you and not take from you, we want to respect you as good neighbours, and not fear you as a dreaded enemy...forsake the cult of death and culture of incitement that has been imposed upon you, appeal to our heats and you will find us yearning to make generous and genuine peace with you... build with us a dream of two states for two people living side by side in security and peace."

The next day, Victorian members of Parliament who attended the function and witnessed the protest first hand were inspired to make speeches in support of Israel, condemning the ugly nature of the protest and praising Victoria's Police's conduct on the night.

David Southwick said in the Legislative Assembly:

"Israel, which for its size is a world leader in entrepreneurship and innovation, is a marvel for its commitment to freedom and democracy and should be celebrated by all Australians who support a lasting peace. Instead we witnessed the spectacle of members of the Students for Palestine hurling abuse, lies and slander at innocent guests who were attending this event. I cannot repeat was I heard from the extreme left, which cloaks its lies in an ugly hatred that betrays a complete disconnect from the reality of the country which they condemn. The irony is lost on the rabble that the only country in the Middle East which protects their democratic right to protest is the one they seek to condemn. The regimes they acclaim on their placards do not allow dissent of any kind and would sooner imprison them than hear differing views..."

Also in the Legislative Assembly, Murray Thompson praised the Victorian Jewish community, stating:

"The Victorian Jewish community has made an outstanding contribution to the development of Victoria in its cultural, community, economic, political and sporting life..."

In the Legislative Council, Andrea Coote reflected on the ‘angry' protest:

"last night we saw a tangible example of democracy at work. A small number of exceedingly angry protestors attempted to disrupt the annual celebration of Israel Independence Day. How fortunate we are to live in a community and country that allows freedom of expression, but so too we are fortunate that our leaders and Israeli friends cam gather together in celebration. Yesterday was the 64th anniversary of the Independence of Israel. As the Israeli ambassador, Yuval Rotem reminded us, Israel is not a land blessed with mineral resources; its richness is derived from its people. As a nation it is a world leader in so many fields, including medical research, science and agriculture. Indeed it is rated as the 14th best country in the world in which to live."

Jude Perera tabled a petition in Parliament, which will be discussed at a later date. The petition states:

"The petition of the residents of Victoria draws the attention of house of to the recent anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) protests on the streets of Melbourne and the strong response of the Baillieu government. The petitioners therefore request that the Legislative Assembly of Victoria continues to support all efforts and actions to stop these protesters and their campaign if misinformation against the state of Israel and the Jewish community."

On June 7, speeches in support of Israel and conduct of the police force at the protest continued:

In the Legislative Assembly Clement Newton-Brown said:

"Well done to the Victoria Police for their magnificent work this week at the Israel Independence Day celebrations at the Windsor Hotel. It was extremely important that representatives of the Liberal, National and Labor parties were able to attend the event, which was violently disrupted by a fringe of protestors. Victoria Police officers calmly and efficiently provided firm but restrained control over the situation, providing safe passage for all MPs to attend the event. You did us all proud."

In the Legislative Council Donna Petrovich stated:

"... In Victoria we have a proud history of multiculturalism and tolerance. Unfortunately the protest I witnessed disrupted access and was one of the ugliest I have seen... I strongly support any individual' right to peaceful protest and believe that all Victorians have the right to gather, but they also have the right to gather and feel safe in that gathering. I commend the Zionist Council of Victoria and the Jewish Community Council of Victoria for another successful celebration."

While the protest was indeed ‘ugly', the commitment of those who attended despite knowing that the protest would take place would only have been strengthened by the ugliness of that opposition. In addition, the numerous, bipartisan speeches in parliament re-affirming a political commitment to a secure Israel at peace with its neighbours would never have taken place without the protests as a catalyst (Such speeches are not a normal after-effect of the annual Independence Day function). So once again, the tiny, vociferous, one-eyed and jaundiced anti-Israel protest movement in Australia managed to find a way to get mentioned in the media - but only by once again shooting their ostensible "cause" in the foot. 

Sharyn Mittelman

 

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